Wednesday, 30 May 2012

New blog alert! Ben’s Poʊpəri ...

I don't do this often but there's a new blog on the block to pay a visit to. It goes by the curious name of Ben’s Poʊpəri which looks like phonetic text if you ask me!

It came up as I was scooting around the internet looking at who is talking about what most of my readers are talking about. But it has quite an interesting take on things. I leave you with this little extract from the 18th May:

So if God cares for us so tenderly He will never test us beyond our strength or permit us to be teased or tried in His name. Let’s let the Pope be the Pope and afford him the understanding to order and provide for what each group on the Church needs. As the ‘Extraordinary From’ of Mass is mother’s milk as it were to the SSPX, let’s trust that God knows this and that the Holy Father will provide all the safeguards they need when they reunite themselves anew with Rome.

Go on over and say hello.

The 'dead' hours

This blog post - which will not be long, have no fear - has been some time in coming. After all the tumult of mid-May, Pentecost has come and almost gone without any sign of the SSPX-Rome situation reaching its climax. Many people I have spoken to are exhausted! It's a measure of the high stakes of the affair, of the fact that resolution or disaster will effect major life choices and orientations, and of the disorientation which a change in this part of the Church's map will necessarily induce.
I've been spending my time reading - as best I can while waves of exam papers slosh around my feet (it's that time of year for me). I've been looking again at Prof Thomas Pink's work on religious liberty. I've been testing out the claims of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais about Pope Benedict's theology (so far, so weak). And I've been taxing my wife's patience with my preoccupation with it all.

I have hesitated to write this particular blog, but it seems to me now that we need to start shining a light on this issue, without prejudice to the decisions which many will yet have to make. I suppose what concerns me at the moment is how this current crisis could affect the terrain on which the traditionalist cause is located. I have written quite often about what the endgame of the SSPX's situation might be: of what process or dynamic would mark the end of its separation from the mainstream Church (whether one frames that separation as unjustified or justified). In this regard, I have frequently argued that ultimately it is Rome which must pass judgment - since that is how the Catholic Church functions! In reply, my SSPX interlocutors have generally sidestepped this requirement, and have repeated often the rather vague formula: Rome must return to Tradition. What they don't say - but what they most certainly mean - is: Rome must return to Tradition, and we'll be the judge of whether it has or not!

But this traditionalist ground is now represented by two positions which until now were not so clearly distinguished. The intellectual position of some in the SSPX (let us not yet class what their party is) is that there are problems with the Council (and of course with its lamentable application), and that these must be resolved in the light of Tradition (code for the reform of reformable teachings!). That seems to be where Bishop Fellay is (though he has not said a great deal about it yet, aapart from the CNS interviews). In contrast, the intellectual position of others has as its central tenet those words of Archbishop Lefebvre in his conference of September 1990: Vatican II does not involve a few isolated errors but is a complete perversion of the mind.

What is the relationship of Vatican II to Tradition? The first party judge it to be in some precise respects inconsistent with that Tradition but - if I have rightly understood them - still capable of recuperation through correction. Presumably, they are likely to be allowed to operate under the Roman umbrella with what officially might be classed as 'sententia tolerata' (tolerated opinions), and work to help shape the debates which concern the questions on which they believe the Council was wrong. The idea that they would not be able to criticise after an agreement is fanciful: they will be able to criticise, though they must do it like brothers, not like haridans.

The second party claim that the Council's intellectual genealogy lies entirely in Enlightenment thought, and that, therefore, it is doubtful whether it can even be classed as magisterial in the first place. The first party seem to be saying that they accept 95% of Vatican II (Bishop Fellay's own words) because they judge them to be in line with that Tradition. The second party say they cannot accept even 1% of Vatican II because even what is materially in line with Tradition is formally characterised by what some rather clumsily call 'modern philosophy'. If you know your St Thomas or your scholastic philosophy, you will understand that this is all about your 'formal object quo'. For the first party, we can recuperate the Council from the angle (formal object quo) of Tradition, even though some of it needs correction. In the latter case, since the Council's conscious formal object quo is 'modern philosophy' (or so we are told by certain SSPX experts), we are obliged not to read the Council with any other hermeneutic; indeed, we are obliged, thereby, to seek its complete repudiation. If you know your St Thomas, you will also know that the business of the Catholic mind is to distinguish, to identify and to recuperate the truth wherever it is. Omnia vera de Sante Spiritu veniunt, as I think St Ambrose said: all truth is from the Holy Spirit.

Some will doubt that the division emerging in the SSPX is as sharp as I have just described it. When finally the canonical proposals for the SSPX do become public and people start taking up their positions publically, I will be more at liberty to name names and talk openly about this.

My apologies: what was supposed to be a short reflection about this waiting time has turned into something else. This period should be one of reflection and prayer for everyone concerned by the outcome of this astonishing turn of events. The Veni Sancte Spiritus was never prayed with more fervour.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Baby's first word

We think it happened yesterday. I was in my office marking work. My wife was attending to baby's lunch. I popped my head in the kitchen for a few brief moments. And then, just as I was leaving, it happened.

Baby was looking round at me as I stood at the door and talked to my wife. I caught baby's eye just as I was about to leave so I raised my hand, opening and closing it in salute - baby's way of waving. She looked at me even more intently - she has an intense gaze does my daughter - gave a gummy smile, and then we heard it...

