The April 15 Deadline
By John Vennari
On February 2, 2012, in a Candlemass sermon at the Winona Seminary, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, explained the ongoing difficulties in the present discussions between Rome and the SSPX.
Bishop Fellay noted the Vatican affirms it is necessary to be faithful to Tradition. Yet it appears that those in today’s Vatican have a different meaning of the word ‘tradition’ from the Church’s understanding of it in the past. They thus claim that Vatican II’s novel teachings on ecumenism and religious liberty are somehow a legitimate development of Tradition, when these new tenets actually constitute a rupture.
Explaining why he and the SSPX have refused thus far to sign the September 14 Doctrinal Preamble from Rome, Bishop Felly said, “... they have another meaning with the word ‘tradition,’ and maybe even with ‘coherence.’ And that’s why we were obliged to say no.”
It appears this refusal does not sit well with today’s Vatican.
On March 16, a Vatican Communiqué related that Bishop Fellay’s January 2012 response holds a position “not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems which lie at the foundations of the rift between the Holy See and the Society of Saint Pius X.”
The Doctrinal Preamble, which the SSPX was asked to sign, marks the next phase of Vatican/SSPX talks, after the nearly three years of doctrinal discussions between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X.
The Vatican’s March 16 Communiqué appeared to close on an ominous tone: “At the end of today’s meeting, moved by concern to avoid an ecclesial rupture of painful and incalculable consequences, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X was invited to clarify his position in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI.”
Later that day, Vatican Radio claimed that Rome had given Bishop Fellay to April 15 to clarify his position.
This was followed by an Italian News Agency report (AGI) claiming that Bishop Fellay and Cardinal Levada engaged in conversation on March 16 at the Holy Office that lasted more than two hours.
Also at the meeting were Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, Secretary of the CDF, and Msgr. Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission. Bishop Fellay was joined by his assistant, Father Alain-Marc Nelly.
By the end of the meeting, states AGI, “a complete rupture was avoided by the Holy See, making it clear that Benedict XVI still expects a recomposition.”
Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli later reported that the mid-April deadline still seems to be in place, saying “We will know immediately after Easter if Fellay and the Society of St. Pius X have decided to accept the preamble or not.”
Archbishop Lefebvre, the SSPX and Doctrinal Consistency
In light of the March 16 Communiqué, it is good to present a brief outline of Archbishop Lefebvre’s and the SSPX’s unswerving consistency in maintaining tradition in the face of Vatican II’s progressivist orientation.
It is beyond doubt that Vatican II ushered in a progressivist revolution. Marcel Prelot, a liberal Catholic, and senator of the Dobbs region of France, rejoiced at the time of the Council, “We had struggled for a century and a half to bring our opinions to prevail within the Church and had not succeeded. Finally there came Vatican II and we triumphed. From then on the propositions and principles of Liberal Catholicism have been definitively and officially accepted by Holy Church.”
This triumph of liberal Catholicism at Vatican II is all the more ominous when we recall Blessed Pope Pius IX’s admonition that “liberal Catholics are the worst enemies of the Church”. Pius further warned that the principles of liberal Catholicism would “destroy us,” would “be the ruin of religion,” and would “prevent us from meriting the blessings of God.”
Archbishop Lefebvre at the time of the Council recognized Vatican II as a manifestation of liberal Catholicism and as a rupture with the perennial teaching of the Church.
The Archbishop clearly saw the danger of the new teachings regarding ecumenism and religious liberty. In 1964, he said the Conciliar schemas “have a spirit of rupture and suicide,” and went on to say, “There exists a spirit of non-Catholic or rationalist ecumenism that has become a battering ram for unknown hands to pervert doctrine.”
While countless other highly-placed churchmen at the time were predicting the great renewal that the Council would bring, Archbishop Lefebvre was far more realistic. “In an inconceivable fashion,” he said, “the Council promoted the spreading of liberal errors. The Faith, morality, and ecclesiastical discipline are shaken to their foundations as the Popes [of the past] have predicted. The destruction of the Church is advancing rapidly.”
Following this line, Archbishop Lefebvre made his position clear in his famous 1974 Declaration of fidelity to Tradition:
“We adhere with our whole heart and our whole soul to Catholic Rome, the Guardian of the Catholic Faith, and of those traditions necessary for the maintenance of that Faith, to eternal Rome, Mistress of Wisdom and Truth.
“Because of this adherence we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies, such as were clearly manifested during the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council in all the resulting reforms.
“All of these reforms have, indeed, contributed and still contribute to the demolition of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the destruction of the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life, and to a naturalistic and Teilhardian teaching in universities, seminaries and catechesis, a teaching born in Liberalism and Protestantism many times condemned by the solemn magisterium of the Church.
