SSPX Bishop Fellay snubs pope’s ultimatum on rejoining Rome

June 26, 2008

Bishop Bernard Fellay, 13 Jan 2006/Franck PrevelIt seems there’s no need to wait until Monday* to see how the traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) will respond to the Vatican ultimatum and pledge loyalty to Pope Benedict. Its leader Bishop Bernard Fellay spoke about the conditions last Friday (June 20) — before it was known that Benedict had called his bluff — and made clear the SSPX could not accept it. “They just say ‘shut up’,” he said in a sermon at an SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota. “We are not going … to shut up.”

In another part of the sermon, he says: “We are, shall we say, something like at a crossroads. In a certain way, Rome is telling us, O.K. we are ready to lift the excommunications, but you cannot continue this way. So we have no choice. We are not going this way. We are continuing what we’ve done. We have fought now for 40 years to keep this faith alive, to keep this tradition, not only for ourselves but for the Church. And we are just going to continue. Happens what happens. Everything is in God’s hands.”

Click here for our news report. Here is an audio file of his sermon (in English). Hat tips to Andrea Tornielli for breaking the story and blogging it along (in Italian) and La Croix’s Isabelle de Gaulmyn for the Vatican clarification (in French). The relevant part of Fellay’s sermon is copied out verbatim on the second page of this post (see below) to give the full context of his comments.

This is not that surprising, given that Fellay has always insisted the schism was not only about the old Latin Mass. SSPX leaders are also firmly opposed to the Second Vatican Council, some of them more staunchly and bluntly than Fellay. The interesting part is that many SSPX followers are probably more interested in the traditional Mass than the other theological points Fellay insists on. So they may go back to Rome now that the Latin Mass will be more widely used in Catholic churches. Tornielli wrote: “Now that they have obtained the Mass in the old rite, many faithful don’t understand why the SSPX doesn’t finally make its peace with Rome.” As Fr. Z puts it on WDTPRS, “Most people want a reverent Mass and sound preaching. They care little for the loftier theological arguments. ”

Pope Benedict, 10 May 2007/Tony GentileThere’s a lively debate on some Catholic blogs (see among others Angelqueen, Rorate Caeli, The Sensible Bond, The Gregorian Rite, The Pledge of Future Glory) over whether the fact that the five conditions set by the Vatican did not mention Vatican II or the new Mass (novus ordo) means the SSPX might not have to accept them. But a pledge to “avoid the pretense of a Magisterium superior to the Holy Father” covers those two points and lots more. That wording is just a sugar coating for what is a bitter pill for the SSPX.

What do you think will happen now? Will the sheep flock back to Rome while the shepherds hold out in protest?

*N.B. The letter with the five conditions say the ultimatum’s deadline is “fixed at the end of the month of June.” Tornielli translated that as Saturday June 28, while Gaulmyn opted for Monday June 30. As the original was written in French, I’m going with Isabelle’s interpretation.

Bishop Bernard Fellay spoke at St. Thomas Aquinas (SSPX) seminary on June 20, 2008 and these verbatim excerpts were taken from the audio file on Voice of Catholic Radio. The Swiss-born bishop spoke in English rather than his native French. The excerpts start about 2/3 of the way through the file.

“Certainly, my dear brethren, you expect from me today also a certain update on how are things going with Rome. All these excommunications, or the lifting or retracting of the decree of excommunication, is it coming or not? Frankly I don’t know. My impression right now is that we still can wait for a while. And maybe a good while. And why so?

“Because the approach we have towards the question is not the same as the one of the Vatican. I may say this problem almost these words, they were the words of the archbishop at the time of the bishops’ consecrations 20 years ago. He said Rome wants a reconciliation but with these words they tend, they want to say that we go back to the new, which is not a ‘go back’ but ‘go in.’ And that’s not what we want. He said the perspective is different. They speak of reconciliation, but it is an integration in the new and we don’t want that. In ’75, ’76 it was already the same problem. Before the suspension of ’76, Rome sent an ambassador to the archbishop who told him, say with me one new Mass, concelebrate with me one Mass and everything is fine. And now, well they don’t say say one Mass, they just say ‘shut up.’