My wife and I looked at each other gobsmacked. Was that her first word? we seemed to be saying to each other, as we stood there dumbfounded. Yes, so it seemed. And then she said it again. There was no doubt this time. Triumphant, baby tucked into the rest of the semi-masticated rice cake she was holding in her golfball-like fist, quite oblivious of the hushed atmosphere of amazement now surrounding her.

We're sure we heard right what she said. There can be little doubt in my mind, and in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Babies just pick up on what's going on around them all the time. There it was. Our daughter's first words, and, to our immense joy, we were both there to hear it at the same time.

And I'm sure neither of us will ever forget this moment in which, with those beautiful, limpid blue eyes and the sweetest of baby-girl smiles, baby lowered her rice cake briefly, gathered her forces of concentration, and muttered distinctly:

"Doctrinal preamble"...

(Okay, she said 'bye' actually and she hasn't said it since. On reflection, it could be a fluke).

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Separating bishops in the singular

The most momentous announcement of the last few days of momentous announcements was the statement of the CDF on Wednesday which concluded as follows:

"Regarding the positions taken by the other three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, their situations will have to be dealt with separately and singularly".

Two considerations explain the amazement and anxiety which this statement produced in the hearts and minds of SSPX supporters and those well disposed to them:

1. Nobody anticipated this: the four bishops have always been seen as a unit, and were enjoined by Archbishop Lefebvre to remain united among themselves. Even though Bishop Williamson has been in disgrace these last few years, he was not expelled from the SSPX, and the faithful in Great Britain have seen him celebrating Mass in London, Leicester and (at least a couple of years ago) in Wales. So, as I say, nobody foresaw this separation coming and it is hard to think of the SSPX operating without their four bishops (even if they have essentially functioned with only three for the last couple of years).

2. The fear of 'divide and conquer': as has been reported on Wednesday night, the reaction of some has already been that this move results from a policy of divide and conquer. Those who are undoubtedly hostile to the SSPX must have broken out into a wave of applause at the sidelining of the three bishops who had written their letter to Bishop Fellay opposing any kind of 'practical accord'. On his own, Bishop Fellay looks more vulnerable. His capacity for manoeuvre certainly looks reduced. How could he now back out of any deal Rome wishes to offer him, given that his silence since Wednesday's announcement seems to denote cooperation with the process of isolating the other bishops?

What must be understood by people who see this separation as a disaster or an ominous portent is that such a separation may actually serve the SSPX's aspirations. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

1. There is no way Bishop Fellay will agree to a deal which makes the SSPX simply subject to local episcopal and diocesan politics. In that situation, a tiny number of bishops (Cardinal Ranjith, for example) would welcome the SSPX with open arms, while many others simply would not countenance their presence in the diocese. Not even the most renunion-minded SPPX superior would wear the kind of shackles that such a solution would place on them.

2. Thus many have spoken - Bishop Fellay himself has mentioned - the possibility of a personal prelature which would allow the SSPX to function like a roving diocese. Of course there would have to be modifications to the exact liberties this body could exercise, and human wisdom alone would encourage strongly a new kind of cooperative approach on the part of the SSPX who thus far have acted like a canonical vigilante group.

3. The price of such freedom, however, would unquestionably be a much tighter marshalling of the SSPX's leadership. At the moment, many SSPX priests nominated to the status of district superior feel themselves at liberty to blast away at any passing bishop or pope (occasionally with justification). Clearly, a reconciled SSPX would have to exercise this kind of prophetic service for the Church in a rather more canonically ordered way. Now, many will say this means the SSPX giving up its rights and duties with regard to confessing the faith. In reply, I would say that in the process they are likely to win more hearts and minds by powerfully reasoned argument and charity than by fervid denunciations and grandiloquent bandstanding. Thinking that defending the faith requires the kind of splenetic venting that Fr Régis de Cacqueray is prone to is a bit like imagining that good acting requires mouthing and jabbering like a young Laurence Olivier on speed.

4. What I'm saying - and they will not like it! - is that with a deal comes the need for a change of culture in the SSPX. They have been operating like a band of freedom fighters; they need to start behaving like a well disciplined army. They have adopted the tactics of résistants; they have now to adapt to a more centralised modus operandi which does not necessarily allow them the liberty of attacking the local bishop when he is innocently sipping a coffee in the local bistro. All of which brings us to our three bishops.

5. In any deal with Rome, Bishop Williamson was always going to remain out to grass. His views on the Holocaust are not only deplored by Rome but they caused the pope a major diplomatic crisis in 2009. They also caused Bishop Fellay and the SSPX a great deal of embarrassment just at the moment when public focus was taken off the lifting of the excommunications and turned instead to the private opinions of one of the bishops. Bishop Williamson has made himself toxic. Regardless of what he says, association with him is damaging to the SSPX in the eyes of even fair-minded neutrals on the outside.

