Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), has made some interesting comments in an in-house video interview shown at a meeting of his supporters in Paris on Thursday evening. First of all, he said he was surprised to see how quickly the Vatican lifted excommunication orders against him and three other bishops. Relations with Rome had been “rather cold” for months, he said, since he declined to accept a Vatican ultimatum last June to stop criticising the pope and to accept his authority in doctrinal matters. Fellay said he wrote to the Vatican in December requesting the retraction of the excommunications as a way to make contact again. “Since the letter was relatively severe, I didn’t expect a quick response. It was just a way to reestablish contact,” he said.
Another reason not to expect any change in his status, Fellay said, was the fact that rumours he heard from Rome said the Vatican was thinking of reaffirming his excommunication because he was leading a “schismatic drift”. Just before he was due to leave for Rome in mid-January to make courtesy calls on some Vatican officials, he said, he got a call saying officials there wanted urgently to discuss the excommunications with him.
We know the rest of the story from there. The excommunications were lifted, Bishop Richard Williamson’s interview caused an uproar and the Vatican handled the whole thing very poorly. What is striking in this part of Fellay’s account is the apparently sloppy handling of this even beforehand. Let’s step back and remember that this split was the most important schismatic act since the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican has been dealing with this issue for years. Why such a rush all of a sudden?
(UPDATE: Le Figaro‘s Jean-Marie Guénois reports that the decree lifting the excommunications was “signed on the pope’s orders by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re on Saturday Jan 17 and handed the same day to Bishop Fellay, who had been summoned to the Vatican for this purpose.”)
Fellay did not discuss the much-criticised Vatican handling of the excommunications announcement. He blamed the uproar over Williamson on “progressives and left-wingers” in the Catholic Church who “used the unfortunate comments of Bishop Williamson to force Rome to go back” on its opening to the SSPX. He denied the SSPX was anti-Semitic and said it was often labelled unfairly. It had earlier been branded as excommunicated and was now being branded as anti-Semitic. “We don’t like this label at all, it’s worse than the other one,” he said.