“It is so far that Rome has given me an ultimatum. It seems that the last Letter to the Benefactors has been not been well received in Rome. They consider it as a proof of pride, of arrogance. That’s what they don’t want. And we are not going to shut down our mouths, or to shut up. We are still precisely in this fight we have described, my dear brethren. It’s still the same story. May have different appearances, still the same. We may say, so what about the motu proprio, what about the Mass? That’s a good point, no doubt. This reintroduction or the will to reintroduce the old liturgy, the liturgy of old times, that of the Church is something very good and we are very very happy of it, even if for the time being there are not more or not many, many effectiveness. You can almost count, let’s hope so.

“But let me try to give you a picture. The Mass is the visible part of this big fight. It is like the tip of an iceberg. The old Mass is the tip of the iceberg of tradition. The new Mass is the tip of the iceberg of Vatican II and of these modern ideas, what they call the spirit of the council, which has come in with all these reforms which have almost kicked down the Church. This new spirit, this new way of looking at things as if everything is nice, everything is good. A positive way on the world, on the other religions. So we insist on showing all what is good in them. That’s not false. There are some good in them. That’s the tricky point. In every evil you have some good. And in the worst evil, you have the most good. It’s the most dangerous.

“We know that those who refuse only one truth of our Catholic faith, they may keep all the rest. They may keep hundreds, thousands of truths. The denial of only one makes that they have lost the faith. You can insist on all the other points. They have no faith. What they have is a human belief, it’s no longer the faith. This belief is not going to save. Its like a plane where you have a lot of good parts in the plane but you have no engines. Its not going to fly. Or even you have no pilot. It’s not going to fly…

“You may insist there are very good engines there. It doesn’t help. You want this plane to fly, you have to insist that there may be a pilot. Let’s take the Orthodox. They refuse the pilot, they refuse the pope. Their plan may have all the sacraments, they may have all the engines, it’s not going to fly.

“Let’s go back to our first image, the iceberg. What happens with this motu proprio is as if they would have taken this tip of the iceberg. When we see this, we have the impression, OK, they take the tip, so they take everything which is below. That’s not exactly what they did. They tried to take the tip and to plant it on the other iceberg, the iceberg of the new thing. And so we have two tips and they say it’s only one tip. But if you try to go and see and look under the water, what is below, you will see that they maintain that the only thing you can have below is the new thing. But they call it tradition. So it may create a lot of confusion. Twenty years ago, Archbishop Lefebvre, just before the consecration of bishops, gave the conference to the seminarians in Flavigny. And he explained them — it’s his words, at the time 20 years ago – ‘for Cardinal Ratzinger, the council Vatican II is tradition. And that’s what they say now. It may puzzle people, but when you look at the reality, you see that it is not as if we would pretend that these two tips are only one. No they’re not. The new Mass is not the old Mass. It may be valid. That means that the real consecration of our Lord may happen. But all that makes a Mass, all these gestures, all these words, they lead to something else.

“The maker of the new Mass, Monsignor (inaudible), said it when he made it. He said we’re going to take out of the Mass everything that might appear like the shadow of an obstacle to our separate brethren. So they have taken out of the Mass everything that could have hurt the Protestants. They have made a Protestant thing, up to the point that Protestants said, like Max Thurian — from now on we the Protestants can take the new Mass for our Protestant service. It’s theologically possible. Even in Strasbourg in France, the confession of Augsburg, who are Lutherans, they invited their communities to take the new missal, the new Mass for their Protestant service. That means the Protestants have absolutely no problem in taking the text of the new Mass for their Protestant serve. How can you say then it is the same, the new and the old Mass?