“No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can constrain us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, such as has been clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s magisterium for nineteen centuries …
“This reform, since it has issued from Liberalism and Modernism, is entirely corrupt. It comes from heresy and results in heresy, even if all its acts are not formally heretical. It is therefore impossible for any conscientious and faithful Catholic to espouse this Reformation or to submit to it in any way whatsoever.
“The only attitude of faithfulness to the Church and Catholic doctrine, in view of our salvation, is a categorical refusal to accept this Reformation.
“That is why, without any spirit of rebellion, bitterness or resentment, we pursue our work of forming priests, with the timeless Magisterium as our guide. We are persuaded that we can render no greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff and to posterity.
“That is why we hold fast to all that has been believed and practiced in the faith, morals, liturgy, teaching of the catechism, formation of the priest and institution of the Church, by the Church of all time; to all these things as codified in those books which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council. This we shall do until such time that the true light of Tradition dissipates the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.”
The Archbishop remained steadfast. In the 1980s, in his correspondence with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Lefebvre stated his position that the criterion for interpreting Vatican II in light of Tradition comprises three elements:
1) He and the SSPX would accept anything in Vatican II that is clearly consistent with Tradition;
2) Any ambiguous texts of Vatican II must be interpreted strictly according to Tradition; according to the consistent teaching of the Church throughout the centuries.
3) Anything in the Council that cannot be interpreted according to Tradition should be revised.
The Archbishop laid this out explicitly in his letters to Cardinal Ratzinger in 1982 and 1985.
In his letter of July 21, 1982, to Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke of “The necessity of judging the Second Vatican Council in light of Tradition and the unchanging Magisterium of the Church, so as to correct the texts that are either incompatible with Tradition or equivocal.”
Again, in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger of April 17, 1985, the Archbishop was even more specific. After explaining that he and the SSPX were ready to accept the texts of the Council “in accordance with the criterion of Tradition,” that is, “according to the Traditional Magisterium of the Church”, the Archbishop states clearly what this criterion demands. Archbishop Lefebvre writes:
“Considering that the Declaration of Religious Liberty is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church, we ask for a wholesale revision of the text.
“We consider likewise indispensable noteworthy revisions of documents like ‘The Church in the Modern World’, ‘Non-Christian Religions’, ‘Ecumenism’, and clarifications of numerous texts presently tending to confusion.”
These 1980 discussions, as noted, were conducted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who is first and foremost a man of Vatican II,. The Cardinal has stated with approval that Vatican II is a counter-syllabus, and that “there must be no return to the Syllabus”. (Thus admitting Vatican II, in some areas, teaches the opposite of what Blessed Pope Pius IX taught in his anti-liberal Syllabus of Errors of 1864).
During the 1980s discussions, Cardinal Ratzinger admitted that Vatican II religious liberty is “incontestably a novelty” but claimed it was the outcome of “doctrinal development of continuity”.
Thus, we see up to the late 1980s (and to his death in 1991), Archbishop Lefebvre held to the true meaning of Sacred Tradition: the adherence of the Catholic Faith, as Vatican I and the Oath Against Modernism teach, “in the same meaning and in the same explanation” of what the Church always held throughout the centuries.
Cardinal Ratzinger showed himself to hold a new understanding of “living tradition,” that claims certain aspects of Church teaching can change over time, and this discontinuity is actually continuity.
The discussions ended up in a stalemate that resulted in the 1988 Consecrations of four Bishops for the Society of St. Pius X by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer.
Shortly after the Consecrations, Archbishop Lefebvre gave an interview to Fideliter in which he stressed the primacy of Traditional Catholic doctrine as a basis for any sort of agreement.
When asked about the possibility of reopening a dialogue with Rome, Archbishop Lefebvre said, “We do not have the same outlook. Cardinal Ratzinger sees it as reducing us, bringing us back to Vatican II. We see it as a return of Rome to Tradition. We don’t agree, it is a dialogue of death…. [if] Rome calls for a renewed dialogue, then, I will put conditions. I shall not accept being in the position where I was put in the [1980s] dialogue. No more.”
The Archbishop continued, “I will place the discussion at the doctrinal level: ‘Do you agree with the great encyclicals of all the popes who preceded you? Do you agree with Quanta Cura of Pius IX, Immortale Dei and Libertas of Leo XIII, Pascendi of Pius X, Quas Primas of Pius XI, Humani Generis of Pius XII? Are you in full communion with these Popes and their teaching? Do you still accept the entire Anti-Modernist Oath? Are you in favor of the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ? If you do not accept the doctrine of your predecessors, it is useless to talk. As long as you do not accept the corrections of the Council, in consideration of the doctrine of these Popes, your predecessors, no dialogue is possible. It is useless.”