6. And thus we come to Bishops Tissier and de Galaretta. Their writing a joint letter with Bishop Williamson is in fact indicative of a certain complacency within the SSPX about Bishop Williamson's views. Most SSPX supporters I know do not share Bishop Williamson's views on the Holocaust. But many supporters, and indeed many priests, were complacent about these views within the bosom of the SSPX. I would stake money on the two bishops not sharing Bishop Williamson's views on the historicity of the Nazi gas chambers. They are thus victims of the law of unnecessary consequences. Their mistake has been to write a letter jointly with him to Bishop Fellay opposing any 'practical accord' with Rome. It is irrelevant that this letter concerns a matter entirely unconnected with the Second World War. It is also irrelevant if, as Fr Arnaud Rostand believes, the disagreement between the bishops is not as serious as some have assumed. By association they have thus made themselves as toxic as Bishop Williamson, and for that they can thank especially the person who leaked the letters. Through naivety or through complacency, they have made it impossible for Bishop Fellay to try to usher them through the gates on the ticket of 'members of the SSPX'. They remain members of course, as does Bishop Williamson, though what that membership now means remains to be seen.

7. Of course it could be argued that they would always have been treated in some ways as a special case. Rome is deeply sensitive about the fact that none of these men were elevated to the apostolic succession with papal approval. The fact that they have shown themselves in some ways superior to certain egregious papal appointments is immaterial.

8. There remains also the issue of a doctrinal divergence which many now sense between Bishop Fellay and the other bishops. Some are lamenting the leaking of these letters because they were supposedly no more than a necessary, full and frank exchange of views between the leaders of the SSPX prior to any accord. But thanks to them there have emerged two separate lines of thought within the SSPX which appear opposed, though they are not necessarily irreconcilable:

- there is Bishop Fellay's position which takes issue with various matters in the Council, but which has also taken account of what the Roman theologians argued about the Council during the doctrinal discussions. These are not my interpretations of his words: they are what he himself said.

- there is the position of the three bishops who in their letter repeat Archbishop Lefebvre's condemnation of the Council: it is not a few errors here and there but a complete perversion of the mind.

9. Now, as Fr Arnaud Rostand has said, it may be that all four bishops are not so divergent in their views as the letters gave us to understand. But if they are, does this divergence in their views mean Bishop Fellay has betrayed his position and that of the SSPX? That is what a lot of SSPX hardliners are currently asking themselves. But the question must be asked whether Bishop Fellay has ever adopted the position of the three bishops about Vatican II. The answer to that should be a matter of record. Let those who have the time and the leisure trawl through the files.

10. Finally, would it be betrayal if the record shows he has indeed shifted his ground? Personally, I would argue not. One would have to consider the denunciation of Vatican II as a perversion of the mind to be a proposition proximate to the faith - a possibility I'm sure for some SSPX followers - to claim that Bishop Fellay's current stance is a betrayal. Or one would have to consider that all propositions in such a theological argument enjoy the same absolute authority - and therefore deserve to be defended with equal vigour - which they clearly don't. Or one would have to think that the extreme Traditionalist metanarrative of the last fifty years - as per the bishops' letter - was more essential to the SSPX's position than getting down to the nitty-gritty details of doctrine.

What Bishop Fellay's current stance (whether it is new or whether he has always maintained it) does is to make it possible for the pope to pass judgment on the catholicity of the SSPX's position. Can the pope declare to be sententia tolerata the proposition that the Council is a total perversion of the mind? Not in a million years. Could the pope declare sententia tolerata the redacted doctrinal preamble presented by Bishop Fellay in April? He may well do so (at which point the SSPX dissenters, like the pessimistic dwarves in C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, will no doubt denounce this solution as the result of papal and fellayan subjectivism).


So where are we now? I have counselled against too much optimism in the last few weeks. While the signs all suggest that Bishop Fellay and the Holy Father want to go ahead and make this resolution possible, can it indeed happen? Certainly, many prayers and aspirations have been offered up to that end. Many sacrifices also. Undoubtedly, many hearts could be broken if the process failed now.

Personally, I'm still not sure. Divinely speaking, everthing is in the hands of God. Humanly speaking, everything is on the pope's desk. Which is as much as to say that the pope's desk must itself be the finest of fine-knife edges imaginable.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

It's not over yet: a review and some thoughts on the SSPX situation

After twenty-eight years of close or more distant association with the Society of St Pius X, I cannot remember a seven-day period of such extraordinary news - such mind-boggling developments - as the one we have just seen.

Late last Thursday night I became aware of the letters between the bishops which brought to the surface a serious division in the analysis of the current situation among the SSPX's leaders and figureheads. It cast light on the previous week's publication of an editorial in Fideliter, the SSPX's French magazine, in which Fr Régis de Cacqueray, SSPX superior in France, accused the pope of operating under grave illusions. Its correlations with the letter of the three bishops was so strong that it makes one wonder if he was not singing from the same autocue regarding doctrinal matters and the state of the Church. Its timing at such a delicate moment in the Rome-SSPX negotiations was significant: it was at the very least hostile.

The reactions to, and condemnations of, the leak were small beer in comparison to the remarkable interview which Bishop Fellay gave to CNS which came out the same day the leaks hit the internet. And the write up of the interview was nothing in comparison to the video which came out late on Tuesday night (London time) in which Bishop Fellay said the following:

I may say in the discussions, I think, we see that many things which we would have condemned as being from the Council are in fact not from the Council but the common understanding of it. [...]

