GUESTVIEW: Fellay ordains SSPX priests, hints timid opening

June 29, 2009

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.


(Photo: Bishop Fellay greets children in Ecône, in Valais canton in southwestern Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

By Nicolas Senèze

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!”

econe-processionThis 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.

(Photo: Candidates for SSPX priesthood in procession before their ordination in Ecône, Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

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.

la-crise-integristeIn 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!”

What’s your opinion? Is 80% of what goes on in the Catholic Church wrong?

(For readers of French, here are La Croix readers’ reactions to the ordinations)


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I would say that 80% of the Catholic priests and 95% of the Catholic bishops do not teach or live the Catholic Faith as they are supposed to, with grave consequences to their own Faith and to the Faith of their parishioners. It is indisputable that the way they offer Mass, preach, and give the Sacraments is often contrary to the teachings of the Church on these matters. JPII was too tolerant, and so liberal experimentation flourished, to the detriment of the whole Church.

Posted by Lana | Report as abusive

If Vatican II was so great why does everyone (nuns, priests,people,brothers etc…) leave? Blind Obedience is not true obedience. SSPX chooses not to follow the sinking ship and sticks with what has worked for thousands of years.

Posted by Ryan | Report as abusive

“Except these stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” – Acts of the Apostles 27:31″ If a man have a stubborn and unruly son, who will not hear the commandments of his father or mother, and being corrected, slighteth obedience: They shall take him and bring him to the ancients of his city, and to the gate of judgment, And shall say to them: This our son is rebellious and stubborn, he slighteth hearing our admonitions, he giveth himself to revelling, and to debauchery and banquetings:The people of the city shall stone him: and he shall die, that you may take away the evil out of the midst of you, and all Israel hearing it may be afraid.” – Deuteronomy 21:18-21God bless Holy Mother Church. And God bless our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

This story is irrelevant. After the Vatican lifted the excommunications on the Orthodox Church in the 70’s did this mean that the Orthodox should stop ordaining priests?Obviously not, what it did do however was to build trust between the two groups. Now it seems that the media and the German, French and Swiss bishops want to stir things up again and instigate that the SSPX are unreasonably disobedient. It won’t work~The SSPX is doing what the Church has always done and teaching the faith minus modernist leanings. This can never be considered heretical or disobedient.Let’s pray that Rome abandons the sinking ship of Vatican II before it is too late.

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

The steps taken by the SSPX are necessary to safeguard and preserve the Catholic Faith. The Church is in tatters, due to the great heresy of Modernism that has been allowed to flourish. A false interpretation of the ambiguous patoral documents of the Second Vatican Council has created a crisis and led to a loss of Faith by many priests, nuns,religious, and ordinary lay Catholics. The changes caused by Vatican II are reflected in the confusion that now exists, a confusion sown by enemies within the Church acting on the orders of Freemasonry.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

Is there any achievement for insuffient clarification at complex issues like validity of SSPX ordination.If you see media reports they are filled with illicitness of the ordination some thinking this is a credit to invalidity.I believe it is time to give pure clarification that SSPXinisters have valid sacramental powers. At consecration the wine and bread change to body and blood.About recent meadia report the true statement is that the Vatican gave clarification as response to some who asked the incoming ordination.I guess the questioners are those who started recently to watch SSPX movement especially after remmitance of excommunication of the four bishops.They were not aware that even in April this year SSPX was adviced to change deaconal ordination from France to Econe. Also it is a yearly routine priestly ordination occurs in the last week of June.SSPX controversy is a good place to learn theological and philosophical knowledge for most of people.We should take SSPX issue with great care rather than superficial and prejudged concept which we might end up at wrong place.Who knows what will be the fate of SSPX who have agreed to enter int doctrinal discussion with Rome?Kindly,Joseph Misango Magata, Tanzania, Africa

Posted by Joseph Misango Magata | Report as abusive

I think that all this needs numbers.To truly see the impact of The Vatican II council has had on Catholicism, one has to implement a before/after study.Although this is very difficult to do seeing as you can’t measure faith, other criteria could be used such as-the change in the fundamental beliefs of catholics-church attendance-average age in a parishetc.If studies bring forward conclusive evidence of an impact (whether it be positive or negative) ony then can there can it be decided if something is wrong in catholicism is wrong or not