Archbishop Lefebvre did not mean by this to cut off all communication with Rome utterly and completely. If Rome wanted to have a discussion, Archbishop Lefebvre was willing to comply. But the first goal of these discussions would be to resolve the doctrinal conflicts caused by the Council, and to try to return post-Conciliar Rome to Tradition. The SSPX has followed the Archbishop’s lead.
Recent Doctrinal Discussions
We move quickly to the 2005 death of John Paul II and the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy. With the elevation of Benedict XVI, there was soon word of a more formal reestablishment of dialogue between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X.
Father Regis de Cacquerary, District Superior of France laid out the position of the SSPX on April 5, 2006. He noted that any sort of discussions with Rome would have to proceed according to the following outline:
1) Obtaining the two preconditions, which are the withdrawel of the decree of excommunication and the freedom of every priest to celebrate the Mass of Saint Pius V;
2) The resolution of doctrinal questions regarding the Council and the new orientation since the Council;
3) The search for the most adequate canonical solution after the doctrinal questions are resolved.
We observe that Father Cacquerary’s outline is not his own, but conforms to the position of Archbishop Lefebvre who noted it crucial that doctrinal questions of the Council be resolved according to the traditional teaching of the Church, and before a canonical solution is accepted.
To his credit, Pope Benedict released the July 7, 2007 Motu Proprio admitting that the Latin Tridentine Mass had never been forbidden. In 2009, he lifted the alleged “excommunication” of the four SSPX bishops. It was at this time that the doctrinal discussions got underway.
Throughout the nearly three-years of discussions, the SSPX’s position has been consistent with that of Archbishop Lefebvre and the traditional teaching of the Church.
In Feb 2009, I interviewed Bishop Tissier de Mallarais concerning the doctrinal discussions. Bishop Tissier said, “I must stress that this final juridical solution will not occur if Rome does not make a real conversion, because it would be impossible to obtain such a thing if Rome does not want to convert [back to Tradition]. It would not be possible to live such regularization without the conversion of Rome.”
In October 2010, at the Angelus Press conference, Bishop Fellay reiterated Archbishop Lefebvre’s position that Vatican II must be read with a Catholic “filter”. Thus, “what is good, we accept. What is ambiguous must be interpreted in a Catholic way. What does not enter into [fit through] this filter, we reject.”
In February 2011, in an interview I conducted with Father Arnaud Rostand, US District Superior of the SSPX, Father Rostand quoted what SSPX Bishop de Galarreta said regarding the doctrinal discussions. “We do clearly know what we are not disposed to accept. If we do not know perfectly how things may evolve, on the other hand, we do know clearly what we have no intention of doing under any circumstances: firstly, to yield on matters of doctrine, and secondly, to make a purely practical agreement.”
We quickly move to the present. After nearly three years of doctrinal discussions, Bishop Fellay has stated that the doctrinal issues have yet to be resolved.
In the February 2 sermon at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Bishop Fellay said, “The problem remains at … at the level of the doctrine … The key is a principle. [T]hey say, ‘this you must accept; you must accept that for the points that make difficulty in the Council – points which are ambiguous, where there is a fight – these points, like ecumenism, like religious liberty, these points must be understood in coherence with the perpetual teaching of the Church. So if there is something ambiguous in the Council, you must understand it as the Church has always taught throughout the ages.”
Bishop Fellay continued, “They go even further and say, ‘one must reject whatever is opposed to this traditional teaching of the Church.’ Well, that is what we have always said. Amazing, isn’t it? That Rome is imposing on us this principle. Amazing. Then you may wonder, then why don’t you accept? Well, my dear brethren, there is still a problem. The problem is that in this text they give two applications of what and how we have to understand these principles. These two examples that they give to us are ecumenism and religious liberty, as they are described in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which are exactly the points for which we reproach the Council.”
As noted earlier, Bishop Fellay further explained that today’s Vatican effectively has another meaning for the word “tradition” and even perhaps another meaning for the word “coherence”.
“And that’s why,” said Bishop Fellay, “we were obliged to say no.”
This brings us to the March 16 Communiqué that stated the post-Conciliar Vatican found Bishop Fellay’s response “insufficient”, and reportedly gave the SSPX until April 15 to come up with a more agreeable answer.
If we must form an opinion based on the scant reports available as we go to press, it appears we now witness a heavy-handedness against a Society whose only “crime” is unswerving fidelity to Catholic doctrine of the centuries.