The Council is presenting a religious liberty which in fact is a very, very limited one, very limited. In our talks with Rome they clearly said that [thinking] it means that there would be a right to error, a right to choose [one’s] religion, is false. [...]

The video is in English, which is Bishop Fellay's third or fourth language, but there is no doubt he says what he means to say.

Then came the meeting yesterday of the CDF and an announcement that has taken everybody by surprise ...

Regarding the positions taken by the other three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, their situations will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.

... an outcome which has been sharply condemned by the SSPX superior in Italy as a tactic of divide and conquer.

I have been talking to friends and bending my brain trying to get around the implications of all this. Here are the meagre results:

1. The consequences of such a segregation of the three bishops are massive for the internal regulation of the SSPX. All of the bishops have spent years travelling around the SSPX missions and are all well known.

2. Due to these consequences, the CDF would not have been so diplomatically gauche as to make this announcement without Bishop Fellay's cooperation.

3. Bishop Fellay must feel he has the support of most of his superiors if he has agreed to this public segregation of the three bishops.

4. The CDF may have acted in this way now for a variety of reasons:

a. A separate resolution for the bishops might always have been envisaged, first, because of their hierarchical rank, and second because Archbishop Lefebvre intended for them one day to put their episcopacy into the hands of the Holy Father.

b. The reaction to the scandal of Bishop Williamson's holocaust denial was so severe that Rome will not countenance a repeat.

c. If Bishop Williamson or any of them goes AWOL now, nobody will blame Bishop Fellay for it.

5. One friend has argued that the price Bishop Fellay is paying - in terms of the segregation of the three bishops with all the risks it involves - suggests the deal he is going to get from Rome is gold-plated.


If Bishop Fellay did not know that the CDF were going to make that announcement ... this whole process could very well collapse. But is that possible now?

Yes, what an extraordinary week. I don't know what will happen next but frankly nothing would surprise me.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Three bishops to be dealt with separately and singularly

Looks like I've scooped Rorate on this one (he he, the only time I'm likely to!)

The Vatican Information Service
reports as follows:

"As reported by news agencies, today, 16 May 2012, an Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met to discuss the question of the Society of St. Pius X.

In particular, the text of the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, received on 17 April, 2012, was examined and some observations, which will be considered in further discussions between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, were formulated.

Regarding the positions taken by the other three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, their situations will have to be dealt with separately and singularly".

Separately and singularly ...

Bishop Fellay interview

Rorate already passed this on, as have the SSPX district in the USA on whose site it has been posted.

This is a significant, I might even say historic, interview. Bishop Fellay is saying that the discussions with the Roman theologians did in fact bear some fruits for the SSPX with regard to how they understand certain questions. I for one am not surprised. Here are what I view as the big money quotations:

Many people have an understanding of the Council which is a wrong understanding. And now we have authorities in Rome who say it. [...]

I may say in the discussions, I think, we see that many things which we would have condemned as being from the Council are in fact not from the Council but the common understanding of it. [...]

Looking closer I really have the impression that not many know what the Council said about it. The Council is presenting a religious liberty which in fact is a very, very limited one, very limited. In our talks with Rome they clearly said that [thinking] it means that there would be a right to error, a right to choose [one’s] religion, is false. [...]

We have no problem with the act of requesting this [religious] freedom for the Church, in the Middle East, in the States now and so on. It’s rather which principle is involved to do it. We would argue that there might be another principle more accurate to justify the action which was called before ‘tolerance’. [...]

Personally I would have wished to wait for some more time to see it clearer, but once again it really appears that the Holy Father wants it to happen now. The move of the Holy Father, because it really comes from him, is genuine. If this recognition happens, it’s thanks to him.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The SSPX Superior in France foments division

I read with interest the latest editorial of Fideliter , the review of the SSPX district in France, signed by Fr Régis de Caquecray. But what I read also stunned and amazed me for two reasons which I intend to unpack here.

We have seen various superiors of the SSPX (Germany, Benelux, South Asia, USA, etc) make encouraging noises about the apparently imminent accord with the Holy See. Of course we still do not know if Rome will accept the latest submission from Menzingen (SSPX HQ), though thanks to the letters leaked a couple of days ago we now clearly know Bishop Fellay's resolve in this direction. In the Menzingen press statement about the leaked letters, the leaker is accused of wishing to foment division among the SSPX. This is diplomatic language. The reality is that the divisions are alread quite deep, as indeed the letters showed.

Well, of course, we understand the division, and so should Bishop Fellay. Anyone whose organisation is based on a conscientious objection to certain orders of the Holy See cannot be surprised if one of his subordinates makes a conscientious objection to his actions. Nor can that fellow be surprised if one of his subordinates makes a conscientious objection to him. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum. The logic of fission is inexorable... But it is the timing and the content of Fr de Caquéray's intervention that has surprised me most.

The Timing
Fr de Cacqueray's editorial, which asserts that Pope Benedict is suffering from grave illusions, has come out at the start of May, but was probably written at least two weeks ago at a time when Bishop Fellay was about to hand in the last submission to Rome. In other words, what we have here is something of a timebomb, calculated to go off during a delicate period of the negotiations. I'm sure Bishop Fellay appreciates this very much.

