T PAINS ME TO HAVE TO WRITE THIS, because I had great hopes for the reunion of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) with Rome. I had hoped, from all that I had read, that Bishop Fellay was committed to achieving reconciliation, and was disappointed to learn that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had decided to discontinue further negotations. And it is impossible to listen to Bp. Fellay’s latest talk of ninety-plus minutes and doubt that his love for the Church is sincere. However, I think that he has now done near-irreparable harm to his Society’s chances for reconciliation. I pray that I am wrong.1
I am not just talking about his by now well-known reference to Jews as “enemies of the Church.” (And he included Masons and modernists under that rubric as well.) The broader context of his discussion–which I have listened to, in its full hour-and-a-half entirety–was a discussion of Vatican II and his continued insistence that the Council was full of “novelties,” that its commitment to ecumenism is “contrary to tradition” and “doesn’t work,” that it is full of “errors,” and that the Novus Ordo is “bad” and “evil.” As an added bonus, the bishop voiced his stern objection to the move to beatify Pope Paul VI and noted that his (the pope’s) mother’s tomb is covered with Masonic symbols.2
Bp. Fellay is exactly right that great harm has been done to the Church since the Second Vatican Council. But–and it is extraordinarily important to get this right–the source of that harm was not anything the Council said, but rather those who used the Council as an excuse for whatever wild innovations the misguided mind of man could dream up. Could a better job have been done in exercising Church discipline and eradicating this kind of stuff? Probably. Could a better job be done going forward? Almost certainly. But a Hydra-headed monster takes time to kill, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done a fantastic job in attempting to clarify what the Council said and what it did not. To lay the fault at the feet of the Council itself is wrong, and will always be wrong.
Hence the reason Fellay’s words last month are extraordinarily disappointing. He loves the Church–I don’t doubt that–and the SSPX has incredible gifts to bring to the Church. Its commitment to the Church’s traditions, and to the beauty of the Latin Mass, would go a long way toward restoring a sense of the sacred. That is why schism is ugly, because it robs the Church of needed gifts; and God gives gifts to everyone in good measure. As a lifelong Protestant until converting to the Catholic Church in 2011, I understand that many Protestants are extraordinarily gifted in their love for the Sacred Scripture and their devotion to sound exegesis of it. The Church can benefit from those gifts, if only Protestants will forsake their attempts to go-it-on-their-own and return home. The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you. I would say the same thing to the SSPX. The Novus Ordo is not evil. Schism is.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, speaking on behalf of the Vatican, necessarily had to issue a stern rebuke of Bishop Fellay’s “unacceptable” comments regarding Jews as “enemies” of the Church. For his part, the bishop attempted to clarify that he was speaking about the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish people, and that the word “enemy” meant only that these leaders are opposed to the mission of the Church. That strikes me as splitting hairs extraordinarily fine. Neither the Jewish people, nor their leaders, should be scapegoats for what is wrong in the Church. From Abraham until now, they are God’s people. And it might be well to note that, in any case, Bishop Fellay does not speak for the Church. He speaks for the SSPX, and as it stands, and continues to stand, the SSPX is not in communion with Rome.
At the start of his talk, however, Bishop Fellay did say something that I thought was exactly right. Here is what he said: “When you lose the trust to the authority, then you are left to yourself, then you are alone to judge.” Unfortunately, he went on during the next ninety minutes to prove how much those very words apply to himself.
As you ponder all these things, I ask that you would pray the prayer of Jesus in Gesthemane: that we may all be one.
Photo credit: A Tridentine Mass in Venice, Italy. © Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, 2007. Used by permission. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), unlike the SSPX, is in full communion with Rome.