Public Relations Disaster for SSPX:
Bishop Fellay’s Epic Interview Fail
There is no other way to say it: It’s an unmitigated disaster of colossal proportions for the Society of Saint Pius X.
In an interview for the aptly-named “Conflict Zone” program of the international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, aggressive secular journalist Tim Sebastian sat down with SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to grill him on various issues from the accusation of anti-semitism to the Society’s bizarre understanding of papal authority. The result was as embarrassing as it was revealing, both about the SSPX in general and His Excellency in particular.
Conducted at the SSPX Headquarters in Menzingen, Switzerland, Bp. Fellay was clearly on his home turf, and perhaps this gave him a false sense of security. Nevertheless, from the first minute of the interview, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a tea party, nor a friendly “dialogue” among separated brethren — this was going to be a boxing match with Mr. Sebastian landing solid contact from the opening bell.
The disastrous outcome of this interview, made publicly available on March 1, 2016, was not hard to anticipate. Fellay found himself in a very difficult spot: On the one hand, since he is desperately trying to be fully accepted by the apostate “Pope” Francis, he wasn’t going to say anything that could jeopardize the never-ending negotiations with Rome; yet on the other hand, he also could not repudiate the work or history of the Society of St. Pius X without upsetting his own followers and looking like a traitor. The result? A Bishop Fellay trying to walk a very fine line in an attempt to please everybody, yet predictably succeeding in pleasing no one, and looking completely incompetent in the process.
Let’s be clear: Although the interviewer was clearly hostile to Catholicism and seemed to be on a mission to “get” Bp. Fellay, it was for the most part the SSPX’s inconsistent, un-Catholic, and downright absurd position that was on display during this 25-minute interview. Even when presented with the straightforward question as to whether he repents of having received episcopal consecration in 1988, in direct defiance of “Pope” John Paul II and despite the threat of excommunication, Fellay immediately followed up his “No” answer with a smoother-sounding, “I don’t think so”.
We have to remember that although most people would naturally be highly uncomfortable when subjected to this kind of critical questioning in public, Bp. Fellay is no stranger to public speaking. For years now, he has had to give interviews, appear on television, and speak freely to large crowds. Besides, having accepted the position of Superior General of the SSPX, which is perceived by the world to be the last stronghold of the “old” Roman Catholicism, and having happily remained in this position since 1994 (!), Fellay has the obligation to know and to defend traditional Catholic doctrine and practice against all opposition — be it hostile or friendly, secular or religious, of good will or of evil intent. If he isn’t capable of this, or if he isn’t willing to engage in this battle, then there is a door through which he can exit at any time.
While usually very intent on proper protocol, diplomacy, and political PR moves — we need but recall the press conference during the 2016 March for Life, in which Bp. Fellay only answered questions submitted in advance (see 1:04 min mark) —, one wonders why the Society’s Superior General agreed to such a potentially explosive arrangement in the first place. The program is called “Conflict Zone”, after all, not “Comfort Zone”, and that’s for a reason. Perhaps he considered it a necessary prerequisite for the desired embrace by the Modernist Vatican, but if so, this came at a hefty price: The entire world is now able to see that far from presenting himself as a stalwart defender of the traditional Catholic Faith against all opposition, Fellay shows himself a vacillating, equivocating, political, and apparently disingenuous milquetoast appeaser, who, if he has any clear convictions at all, is afraid to enunciate them clearly. After watching this interview (available in full below), a great many people in the SSPX will be asking themselves how it is that this man could have gotten into and then remained in the position of Superior General for over 20 years. Does the Society have no better leadership to offer among its 600+ priests and three bishops?
Go ahead and watch the full interview for yourself now, and don’t forget to close your mouth afterwards. Further below, we are providing more comments on some of the specific questions asked and answers (not) given.
This interview could be Fellay’s undoing. We suspect that the SSPX public relations team will attempt to ignore it as much as possible, because there is really no conceivable way they could spin themselves out of this fiasco. It will be interesting to watch how Menzingen acts in the next few weeks.
Let us now examine some of the questions asked and the answers given more closely.