Now some people seem to think that allowing public support for Bishop Fellay but condemning opposition to Bishop Fellay require one to apply a double standard. I suppose if we are professed anarchists, it does! But if we still believe in the idea of hierarchy, we should be troubled by this editorial. It is a calculated blow, signalling at this difficult moment that there is serious opposition to an SSPX-Rome accord in what is after all the flagship district of the SSPX. Of course, the editorial says not a word about the accord, so it has what we might call perfect deniability. How, someone might ask, is Fr de Cacqueray's editorial different from many dozens which he or others have written?

Well, ITTS, as they say (it's the timing, stupid!).

The Content

All that said, let us be broad-minded about this for a moment and allow Fr de Cacqueray (from now on FrdeC) his intervention. What exactly is he saying in this editorial? It could after all be important.

The thesis of the editorial is that Pope Benedict XVI is suffering from two grave illusions:

(1) that there is any light in the Council for our dark times

(2) that there are any living movements in the degenerate Christianity of the postconciliar Church

Illusion No. 1
FrdeC begins by quoting from the Pope's Chrism Mass sermon this year and, after a brief and rather patronising moment of praise, cites these words of the Pope:

"The texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are essential tools which serve as an authentic guide to what the Church believes on the basis of God’s word. And of course this also includes the whole wealth of documents given to us by Pope John Paul II, still far from being fully explored."

FrdeC then provides the following gloss:

It is evidently clear that the references to "the words of the teaching Church" mentioned by Benedict XVI remain solely and always those of the Second Vatican Council, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and of the documents of John Paul II. (my emphasis).

What FrdeC wants us to believe is that Benedict's reference points are uniquely and invariably those of the Council and the postconciliar era. What else could 'solely and always' actually mean? So, I went with curiosity to the pope's sermon and began looking at its sources. Now, Vatican II is indeed the only council mentioned, though since it was the most recent general council, that is hardly surprising.

But if FrdeC is trying to convince us that the Catholic teaching Benedict wants to pass on is soley and always that of Vatican II and afterwards, then this sermon is not going to help his case. In the same sermon, we find the following words:

We priests can call to mind a great throng of holy priests who have gone before us and shown us the way: from Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch, from the great pastors Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great, through to Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, John Mary Vianney and the priest-martyrs of the 20th century, and finally Pope John Paul II, who gave us an example, through his activity and his suffering, of configuration to Christ as “gift and mystery”.

Whatever one thinks of the last example, Pope Benedict's vision of the Church's past extends well beyond Vatican II. What FrdeC's 'solely and always' actually means then is still not clear.

But there is something more than this in the sermon and astonishingly it comes directly after the passage which FrdeC has cited (as I noted above) about Vatican II. Yes, directly after this citation, Pope Benedict said the following:

All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn 7:16). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.

But, FrdeC might reply, the pope in this sermon restricts this teaching 'solely and always' to Vatican II and after. Well, it's somewhat unfair to expect a whole exposition of his thought from a sermon. If we turn to the pope's apostolic letters or exhortations, we do indeed find references to more recent teachings since the Council but we also find many other sources: St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, the Roman Breviary, St John Chrysostom, St Jerome, St Polycarp, etc.. The pope's research as a theologian focused on St Augustine but also on St Bonaventure. If I turn to Maximillian Heim's Joseph Ratzinger: Life in the Church and Living Theology, a major landmark in Ratzingerian scholarship, I find the following quotation taken from Introduction to Theology:

[The Council of] Chalcedon represents the boldest and most sublime simplification of the complex and many-layered data of tradition to a single central fact that is the basis of everything else: [Christ is the] Son of God possessed of the same nature as God and of the same nature as us.

Away with the nonsense of Fr Michel Gleize who (following Bishop Tissier de Mallerais) accuses Benedict of thinking that the Church's living subject justifies radical evolution of the deposit of faith. How could that be reconciled with such an understanding of Chalcedon?

Indeed, how could all the holy priests the pope mentioned in his Chrism Mass sermon be a model for Catholic priests unless the former shared the same faith as the latter: not just membership of the same Church but the same contact with God's truth? There are a lot of churchmen guilty of forgetting everything before Vatican II, but that is not an accusation that can in any way be levelled at Pope Benedict. For better or for worse, Pope Benedict knows his pre-Vatican II sources pretty well and directs our minds to them often.

Illusion II

FrdeC then goes on to argue that Pope Benedict, while he has complained about the poor state of the Church, sees some good in the postconciliar landscape. He quotes the following words from the pope's sermon:

"Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit."

FrdeC then goes on to gloss the pope's words in the following way:

We do not know, in fairness, what are these living movements that the Pope perceives in the post-conciliar era. As for us, we instead perceive the extinction, and the scheduled death, due to the lack of vocations, of prestigious congregations and religious institutes. We witness the disappearance of whole parishes and dioceses. Populations have become pagan once again, children are no longer baptized.
(emphasis in the original French)

It is hard to know what FrdeC's point is here. He concedes that the pope does not think everything is rosy in the garden, but then accuses him apparently of finding some good out there in the Church!Is it that for FrdeC, if someone has gone wrong, you absolutely must not praise anything about them? Must we be unremittingly negative about them until they reform whatever it is they have got wrong?