“And now we are, shall we say, something like at a crossroads. In certain way Rome is telling us, OK we are ready to lift up the excommunications, but you cannot continue this way. So we have no choice. We are not going this way. We are continuing what we’ve done. We have fought now for 40 years to keep this faith alive, to keep this tradition, not only for ourselves but for the Church. And we are just going to continue. Happens what happens. Everything is in God’s hands. If God wants this proof, this trial to continue, it may continue. He will give us the grace we need for it. No fear, we’ll wait for better times. As the archbishop said 20 years ago, that’s what we continue to say today. Of course we have to do what we can to have this faith to be continued to be preached everywhere. This faith to be really and all this tradition to be really back in the Church. We have to do whatever we can for this, but nothing else. It is a hard time, my dear brethren. That is not ourselves who are going to change it. We are in these circumstances. We did not cause them. So we depend on God…

Let’s choose the right side, even if it is a side that promises us here on Earth tears, work, sweat, tears, persecution, whatever…”


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Tom, I was just wondering if you actually attempted to interview Bishop Fellay or anyone at the SSPX?

As a journalist, I would think that taking things off of blogs and snippets from sermons without interviewing the people you are writing about (or at least attempting to) could lead the reporter and readers astray.

Why not interview Bishop Fellay and ask him on the phone what his response will be?

I don’t think your headline nor story are accurate, factual portrayals of the current SSPX situation.

Journalists are supposed to interview people, not cut and paste off of blogs.

Also, translations into English from the original language often make things appear different than the original comments.

Posted by Brian Charles | Report as abusive

Brian Charles – Why do you imply there is a translation error here when it is clearly indicated that Bishop Fellay spoke in English? You can click on the audio to hear it yourself. This is the first time I have heard him speak English, but I have heard him speak just as forcefully in French on several occasions. So there is no translation error in these quotes. English is not Bishop Fellay’s native language, but he spoke it off the cuff well enough and repeated his position clearly enough that you can’t say this is in any way a translation. He spoke English.

You say you don’t think the headline or story are accurate portrayals of the current SSPX position. Are you saying that Bishop Fellay has a different position from what he states in the sermon? He says in the sermon the SSPX is sticking to the same position it has held for 40 years. As leader of the SSPX commenting clearly on the ultimatum, his statement deserved to be covered. The fact the quotes come from an audio file does not change this. The excerpt from the sermon posted on the blog is almost half of the whole sermon, not just a snippet taken out of context. In fact, I posted it there to show how firm he was in his presentation.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

In the audio are the complete words…
Make sense and feeling of true Catholic man
is impressive

Posted by Jorge E. | Report as abusive


The existence of the letter from the PCED to the SSPX was not even known by media on June 20. Maybe Bishop Fellay is talking about it or maybe he is not.

You said: “Are you saying that Bishop Fellay has a different position from what he states in the sermon? He says in the sermon the SSPX is sticking to the same position it has held for 40 years. As leader of the SSPX commenting clearly on the ultimatum, his statement deserved to be covered. The fact the quotes come from an audio file does not change this.”

The SSPX has not been in existence for 40 years, so I certainly know he did not claim that.

Again, my question. Did you interview anyone? Nope. Do you know Bishop Fellay was talking specifically about the PCED letter in his sermon? Nope!

Do you know if Bishop Fellay has perhaps privately decided to accept the PCED’s terms, but has decided that since the media keeps calling them “Catholic rebels” and “Lefebvrists” and they cannot get a fair hearing, that perhaps he is not going to tell the media (especially you) their plans. Perhaps there has been private correspondence between the SSPX and the PCED (Holy See) since then, but you would never know it.

Why? Because you interviewed NO ONE. You pulled things off websites and blogs and cut and paste it and put an extravagant headline on it to gain coverage.

THAT is what I am saying. Journalism is about interviewing people, or at least giving them the chance to respond, but you interviewed nobody–and apparently didn’t even try to.

