January 10, 2013

Thoughts on Bp. Fellay and the Ugliness of Schism

(c) 2007, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). Used by permission.

© 2007, Priestly Fra­ter­nity of St. Peter (FSSP). Used by permission.



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.

Schism is ugly, because it robs the Church of needed gifts. The eye can­not say to the hand, I have no need of you.

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.

“When you lose the trust to the author­ity … then you are alone to judge.”

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.

You can lis­ten to Bishop Fellay’s remarks here. And you can read the Doc­u­ments of Vat­i­can II here. They are worth study­ing carefully.



[1] Fr. Z., with his usual pre­ci­sion, refers to Fellay’s address as “rambling.”

[2] There are some pho­tos here that attempt to val­i­date this claim, for what they may be worth. Update: There is some good dis­cus­sion below, worth read­ing, that points out why these pho­tos prove zero.