Joking aside, what a curious way to criticize the pope: 'we do not know what these living movements are': well ... dear father, why don't you inform yourself before taking the pope to task for acknowledging that the situation in the mainstream is not 100% negative?

In any case, if we again go back to the sermon, we are left in no doubt as to the pope's rather realistic understanding of the current situation in the Church. Near the beginning of the sermon he states:

I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. Or to put it more specifically, this configuration to Christ, who came not to be served but to serve, who does not take, but rather gives – what form does it take in the often dramatic situation of the Church today? Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord... Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?

Further on in the sermon, he observes:

At the meeting of Cardinals on the occasion of the recent Consistory, several of the pastors of the Church spoke, from experience, of the growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less.

Dissent and ignorance: these are the Church's enemies, says the pope. But because he finds some good in the contemporary Church, he is suffering from grave illusions, according to FrdeC.


So, after this long and tedious exposition of FrdeC's editorial for Fideliter, what are we left with? You will note that FrdeC's editorial basically moves around two poles: the doctrinal and the circumstancial. Doctrinally, he says, the pope is deluded - well, what else is one if one has grave illusions? Circumstantially, the pope is equally deluded - out in the contemporary Church, there is nothing but heresy, corruption, and wickedness, all amounting to what FrdeC calls 'degenerate Christianity'.

Does anyone else recognise the two tendencies of this editorial? Yes, you guessed it: give yourself a ceeeegar! FrdeC is basically making the same errors as the three SSPX bishops who were told off so thoroughly in Bishop Fellay's recent letter. This editorial was written several weeks before the leaks, but is it possible he saw the letters? We cannot say for sure. But since he is a member of the General Chapter, why would they be kept secret from him? At the very least his view concurs with theirs, but his modus operandi is different: he has declared his views openly!!

Isn't this the coming division in the SSPX's ranks? If Vatican II is a superheresy and there is no good in the Church, then it is logical to stay away from the Church. In this case, let me be the first to wish FrdeC bon voyage and, I sincerely hope, au revoir.

If, however, the doctrinal picture is a lot more mixed, and if there are some sparks of real, tangible goodness in the contemporary ecclesial landscape, then Bishop Fellay's argument about a fight intra mures is all the more plausible. Let him not delay.

And let Fr de Cacqueray and the three bishops take heed also. We need every mother's son of 'em - a view I dare say which is not far distant from that of the current incumbent of the Holy See.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Bishop Fellay speaks ...

Bishop Fellay today spoke to the Catholic News Service about the possible reconciliation of the SSPX and apparent divisions within the Society.

(You could be leaving very shortly, probably through one of those windows")

The Catholic Herald is carrying the story here.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Letters between the SSPX bishops and the SSPX General Council

Some rather high minded people have refused to talk about this. I regard it as too late. The story is out and the material is available in public fora. It is essential that people understand the positions of those involved because too much is at stake, not for those who run high-minded blogs, but for those whose lives are bound up with the interlocutors of those letters and the decisions that they will soon take.


I've been sitting on this story since last night but a quick sweep of the web confirms that this news is leaking out. There has been a sharp exchange of views between the four bishops of the SSPX concerning any possible agreement with Rome.

(L-R: Bishops de Galaretta, Tissier de Mallerais, de Castro Mayer (co-consecrator), Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishops Williamson and Fellay)

On the one side are found Bishops Tissier de Mallerais, de Galaretta and Williamson, and on the other there is Bishop Fellay, accompanied by his two assistants Fr Pfluger and Fr Nély.

There are some rough translations of these documents out on the web. I don't have time to craft a better translation now, so I will attempt to summarize the arguments which they contain. I post JPEGs of them below.


Letter of Bishops Tissier de Mallerais, de Galarreta and Williamson

The SSPX General Council has for months been considering Roman proposals for a practical accord, and this letter is to state our unanimous formal opposition to such an accord.

Of course there are honest folk on both sides, but all must admit that the Church's authorities have separated themselves from Catholic truth and are more determined than ever to continue as such, as recent events (Assisi III) have shown.

The profound problem which Catholics face was characterised by Archbishop Lefebvre as a continuation of the papal fight against liberal Catholicism over the last two hundred years and against the attempt to reconcile the Church and the Modern World. His conclusion was that Vatican II did not just include particular errors but represented a total perversion of the mind, a new philosophy founded on subjectivism.

Benedict XVI is no better than John Paul II in this regard, as Bishop Tissier's study of his thought (La Foi au Péril de la Raison) has shown: he puts human subjective fantasy in the place of God's objective reality and subjects the Church to the modern world. How can a practical agreement sort out this problem?

If Benedict XVI is benevolent towards Tradition, he can afford to be since he is a subjectivist. But if liberal subjectivists can tolerate truth, they cannot tolerate truth which refuses to tolerate erro; and they will not tolerate it if it condemns the Council's doctrine. So no practical agreement can be made which will not involve gradually silencing the Society's critique of the Council and the New Mass. The Society would then cease to oppose the universal apostasy of our time, and who would protect it from the Roman Curia and the bishops? Benedict XVI?