That is my beef. If the sermon is in English, so be it. I stand corrected, even though Bishop Fellay’s English is not his native tongue.

How about interviewing people? Call the PCED. Call Bishop Fellay? I have interviewed him more than once. He has always been open to it.

Posted by Brian Charles | Report as abusive

Mr. Tom Heneghan,

I’d have to side with Mr. Brian Charles on this one.

Again, not being a journalist but a blogger, your headline is misleading. You did well to note that the speech was prior to the Vatican notice, but some in the Catholic blogosphere mistook it as an official SSPX rejection.

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and do enjoy it immensely. I do see where both of you are coming from, but Mr. Heneghan, you carry the name of “Reuters” on your blog so it carries more gravitas than a blogger from the Pajama’s Media.

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

Sorry Tom, but I smell a rat! Something Stinks!

You should have interviewd Bp Fellay. Mr Charles is right (About the interviewing). If you were in my journalism class I would have given you an “F” for not going directly to the source.

Jim Dorchak

Posted by Jim Dorchak | Report as abusive

People are commenting on this blog without reading what I posted here precisely to let everyone see what Bishop Fellay said in public rpt in public about the ultimatum. Let’s go through the points:

1. Brian says: “The existence of the letter from the PCED to the SSPX was not even known by media on June 20. Maybe Bishop Fellay is talking about it or maybe he is not.” Tito says “the speech was prior to the Vatican notice.”

The speech was not prior to the Vatican notice and the word “maybe” raises a doubt that is not there in the text. The full text on the blog shows that Bishop Fellay said the following in the first paragraph: “Certainly, my dear brethren, you expect from me today also a certain update on how are things going with Rome…” He then said in the third paragraph: “It is so far that Rome has given me an ultimatum.”

So Bishop Fellay brought up the issue himself on June 20 and called the letter an ultimatum. True, the European media did not know about the existence of this letter until Andrea Tornielli broke the news on June 23. But Bishop Fellay announced it in public on June 20, albeit in a faraway Minnesota town where few if any reporters were present. So the issue is not whether the media knew about it — it was kept secret until then — but whether and when Fellay himself knew about it. And he had clearly received the letter before that date and wanted to talk about it to his audience.

2. Brian says he knows Bishop Fellay could not have said the SSPX has held the same position for 40 years because the group has not been in existence for that long. Look at the penultimate paragraph in the blog text where he says: “We have fought now for 40 years to keep this faith alive, to keep this tradition, not only for ourselves but for the Church.” He’s not talking about the Jesuits or the Dominicans here, he’s talking about the SSPX. The number comes from him, not from me. The SSPX was only founded in 1970, so it as an official organisation has only been fighting about this for 38 years. But if you look at the “Short History of the SSPX” on their website ( iii_history_1.htm), you’ll see the year 1968 plays an important part in the birth of this movement. Is it so hard to imagine that Bishop Fellay dated his calculations from that year? Or simply rounded off 38 to 40?

3. Several readers say journalism is about interviewing people and ask if I interviewed Bishop Fellay. This is a partial presentation of what journalism is. Many news stories you read are not based on individual interviews, but on texts or audio of public statements made by newsmakers who know their words will be reported and are responsible for what they say. In this case, Bishop Fellay made it abundantly clear where he stood. The SSPX has frequently issued texts or audio files like this in the past and we have used them, as we do other newsmakers, without any problem. It is only in this case, where readers disagree with my reading of the sermon, that these protests have suddenly come. It makes me wonder how they understand these clear statements that they can examine themselves in text and audio. After reading or hearing what he said, can one really say he sounds conciliatory towards the Vatican? When he says they want the SSPX to “shut up” but “we are not going … to shut up”?