Posted by addam | Report as abusive

Addam, there are lots of numbers and studies out there already, but no consensus on what they mean. It’s easy to draw a timeline for the Church from the 1950s to today and see there was a major dropoff from the mid to late ’60s. That’s just after Vatican II, so the temptation is great to blame it all on the Council. But if you can draw lots of other timelines for trends unrelated to Catholicism from the 1950s to today and find many other major changes starting in the mid to late ’60s. Other faiths saw major dropoffs in attendance, too, without a Council. Respect for institutions, for politics, for authority, for marriage and for other longstanding social codes also changed dramatically in western societies at large. The Church lives in the world and the world changed fundamentally in the 1960s. Can all of the Church’s problems only be blamed on Vatican II?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Don, it is obvious you are in oblivian to what is going on in the Church. If there is any “revelling, and to debauchery and banquetings”, it exists when a “new order” priest presents to the sanctuary in a clown costume or dressed as “Santa Clause” or when there is a modern band in a Roman Church to entertain the faithful. I was once a “new order” Catholic, actually born after Vatican II. May Our Lord be glorified and honored in the Latin Mass for ever and ever, and may I bow to Him in humility for leading me back to Himself.Don, pray for humility and wisdom.Indeed, God bless our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI !!kp

Posted by kpbrown | Report as abusive

Tom Heneghan’s article is another attempt to scare off those seeking to save their souls. Tom writes that the ordinations by the SSPX Bishops, are illegitimate but conveniently forgets to add that they are still VALID. We are all getting rather tired of articles such as this. The only benefit of the negative articles is that it brings into the light those who are terrified of the age-old faith of Our Fathers. The Faith comes before obedience. If obedience decides who is a Catholic and who is not, then half of the clergy are actually out of the Church!!!

Posted by irene | Report as abusive

Irene,First of all, if you had read the post carefully, especially the first five lines written in bold letters, you would have seen that this is not Tom Heneghan’s article, but Nicolas Senèze’s. We made a special effort to explain that because Nicolas is not a Reuters correspondent, but deputy editor of the religion section of the French Catholic daily La Croix. That’s not a problem, but you should at least know whose work you’re criticising.That this post does not explicitly state the fact these ordinations are valid does not mean either Nicolas or I do not know that. But that is not the issue here. The Vatican recognises them as valid as well, so if the validity were an issue, the Church would not have a problem with these ordinations. But the problem lies elsewhere.The question is whether the SSPX bishops really want to come back into the fold of the Catholic Church or not. They lobbied the Vatican long and hard enough to get their 1988 excommunications lifted. Then as soon as they were confronted with the issue of complying with canon law, like Catholic bishops around the world, they claimed an exception for themselves and disregarded a Vatican warning that the ordinations would be illicit. This does not look like a sign of good faith towards a pope who risked — and got — a lot of criticism from within the Church for lifting the excommunications without any concessions from the SSPX.If the faith comes before obedience, why does the SSPX continue to try to reenter a Roman Catholic Church it cannot obey? Pope Benedict has made clear the SSPX will have to accept Vatican II reforms that the society rejects. If they accept these reforms in some deal with the Vatican, does that mean that they are also betraying the “age-old faith of Our Fathers”?Another point you may not have noticed in this post is the quote from Bishop Fellay indicating he might be ready to make some concessions on Vatican II. This is the start of the SSPX’s negotiation for actual reintegration into the Church, a process that will most probably involve concessions that many SSPX followers may find hard to swallow. The point of this article is not “another attempt to scare off those seeking to save their souls” but to inform readers about a crossroads the SSPX and the Catholic Church are approaching.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

¡¡VIVA THE CATHOLIC CHURCH¡¡ Viva the holy father Benedict¡¡ We are united as ONE HOLY UNIVERSAL CHURCH with the Christ’s vicary, the pope together with all the bishops.

Posted by Omoyo | Report as abusive

TomI don’t think the SSPX has ever maintained that Faith comes form obedience, but rather the other way around. One must first believe the Pope is Christ’s earthly representative before giving him obedience, to do otherwise would be idolotry.That said, the reality is that the SSPX priests and bishops conceed, and always have conceeded, that obedience is owed to the Pope (they are probably more obedient than most other bishops around the world on most things). But they argue that obedience to authority is only required when that authority is itself in obedience to the teaching of the Church. When those in authority display an adhearance to theological principles opposed to the Church’s teaching, then it becomes a duty of the subordinate to (respectfully) disobey. Such apparent ‘disobedience’ is in reality obedience to a higher authority and a virtue. This is the SSPX’s argument. One could debate whether they are right in their evaluation of the theological innovations of VCII, and hence the wish of the Pope for discussions.By the way, it was never the Pope who stated that the SSPX must accept the documents of VCII. This was a statement issued by the Vatican press secretary.One final point, it is constantly reported that the ‘excommunications’ of the 4 SSPX bishops was ‘lifted’ in January. Carefully reading the January document, particularly the last sentence or two, I can not help but think otherwise. I declares the former document which stated the SSPX bishops were excomunicated to be ‘void of juridical effects’. In other words, the former document was in error, and the excomunication never happened.