How we wish today’s Vatican would threaten the modernist Jesuits or Maryknolls with “ecclesial rupture of painful and incalculable consequences” for the failure of these Orders to “think with the Church”.
We will see how things unfold. In the meantime, we can all remain united in prayer for Bishop Fellay and the SSPX who no doubt face tremendous pressure.
We can also pray for the post-Conciliar Vatican that it may abandon the principles of liberal Catholicism that Pius IX said would “destroy us,” so that the “true light of Tradition will dissipate the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.”
1. For more on the topic of rupture, see “The Oath Against Modernism vs. the Hermeneutic of Continuity”, J. Vennari, Parts I & II, published in the January & February 2009 Catholic Family News. (For reprint of the 2-part series, order #RP0902-1164 for $4.00 postpaid).
2. “Communiqué of the Holy See Press Office: Meeting between the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (March 16, 2012)”. Posted on www.dici.org
3. The Vatican Radio and AGI reports were posted March 16, 2012 on Rorate Coeli webpage.
4. “The Holy See Gives the Lefebvrians One More Month to Decide,” Andrea Tornielli, Vatican Insider, March 16, 2012.
5. Quoted from Open Letter to Confused Catholics, Marcel Lefebvre [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1992], p. 100.
6. Blessed Pope Pius IX, June 18, 1871, replying to a French deputation headed by the Bishop of Nevers. Quoted from The Catholic Doctrine, Father Michael Muller [New York: Benzinger, 1888], pp. 281-282.
7. The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, Tissier de Mallarais [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2004], p. 330 (emphasis added).
8. Ibid., p. 335.
9. Full 1974 Declaration on line at: http://www.sspx.org/archbishop_lefebvre/1974_declaration_of_archbishop_lefebvre.htm
10, Apologio Pro, Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. III, Michael Davies [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1999], p.. 426.
11. Taken from Winona Seminary letter, April 14, 1985.
12. Principles of Catholic Theology, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989], p. 391.
13. The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, p. 546.
14. The dogmatic Vatican I proclaimed de fide, that not even a Pope may preach a new doctrine. Defining Papal Infallibility, Vatican I taught: “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successor of Peter that by the revelation of the Holy Spirit they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the Apostles and the deposit of Faith, and might faithfully set it forth.” [Vatican I, Session IV, Chapter IV; Pastor Aeternus.] No authority in the Church, not even a Pope, may lawfully attempt to change the clear meaning of infallible dogma, including the thrice defined dogma that “outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation”. Neither may anyone, no matter how highly placed, change the meaning of doctrine in the name of a newer or “deeper” understanding. Vatican I taught: “The meaning of Sacred Dogmas, which must always be preserved, is that which our Holy Mother the Church has determined. Never is it permissible to depart from this in the name of a deeper understanding.” [Vatican I, Session III, Chap. IV, Dei Filius]. Vatican I’s Dei Filius says clearly, “let therefore the understanding, the knowledge and the wisdom of individual men, and of all men of one man, and of the entire Church, grow and advance greatly and powerfully, over the course of the years and the ages, but only in its own class, in the same dogma, with the same meaning and in the same explanation.” The Oath Against Modernism brings out the same truth. The man who takes this Oath makes the following promise, “I sincerely receive the doctrine of faith handed down to us from the Apostles through the orthodox Fathers, with the same meaning and the same explanation (eodem sensu eademque sententia); and consequently I completely reject the heretical fiction of an evolution of dogma, changing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church first held.” Translation from “Two Statements About the Necessity of the Catholic Church for the Attainment of Eternal Salvation,” Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, American Ecclesiastical Review, June 1962, p. 408.
15. For a fuller treatment, see “The True Notion of Tradition” by Bishop Tissier de Mallarais, SSPX. On line at: http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/true_notion_of_tradition.htm
16. Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, Edited by Father François Laisney [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1989 – republished 1999], p. 223-224.
17. These points were outlined by Superior for the District Superior of France, Father Regis de Cacqueray, and posted on the Rorate Caeli webpage, April 5, 2006.
18. “Interview with Bishop Tissier de Mallarais”, Catholic Family News, March 2009.
19."Bishop Fellay on 'Forty Years of Fidelity'”, John Vennari, Catholic Family News, November 2010.
20. “Interview with Father Arnaud Rostand, SSPX, Catholic Family News, February, 2011.
21. A large excerpt from Bishop Fellay’s sermon on the topic, originally posted by St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, can be accessed on line The Introduction to the lecture says, “In the following transcription, reviewed by His Excellency Bishop Fellay, we have retained the quality of the spoken word.”
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Posted March 26, 2012
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