4. Some complain that I took the speech from a website, the unspoken implication being that it might not be true.
If you see George Bush saying something on television, do you doubt he said it because you did not hear it with your own ears? Or if you hear Gordon Brown on the BBC? Readers don’t know much about the news business if they don’t know that newsmakers and their organisations make audio clips available on the Internet to spread their message beyond their immediate audiences — just look at the Obama and McCain websites in the U.S. election campaign. It’s not as if this was a rogue recording that might or might not have been from Bishop Fellay himself. I could confirm it was him because I recognised his voice, having met him several times, including at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, the SSPX church in Paris. The source is clear, the statements are clear.

5. As for the headline, it clearly states that Bishop Fellay made these comments. The text also indicates he spoke in the plural “we,” which he as leader of the SSPX presumably can do. Even so, I pinned it all on him because this could lead to a split within the group if some decide to say yes to the Vatican and others decide to say no. If this had been an official SSPX declaration of an official position, I would have said that. Headlines are necessarily concise, but these were not misleading. Readers who were confused jumped to conclusions before reading all the details. The comments above showed that readers could overlook clearly worded statements by Bishop Fellay and misunderstand the message.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I listened to the audio file. (in fact listening to it now…), He is speaking in plain English easily understandable. He is basically ignoring the offer as much as I can tell.
My wife and children are in Mexico right now and stayed the first week down there in an SSPX sponsored monastery.
They will be at an SSPX church in about a week in another location (Fr. Novak’s for those who know him)
He contacted her several times since the beginning of the trip to Mexico. His last contact with her was after the Bishops sermon. She told me he now sounds different and his general demeanor was a bit off from prior conversations. It also has to do with a seminarian traveling with her in another Latin rite order. But it goes deeper than that because the seminarian will not be with my family at that SSPX church. Something is definitely changing the mood of at least two SSPX priests I know of since the 20th.
FYI, continued listening of the Bishop’s sermon shows his discomfort with the “Motu Proprio”
While in Germany a couple of months ago, I was amazed at the outright disgust the SSPX followers there had with the Pope. They consider him nearly evil. I know this is not the case everywhere in SSPX, but for what eve reason in Bavaria, they really do not like him or the Motu Proprio. They told me it is basically an attempt to crush SSPX and was aimed directly at them. This point could be argued, but does not really matter given that this is what they believe (in Bavaria) regardless of what the true facts are. Because when it comes down to it, Perception Is REALITY. What they perceive is what the believe to be true.
I just pray for Catholic Truth and God’s grace to reach the hearts of all and that it directs us towards true eternal salvation.

Posted by H Summer | Report as abusive

Again, Tom. Catholic “rebels”? That is not inflammatory at all is it? Has Bishop Fellay put out anything official saying this is the SSPX position. Everyone worldwide reading your article thinks now that he has.

But Fr. Schmidberger in Germany has on his website that an official response is forthcoming. So again, this is NO OFFICIAL SSPX response.

It may indeed be the official response once the official response is announced by Bishop Fellay. But then again, isn’t that what journalists are supposed to do. Call people and interview them?

You say that other information nowadays makes up journalism. So true. It does. And rarely does anyone interview anyone to ensure the accuracy of the contents of the story.

IF the SSPX condition is announced to readily accept the Holy See’s preconditions, will you issue a CORRECTION story? Will you?

Of course not. Do you have a telephone? Call him or Fr. Schmidberger.

Mr. Summer: Could you enlighten us as to the different demeanors of these SSPX priests? Do they seem to be for the Holy Father or against these preconditions?

Posted by Brian Charles | Report as abusive

All this flimflam and pretentious nonsence bores me rigid!

The Pope runs a big business operation – period!

As the MD he demands obedience.

Jesus Christ is not even a consideration.

It is a theatre of power games and the Pope is extravagantly enjoying the luxury of being a control freak.

Posted by The Truth Is… | Report as abusive

Reading your headline, I nearly despaired, thinking this truly was his response. Lo and behold! It wasn’t! Just something you made appear to be a response to the “ultimatum” (much to strong a word, by the way).

Do you ever wonder why more and more, readers question what’s reported by a truly biased mainstream medium?

