The Furies Gather round Bishop Fellay
by Dr Carol Byrne
The Society of St Pius X has a longstanding and international reputation as a defender of Catholic Tradition par excellence. This is due in large part to the competent leadership of His Excellency Bishop Fellay who has achieved some remarkable results surpassing the expectations of the Society’s holy Founder, Archbishop Lefebvre:
• withdrawal of the unjust 1988 Decree of excommunication affecting not only the 4 SSPX Bishops but also, by implication, Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer. (Readers are referred to the January 2009 statement from the Congregation of Bishops that the entire Decree - and not just the section of it pertaining to the named Bishops - was officially declared to be "deprived of any juridical effect")
• official recognition by the Pope that the traditional Latin Mass has never been abrogated and therefore cannot be forbidden to the priests or faithful of the Roman Rite
• a series of doctrinal talks between the hierarchy of the Society and the Vatican in which the errors of Vatican II and the traditional doctrine of the Church were brought for the first time since the Council to the attention of the Roman authorities for detailed discussion
Yet, in spite of all this, a clique of activists within the Society who appear to be in business to block every attempt at reconciliation have been working round the clock to discredit Bishop Fellay’s attempts to achieve what Archbishop Lefebvre himself always wanted – recognition by Rome and freedom for Catholic Tradition. A recent example is the publication on May 19th 2012 of an Open Letter to Bishop Fellay which bristles with innuendoes that he is planning a sell out of the Society and jeopardizing the future of Catholic Tradition. Pick yourself up off the floor. There’s more.
With the discovery that some signatures on the Open Letter have been appended without their owners’ permission or knowledge, the situation has been transformed into something much nastier and more unsavoury. Not only are we dealing with a cynical propaganda strategy to discredit Bishop Fellay, but also an attempt to deceive the public: adding someone’s name to an Open Letter without their express permission (whether they might agree with its contents or not) is a fraudulent act.
The whole of the Open Letter is a welter of confusion and self-contradiction. Most of the opposition to Bishop Fellay is based on a spurious source – his recent interview given to the Catholic News Agency (an arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops). The interview, as was obvious at the time and as Bishop Fellay later explained, was drastically cut and arranged in such as way as to take his words out of context – another fraud. Let us not forget that it was on such a travesty that people were induced to sign the Open Letter.
Similarly, the Open Letter purports to find a discrepancy between previous and current statements of Bishop Felly by quoting snippets of his talks out of context. Take, for example, the reference to the CNA interview of October 2007 in which a quote from Fellay: “Ratzinger should prepare for a direct revision of the Council texts and not just denounce their incorrect hermeneutic (interpretation)” is twisted and presented in opposition to his present stance. What he actually said – and this can be verified by consulting the CNA archives– is that “the rupture with the past is directly related, unfortunately, to some texts of Vatican II and these texts, in some way, should be revised.” So he was not advocating a wholesale revision of Vatican II, as the Open Letter leads its readers to believe. On that occasion, Bishop Fellay cited as an example the declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae . He stated that the document subjects the Church to the authority of the State which “should submit to the Catholic faith and recognize that it is the religion of the State.”
The matter has been cleared up by Bishop Fellay in his recent interview on DICI in which he explained at length how the official position of the Society has not changed and remains that of its Founder: to accept whatever in the Council accords with Tradition, clarify whatever is ambiguous and reject what is erroneous. So there is no inconsistency involved. Yet the Open Letter asks readers which Bishop Fellay would they agree with – the one who defended Tradition in 2007 or the one who supposedly advocated compromising the Faith in 2012. It is, of course a false opposition, a clever ruse to garner signatures for an anti-Fellay campaign.
The Open Letter’s objections to the secrecy in which the discussions between the Society and Rome are conducted are illuminating. The implication is that whatever is going on must be detrimental to the “future of the Society and the future of Tradition.” But no real evidence has been brought forward to substantiate this claim. The tone of the Letter comes across as a kvetch against Bishop Fellay’s right to take responsibility for the Society and conduct talks with the appropriate level of prudence and discretion demanded of any social discussions requiring authority, whether in diplomatic affairs, business or family matters. It would be most improper to divulge every detail of Bishop Fellay’s talks with the Vatican, thus exposing him to undue pressure from groups wishing for a particular outcome for which he alone has to make a decision in conscience. By enticing the faithful to envy the General Superior’s prerogative and encouraging a grassroots intervention in the high-level discussions, the Open Letter seems to be advocating the Vatican II invention of Collegiality. How’s that for an own goal?
Reference is made in the Open Letter to an article on the USA District website concerning St Basil’s “silence” when dealing with the heretics of his day, and the gratuitous assumption is made that the SSPX now preaches that “the correct attitude of Catholics when faced with heterodoxy and heresy in high places is one of silence in the face of apostasy, in order to accommodate themselves with the apostates.” But this is all based on a misreading of the article which shows that St Basil used his prudential judgement not to use a certain theological formula because he knew it was being exploited by his enemies to support their heresy. As Bishop Tissier de Mallerais pointed out in his 2012 Pentecost sermon, St Basil never compromised the Faith. In fact, St Basil was a most articulate defender of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and his writings prepared the way for the end of the Arian heresy.
The odious implication is that Bishop Fellay is hiding the truths of the Faith in his dealings with Rome, of which there is not the slightest evidence – besides, how could the author and the signatories of the Open Letter be the judges of the discussions which are being conducted in secrecy? In fact, in his June 8 interview on DICI, Bishop Fellay specifically addressed the issue of keeping silence in the face of apostasy and mentioned the necessity for freedom not only to speak but also to act against error.
And so the Letter goes on and on in its destructive course, breathing fire against Bishop Fellay in practically every line. Its main weakness is that it is full of veiled accusations without actually providing convincing arguments. Beneath its pious invocations of “humility”, “honesty” and good intentions, it threatens the very integrity of the Society itself and therefore the future of Catholic Tradition.
We must conclude with a salutary reminder to those who have signed the Open Letter that false assumptions and unscrupulous behaviour can never be the basis for decent action.