This slide will be inevitable, and already confession of the Faith is the exception rather than the rule. Many decent people begged Archbishop Lefebvre to make an agreement in 1988 and to extend thus his apostolate, but he refused, saying to us that it would be ambiguous and that the Society and Rome would be working in opposite directions and that this would make us rot. How can an agreement be made now and the Society not rot in contradiction?

When Rome later made benevolent gestures, the Archbishop was still wary. He feared that such actions were simply strategies to draw back as many of the faithful as possible and he told us to beware of this very danger: we have not fought for so long against errors only now to put ourselves into the hands of those who profess those errors. More than denouncing errors, the Society's role is to oppose the Roman authorities which spread them. So will the Society now put itself into the hands of those whose obstinacy (in error) we have recent witnessed again?

Beware. You are leading the Society to an irreversible split, and if you make an accord it will have powerfully destructive forces which the Society will not be able to stand. Since the situation has not been changed and the condition of the 2006 General Chapter not met (doctrinal change in Rome), listen to our Founder who was right 25 years ago, as now. Do not make a purely practical accord.

Bishops de Galaretta, Tissier de Mallerais and Williamson.


Letter of Bishop Fellay, Fr Pfluger and Fr Nély

Thanks for your letter which describes the errors that surround us. Unfortunately, your description has two faults: lack of a supernatural view and a lack of realism

Do you still believe that the Church is the Church and that the pope is pope? Can Christ still speak through him? If he expresses a legitimate desire or decision, should we not obey, and will not God help us?

Your all too human and fatalistic attitude implies that we should not count on God's help, his grace or the Holy Spirit. If Providence guides men's actions, has it not been guiding the movement back to Tradition? It makes no sense to think God will let us fall now, especially since we only want to do his will and please him.

Likewise you lack realism, just as the liberals make the Council a superdogma, you are making the Council a superheresy. Archbishop Lefebvre made distinctions about liberal Catholics, and if you do not make them, your caricature of reality could lead to a true schism.

You blame all the current evils on the authorities even though they are trying to extricate the Church from them (e.g. the condemnation of the hermeneutic of rupture) and are thus not all obstinate in heresy. That is clearly false. Hence when it comes to the crucial question of making an accord, we do not come to the same conclusion as you.

We have not sought a practical accord and would prefer to carry on as we are, but Rome will no longer tolerate it. The Personal Prelature is not a trap because 2012 is not the same as 1988. There is a change in the Church's attitude seen in BXVI's words and acts. Young priests and bishops are supporting us and the pro-VII hierarchy is losing ground. Now, a combat within the walls is possible, though very difficult. If many still sing the glories of Vatican II, fewer and fewer think that way.

Archbishop Lefevre would have accepted what is proposed; we must not lose his sense of the Church.

Church history shows that we only recover gradually from heresies and crises, so it is not realistic to wait until everything is sorted out. If we refuse to work in this field, we fall foul of the parable of the wheat and the cockle in which Our Lord warns us that there would always be internal conflict.

Your various attitudes in recent times have made it hard for the Superior General who has been faced with your total incomprehension. Archbishop Lefebvre told us that the SSPX's principle of unity was the Superior General but for some time you have all worked to undermine me in different ways, even with threats and publically. I wish you had tried to understand why we have thus acted.

We pray so that we might all be united for the greater glory of God and for the love of our Society.

Bishop Fellay, Fr Pfluger and Fr Nély.


I am sure these letters are authentic, but it is not yet clear how these letters were leaked. The first might have been leaked by one of its authors before the second one was counter-leaked. Maybe they were both leaked by Menzingen because this opposition was already becoming clear and was alluded to by Bishop Williamson in a recent newsletter (although, I was curious to discover that his reference to 'the bishops one and three' was interpreted by some to mean that he was out of step with the rest!).

The time is soon coming when the SSPX will split. Perhaps one or other of the three bishops will come to Bishop Fellay's side. But all of them? It is most unlikely. The battle lines are reforming. We can only hope and pray for those in the midst of these most serious conflicts.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Stichomythia was apparently a form of dramatic dialogue practised by Greek dramatists.

The following is what I would like to call a Ricomythia: a dialogue for someone called Richard.

Dramatis personae:

The Separatist

The Uniate

Separatist: Who left the Church? Vatican II! Not we!

Uniatist: The Church is visible but visibly.

Sep: Once in the Church error we won't detest,

Uni: Conception free of passion is truth's test.

Sep: But we would then be joining error's fray,

Uni: Not so, but rather truth's own battle array.

Sep: But the Church's law serves God no more,

Uni: Then hellish gates have vanquished to the core.

Sep: The Church is now unholy, nigh-invisible,

Uni: Ecclesiology 101! Such claims are risible.

Sep: The modernists still hold exclusive sway,

Uni: Is that not something a modernist would say?

Sep: But Benedict to Assisi went,

Uni: Still rail not; pass by loving argument.

Sep: Let all who stand fear falling -

Uni: - Well, indeed! Let those who auto-validate take heed.

Sep: But leading churchmen all prevaricate.

Uni: Yet in them honour we the Lord's estate.

Sep: But what if Pian leaders all go wrong?

Uni: Trust yet that in the Church is found God's song.

Sep: But, Rome still has the “bastard rite”, so crass.

Uni: 'Tis blasphemy to label thus the Mass.