Posted by Thomas Burk | Report as abusive

WOW! Someone interviewed the SSPX spokesman. Imagine that.

PARIS, 27 juin 2008 (AFP) – Les Lefebvristes n’ont pas l’intention de répondre à l’ultimatum du Vatican

La Fraternité Saint-Pie X, fondée par Mgr Lefebvre, n’a nullement l’intention de répondre à “l’ultimatum” que lui aurait posé le Vatican pour tirer un trait sur le schisme provoqué il y a vingt ans par le mouvement catholique intégriste, a indiqué vendredi le porte-parole de la Fraternité.

“La Fraternité n’a pas l’intention de répondre à cet ultimatum”, a déclaré à l’AFP l’abbé Alain Lorans, porte-parole de la Fraternité sacerdotale Saint Pie X, joint par téléphone à Ecône (Suisse).

“Nous n’envisageons pas d’accord pratique ou canonique avant d’avoir traité des questions doctrinales qui se posent depuis Vatican II”, a indiqué ce responsable de la Fraternité fondée par Mgr Marcel Lefebvre.

“Mgr Bernard Fellay – ndr: supérieur général de la Fraternité – est surpris par le décalage existant entre la procédure d’ultimatum et le contenu de cet ultimatum qui reste très imprécis”, a ajouté l’abbé Lorans.

Le quotidien italien Il Giornale avait fait état, en début de semaine, de la proposition faite par le Vatican à la Fraternité Saint-Pie X de souscrire à cinq conditions pour tirer un trait sur le schisme intervenu il y a vingt ans.

Le Vatican aurait donné à la Fraternité jusqu’au 28 juin pour répondre positivement à ces questions.

Ces cinq conditions posées par le Vatican concerneraient la reconnaissance de l’autorité du pape et l’engagement à ne rien dire contre l’Eglise, mais ne feraient aucune allusion au concile Vatican II.

Selon l’abbé Lorans, le supérieur général de la Fraternité, Mgr Fellay aurait écrit jeudi une lettre aux autorités vaticanes.

Posted by Brian Charles | Report as abusive

The Truth,


Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

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Posted by Le Blog de » Selon l’agence Reuters, Mgr Fellay snobe Benoît XVI | Report as abusive

I agree that there should have been an interview. This issue is deeper than is stated, and care must be taken. Not only are Bishop Fellay’s intentions assumed, but so are the intentions and actions of the Pope himself. Everything has to be kept in context. Fortunately, neither the Bishop or the Pope are influenced by things that are said in the media…or the assumptions of others. These are only distractions. Either interview and report, or keep your nose out of it. If you do not know all of the facts on both sides….find them out first…THAT is reporting. Otherwise…it is your own opinion.

Posted by Elizabeth Clarke | Report as abusive

And….there is a Whole Lot missing between the final full paragraph that ends with God….and the final line that says Let us Choose…Way out of context…

Posted by Elizabeth Clarke | Report as abusive

I have served at Mass for His Excellency and have been in one of his conferences in person and the way in which you portray him is an offense to any honest person. I agree that your ways are totally contrary to the professionalism required from such a serious task as it is journalism: this is yellow journalism, please mature. The Society does “snubs” Vatican propositions, but the problem is that, unfortunately, the authorities do not want to obey Our Lord in many things. The problem is that the Vicars from 1960’s have thought that they know better than the King, who has the virtue of being Omniscient. This unfortunate attitude of the Cardinal Hoyos himself is an immature act in which he reveals private correspondence as if he were member of a gossip magazine rather than a member of the Roman Curia. You, as gossip lovers do nothing but follow up with the game. Please, let us grow up and, for the sake of our souls have respect when we treat with matters of His Holy Church. Thanks God, our spiritual father, Archbishop Lefebvre, chose well whom was he to confer bishopric and they will not be intimidated, neither by these Roman tyrants (who someday will be overthrown) nor from you who only work to put more pressure on the situation. Please, grow up.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive