With Bishop Fellay
Concerning His Meeting With
Pope Benedict XVI
Your Excellency, you requested the audience with Pope Benedict XVI
that took place last August 29. What was the purpose of your request?
Bishop Fellay: We wanted to meet the Holy Father
because we are Catholic and, as every Catholic, we are attached
to Rome. We wanted to show, in requesting this audience, quite simply
that we are Catholic.
Our recognition of the Pope is not limited only to mentioning his
name in the Canon of the Mass, as do all the priests of the Society
of Saint Pius X. It is normal that we should express our respect
as being Catholic and Roman. Catholic means universal, and the Mystical
Body of the Church does not just consist in our chapels.
There was likewise on our part the plan to remind once more the
Sovereign Pontiff of the existence of Tradition. Ours is the concern
to remind him that Tradition is the Church, and that we incarnate
the Church’s Tradition in a manner that is very much alive.
We want to show that the Church would be much stronger in today’s
world if it maintained Tradition. Thus, we want to put forward our
experience: if the Church desires to escape the tragic crisis that
it is presently going through, then Tradition is a response, indeed
the only response, to this crisis.
How did this audience go?
Bishop Fellay: The audience took place in the
Popes’ summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Foreseen for 11:30
a.m., it actually began at 12:10 p.m. in the Sovereign Pontiff’s
office. He generally grants an audience of 15 minutes to a bishop.
For us, it last 35 minutes. This means, so say the Vatican specialists,
that Benedict XVI wanted to show his interest in these questions.
There were four of us: the Holy Father and Cardinal Castrillon
Hoyos, Father Schmidberger and myself. The conversation took place
in French - contrary to the announcement of certain persons that
it would take place in German. It was directed by the Pope in a
kindly spirit. He described three difficulties, in response to the
letter that we had sent to him shortly before the audience. Benedict
XVI was aware of this letter, and it was not necessary to go over
the points brought up in it. We there outlined a description of
the Church, quoting the “silent apostasy” – a
word of John-Paul II –, “the boat which is taking in
water from every side” and “the dictatorship of relativism”
– words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger –, with as an appendix
photos of Masses each more scandalous than the other.
We also gave a presentation of the Society with a list of numbers
and different achievements. We quoted two examples of actions led
by the Society in the present world, and the unbelievable attitude
of the local episcopacies in their regard: the law suit in Argentina
that obtained that the sale of contraceptives is now forbidden,
and which merited for us to be called terrorists by the bishop of
Cordoba, and the denunciation of the gay pride procession in Lucerne,
that finished in a Catholic church by a Protestant ceremony with
total indifference on the part of the bishop.
Finally, we expressed our requests: the changing of the attitude
of hostility towards Tradition, which attitude makes the traditional
Catholic life (Is there any other?) practically impossible in the
conciliar church. We requested that this be done by granting full
liberty to the Tridentine Mass, by silencing the accusation of schism
directed against us, by burying the pretended excommunications,
and by founding a structure for the family of Tradition within the
Is it possible for us to know the difficulties raised by Benedict
Bishop Fellay: I can only evoke them. First of
all, the Holy Father insisted on effective recognition of the Pope,
linking it to the situation of necessity invoked by Archbishop Lefebvre
for the consecration of the bishops and our subsequent activity.
Then Benedict XVI pointed out that there can only be one way of
belong to the Catholic Church: it is that of having the spirit of
Vatican II interpreted in the light of Tradition, that is in the
intention of the Fathers of the Council and according to the letter
of the text. It is a perspective that frightens us greatly.
Finally, we would have to have, the Sovereign Pontiff thinks, a
structure that is appropriate for us for the traditional rite and
certain exterior practices - without, however, protecting us from
the spirit of the Council that we would have to adopt.
The Vatican Press Release at the end of the audience speaks of a
“desire to proceed in stages and within a reasonable time
limit”. What ought we to understand by this expression?
Bishop Fellay: The Pope did not want to go into
the problems in depth, but simply to outline them. But it will be
necessary first of all to respond to the requirement of the right
of existence of the old Mass so as to afterwards confront the errors
of the Council, for we see there the cause of the present evils,
both a direct cause and in part an indirect cause.
Of course, we will go step by step. We must show the council in
a different light than that which is given to it by Rome. At the
same time as we condemn the errors, it is indispensable for us to
show their logical consequences and their impact on the disastrous
situation of today’s Church, without, however, provoking exasperation,
that could cause the discussions to be broken off. This obliges
us to proceed by stages.
With respect to a reasonable time limit, it is said in Rome that
documents are in preparation for communities attached to the Ecclesia
Dei Commission, that are quite new, and offering things that have
never previously been offered. “Let us wait and see!”
It is certainly true that the Pope has the desire of rapidly arranging
In order to be quite precise, I would like to add this further
detail. We must indeed consider the Pope’s difficult situation.
He is stuck between the progressives on one side and us on the other.
If he were to grant a general permission for the Mass on the basis
on our request alone, the modernists would stand up against him,
affirming that the Pope has given way to traditionalists. We learned
from Bishop Ricard that in 2000 he, along with Cardinal Lustiger
and the Archbishop of Lyon suddenly rushed to Rome to block a proposition
made to the Society, threatening that they would rebel. We know
that the German bishops acted in the same way at the time of the
World Youth Conference in Cologne: “It is us or them”.
By this is meant: “If they are recognized, then we will leave
the Church and go into schism.”
It is for this reason that the Pope could not, during the audience,
give us the verbal assurance that this Fall, for example, freedom
would be given to the Mass. Any promise made by him to the Society
in this sense would infallibly expose him to pressure by the progressives.
We would then have received the opinions of a Pope against the majority
of bishops disposed towards secession. This cannot be expected in
the climate of the present debacle, even with the will of a certain
restoration. As for myself, I believe that it will only be a limited
freedom for the Mass that will eventually be granted.
The Press has published rumors concerning divisions within the Society
of Saint Pius X? What is exactly the case?
Bishop Fellay: The announcement of the audience
granted by the Pope provoked feverish talk in the media. They have
made a lot of noise, attempting to show that divisions exist in
the Society amongst its four bishops. Journalists have likewise
published the threats directed against the Pope by the progressives:
“To grant freedom to the Mass is to disavow Paul VI and the
However, I can affirm to you that within the Society of Saint Pius
X, the four bishops are united on the question of the relationships
with Rome, and that Bishop Williamson, whose name has been quoted,
is not “sedevacantist”. The media has nothing to worry
about. Alas, this is for them not newsworthy.
Your Excellency, what do you now hope for?
Bishop Fellay: Some Cardinals in Rome hope to
see Tradition recognized. We likewise hope for it. We hope, in particular,
for complete freedom to be granted to the Mass, but there is little
chance that this will be for tomorrow. It will then be a duty to
acknowledge the place of Tradition in the Church, avoiding the bad
interpretations that are often given concerning it.
We must force the Roman authorities to admit that we cannot follow
without serious reservations the interpretation that they have given
of the Council and of Ecumenism, as it is practiced. Deep down,
what we hope for is to make them understand one day the whole reason
why Tradition exists.