Sep: Bugnini's work does all unholy seem,

Uni: Since then have martyrs washed within its stream.

Sep: Do incommunicates enjoy more freedom?

Uni: If they obey not Peter, he don't need 'em.

Sep: Yet Benedict works to make all God's truth fade!

Uni: One who cooperates in truth does not so trade.

Sep: His modernist mind is hopelessly confused,

Uni: Such terms in your mouth seem to be abused.

Sep: Benedict wants us to sin modernism's sin,

Uni: Tell me, dear sir, have you been at the gin?

Sep: But Benedict's wet - a papal Dr Foster!

Uni: So is the visible Church a pale impostor?

Sep: We must of course for his conversion hope,

Uni: And for yours also prays the German pope.

Sep: Our true Faith he can only harm, not bless,

Uni: Does auto-validation help? Just guess!

Sep: He cares not for our welfare, true Faith spurning,

Uni: He harms himself who from the Rock is turning.

Sep: Does Faith fail if I say where there are woes?

Uni: Spenglerian thinking never true Faith shows.

Sep: Where do you see of true revival a spark?

Uni: The wheat among the cockle feeds the lark.

Sep: Fully in control the modernists stay,

Uni: How will things change if you now stay away?

Sep: It’s the churchmen left us in the lurch.

Uni: Trust not in princes, no, but trust God’s Church.

Sep: Their good intentions pave the way to Hell,

Uni: Have you no good intentions, sir? Do tell.

Sep: The Archbishop called the Council World War Three,

Uni: Said he which war was won through mutiny?

Sep: Better schism than ruin the entire creed,

Uni: Rather believe the Church fail not, indeed!

Sep: Good churchmen have no power; that is sad,

Uni: Then join your help to theirs; lone sheep go mad.

Sep: But bishops were the cause of Vatican II!

Uni: And ‘most every schism was bishoped too.

Sep: Today the Catholic heart is not in Rome,

Uni: The Rock's the Rock if all else chance to roam.

Sep: One, holy, catholic, apostolic – there's the Church.

Uni: The unfailing and the visible you besmirch.

Sep: Let but a start be made to set things right,

Uni: Believe the Church God's moon for humans' night.

Sep: Bravo! Still, humans too must play their roles,

Uni: But trust that which God's providence unfolds.

Sep: Tradcats work hard, Tradition to keep fast,

Uni: Tradition true we keep, not just what's passed.

Sep: Going with Rome we'd follow in its track,

Uni: Correct like brothers; don't call whiteness black.

Sep: Correct we true like brothers, all truth stating,

Uni: No, you correct like rivals, oft' berating.

Sep: Is it not then allowed to make objection?

Uni: Of course, then wait upon the Rock's direction.

Sep: And what if all our lights say he's a pest?

Uni: Roma locuta, causa finita est.

Sep: But Romans are set upon our destitution,

Uni: Some, yes, yet not all wish for revolution.

Sep: But we’d lose our way in all their murk,

Uni: Cling to God's light which fails not in his Kirk.

Sep: Alas, the three with the one do not agree,

Uni: In matters prudent listen obediently.

Sep: We’d easily slide. Modernists are a threat!

Uni: Have you not learned to trust the good Lord yet?

Sep: The true Faith says from heretics to flee,

Uni: Else tend their wounds and set the enslaved free.

Sep: We cannot now ignore all prudent checks,

Uni: Beware lest human wisdom thee infects.

Sep: The Romans would throw us under the bus,

Uni: What sainted pastor never suffered thus?

Sep: But then all to pieces we might shake,

Uni: But purified of ill your work would take.

Sep: Was Paul the Sixth given graces to betray?

Uni: As sure as Marcel’s grace to disobey.

Sep: For right, Rome’s feeble. Mighty it is for wrong,

Uni: And is Rock sand? And is that now your song?

Sep: How can the Church be rescued from its plight?

Uni: Not by our own lights can we set it right.

Sep: God's answer will come stunning and sublime,

Uni: How so if his Rock is but dust and grime?

Sep: That which we cannot cure, endure we must,

Uni: Thus says the stoic. Love, says Christ's own just.

Sep: From error and the erring stay away,

Uni: Where is the proof you have not gone astray?

Sep: Tradition is our proof, these are our sails,

Uni: If this be so, say all Tradition fails!

For Tradition says that Rome's the perpetual sign.

Not the Econe Six, not the chairless Nine.

Now that Rome's confronted with its errors,

Will you be citing all the SVs' terrors?

In your undoubted passion for the real,

You hold out for a rationalist deal.

Ignore the furrows; plough within the Church,

Bring in the harvest; aid the shepherd’s search.

Then will your faithful action shine a light,

Upon those marching on in dread half-light.

Add not the weight of scandal to our load,

Nor second guess the ways of God’s own road.

Nor usurp with your action divine power,

That Christ placed in the Church in this His hour.

For this His hour goes on; and we, once lost,

Must, red-eyed, weeping, stay beside His Cross,

Must, hardly sleeping, lean upon his Rock,

Nor dare to set against it our own stock.

Not even if we’re sure we know all truth,

Our age may fail, unlike the Church’s youth.

Then we decrepit seem beside the hart,

Who leaps us up into the Sacred Heart.