The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Nicolas Senèze is deputy editor of the religion service at the French Catholic daily La Croix and author of La crise intégriste, a history of the SSPX. He wrote this for FaithWorld (translation by Reuters) after covering the ordinations in Ecône for La Croix.
Bishop Bernard Fellay has gone and done it. On the morning of June 29, before crowds of the faithful gathered on the large meadow outside the Saint Pius X seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX) ordained eight new priests. Just like Bishop Alfonso de Galaretta did on Friday in Zaitzkofen, Germany, and Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais 10 days ago in Winona, Minnesota in the United States. They went ahead and ordained these men despite the Vatican’s declaration that the ordinations were “illegitimate”, i.e. illegal according to the law of the Roman Catholic Church.
Was this a provocation by the SSPX against Pope Benedict, whose flag flies above the seminary? Absolutely not, a very self-confident Bishop Fellay responded to journalists who had journeyed to this Swiss Alpine village for the ceremony. “There is a tacit tolerance from Rome,” said the Swiss-born bishop, whose 20-year excommunication was lifted in January along with the three other bishops drummed out of the Church in 1988. “We did not have an explicit order not to do this. I have contacts with Rome, I’m not just making this up out of thin air. Rome knows this is not a provocation on our part.”
In any event, for Bishop Fellay, the SSPX is in the “state of necessity” which canon law mentions when it allows derogations from Church rules. “If everything went well in the Church, our gesture would have been disobedience. But all is not well in the Church,” he said calmly. “We see such scandals at Mass, we hear sermons so contrary to the faith!”
This is the same “state of necessity” that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre invoked in the 1970s and 1980s, when he went ahead with priestly ordinations without having the power to do so. At the time, the SSPX, which had been dissolved by the bishop of Fribourg with the endorsement of Pope Paul VI, had no official status in the Church. Pope John Paul had asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to settle the Lefebvre case. The CDF prefect at the time was named … Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Early this year, the same person, who became pope in 2005, lifted the excommunications pronounced after the collapse of the talks he had conducted in 1988 with Archbishop Lefebvre. Again, the case will now be entrusted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – a sign that the differences with these fundamentalists are primarily theological. But that means there is also a red line not to cross — the fundamentalists must accept the authority of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the post-conciliar magisterium of the popes.
“The biggest problem is philosophical,” Bishop Fellay observed. “Two philosophies meet: the classical scholastic philosophy and modern philosophy. The pope is very eclectic and we feel that he has been marked by a subjective philosophy — less when he talks about morality than when he speaks in the abstract. Our scholastic philosophy is more objective.”
So Bishop Fellay thinks that Rome and Ecône may speak “about the same thing, but differently.” This is a timid opening, but it must be appreciated for what it is. Only a little while ago, the SSPX Council firmly rejected Vatican II as a council tainted by error.
In essence, Bishop Fellay is saying that the fundamental issue is less the Council itself than its interpretation. “There are differences of position within the Catholic Church that are larger and more serious than those we have with Rome,” he said. “The Council texts opened the door to interpretations. It may be necessary that the pope clarifies them, as Paul VI did on collegiality. But when the pope condemned the hermeneutic of discontinuity, he condemned 80% of what ishappening in the Church!”
Nicolas Senèze (Translation by Reuters)