Posted by Paul Mc | Report as abusive

SSPX should never accept false teachings of Vatican II. But Vatican II can be accepted as catholic council. But its confusing statements which destroyed catholic faith and teachings for years must be condemned and corrected by POPE. Let us pray for this grace tobe given to our holy Father by our blessed Lord And also pray for the holy father to come out from the erroneous belief ecuminism Which is a concept something against first commandment and also the teachings of catholic church.ByChristopher

Posted by Christopher | Report as abusive

It can not be argued that the modern church is destroyed due to the modern world environment. Because SSPX is also doing its work in the same environment only. The difference is SSPX does not follow wrong reforms of Vatican II. But modern church does it.

Posted by christopher | Report as abusive

“What’s your opinion? Is 80% of what goes on in the Catholic Church wrong”As a young Catholic, I can answer 100% yes…80% of what goes on in the Catholic Church is wrong.The misinterpretation and deviations from the text of Vatican II documents happened from the very beginning in 1965, after the close of Vatican II. Radical priests, bishops, Cardinals, friars and nuns who warped Vatican II into their own liberal agenda wrecked the Church. And the Popes (especially Paul VI, but also John Paul II), either did nothing to stop it, or timidly supported it. Many of Paul VI’s dicrectives early on (save for the monumental encyclical “Humanae Vitae”) discarded a thousand years of Catholic tradition and replaced it with modern fabricated garbage. The so called “New Mass” is an example of that. Mass attendance, and the number of those choosing religious life collapsed right upon the implementation of the “New Mass”, and has been declining ever since.The SSPX and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and now the 4 bishops consecrated by him especially Bishop Fellay represent the hope of the Catholic Church to restore itself with Catholic tradition and the Latin Mass. Proof is that the SSPX and it’s 400+ churches and 1.5 million faithful are flourishing.Benedict XVI sees the dramatic picture. He sees the rot and collapse of the “Vatican II” Church and what the misinterpretation of the Council has done to the Church, and he sees the solid, flourishing Catholic vibrant traditionalism and holiness growing under the SSPX.Don’t be surprised if this summer, Pope Benedict XVI makes major re-structuring of the Catholic Church along the lines back to Catholic tradition. He knows what succeedes, (The tradition of the Church as expresed with the SSPX), and that which fails (the reforms of Vatican II).

Posted by Kenjiro M. Shoda | Report as abusive

Paul Mc – you write that the January document from the Congregation of Bishops says the 1988 document declaring the SSPX bishops excommunicated was “void of juridical effects.” So, you conclude, “the former document was in error, and the excomunication never happened.”The fuller quote from the statement does not support your argument. Cardinal Re wrote: “According to faculties expressly conceded to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, by virtue of the present Decree, I remit the censure of excommunication latae sententiae, pronounced from Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta from and, as of this day, I likewise declare void of juridical effects the Decree published at the time.” Here’s the original text.That verb “remit” is better known to English-speaking Catholics in its noun form, remission, as in the phrase “remission of sins.” Re would not have to remit or forgive something that never happened.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Thanks Tom for pointing out the ways in which Pope Benedict has taken serious falls for the SSPX (like the remission of excommunications) only to be spurned yet again as with these new ordinations. I think part of the reason why the SSPX strikes such a raw nerve with Pope Benedict is that the Church itself is already divided into two sharply opposing camps. On the one hand there are those who have returned to the old Latin liturgy and push for a conservative/restrictive interpretation of Vatican II, and those who want to stretch the modern liturgy and the Council much farther. We’re almost 50 years on from the last Council, and the rifts that have appeared in the Church make me wonder if we will see another Council quite soon to rethink the decisions of a half-century. Pope Benedict needs to mend his internal divisions before even contemplating the repair of a bitter schism.

Posted by JM | Report as abusive

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