Interview Highlights & Commentary
(1) The Jews as Enemies of the Church
Right off the bat, interviewer Tim Sebastian challenged Bp. Fellay to explain why he said in December 2012 that the Jews “over centuries have been enemies of the Church”. What should have been a very clear and easy answer — “Because it’s true, as countless historical and papal documents confirm” — Bp. Fellay turned into a denial of the obvious and a “clarification” that distorted what he had actually said. Now Fellay is saying that he meant that the Jews considered the Catholic Church as the enemy, not necessarily the other way around. But that is absolutely not what he said or implied in his original talk, as anyone can confirm. An audio recording and a transcript of the entire conference Fellay gave in Ontario, Canada, on Dec. 28, 2012, is publicly available online. Listen and read what what the SSPX Superior General actually said, and juxtapose it with how he is now trying to spin it:
- Bp. Bernard Fellay, “A Summary of Recent Events” (Dec. 28, 2012) – Audio (see 1:17:52-1:19:36)
- Bp. Bernard Fellay, “A Summary of Recent Events” (Dec. 28, 2012) – Transcript
Besides, shortly after the December conference, the SSPX issued an official press release in which the comments were — correctly! — clarified, and this official version, too, differs from Fellay’s disingenuous spin offered during the “Conflict Zone” interview.
Is it a religious slur to say that the Jews have been the Church’s enemies from the beginning, as Sebastian insisted it is? The question’s relevance has to take a back seat to the fact that it is simply the historical truth, and this truth can be verified by anyone independently and objectively. If the facts are not politically correct, that’s a problem for political correctness, not for the facts.
Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ Himself made clear who His enemies are: “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth” (Mt 12:30). Of course the Jews — and here we mean “the Jews” as an organized religious group, not necessarily each individual adherent, and certainly not the ethnic people — have not been the only enemies of the Church, and in his 2012 conference Bp. Fellay mentioned Modernists and Freemasons alongside the Jews as examples of the Church’s enemies. Many more could be adduced — Protestants, Atheists, Secular Humanists, Pagans, Wiccans, etc.
Here is an important historical reality check on the Church’s enemies:
- “[U]se every means of revealing to your faithful people the many kinds of plot, pretense, error, deceit and contrivance which our enemies use.” —Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Qui Pluribus (1846), n. 21
- Pope Innocent III was “forbidding Jews to be promoted to public offices since in such circumstances they may be very dangerous to Christians,” as quoted by Pope Benedict XIV, Encyclical A Quo Primum (1751), n. 5
- “We must combat Jewish attempts to bring under their domination individual Catholics and Catholic countries, even more vigorously than we must struggle against Freemasonry, because the Jews form a more strongly organised and more cohesive naturalistic force than Freemasonry.” —Fr. Denis Fahey, The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation (1953, Imprimatur), p. 75
- “Does that mean that all Jews are bad men? Needless to say, it does not. … It does mean, however, that all Jews, in proportion as they are one with the leaders and rulers of their race, will oppose the influence of the supernatural life in society and will be an active ferment of Naturalism. … We read in the New York Jewish paper, Freiheit, of January 10th 1937: ‘According to the Jewish religion, the Pope is the enemy of the Jewish people by the very fact that he is the head of the Catholic Church. The Jewish religion is opposed to Christianity and to the Catholic Church in particular.’ Again we find in the New York Jewish National Day of December 14th 1935: ‘The public schools must be kept clear of Christmas carols and other Christmas influences. We want all this Christmas propaganda stopped.'” —Fr. Denis Fahey, The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation (1953), p. 50
- Speaking of the Modernists: “Although they express their astonishment that We should number them amongst the enemies of the Church, no one will be reasonably surprised that We should do so, if, leaving out of account the internal disposition of the soul, of which God alone is the Judge, he considers their tenets, their manner of speech, and their action.” —Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi (1907), n. 3
- “On December 8, 1869, the International Congress of Freemasons imposed it as a duty on all its members to do all in their power to wipe out Catholicity from the face of the earth. Cremation was proposed as a suitable means to this end, since it was calculated to gradually undermine the faith of the people in ‘the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” —Fr. John Laux, Catholic Morality (1932), p. 106
- “Whatever the future may be, in this grave and widespread evil it is Our duty … to endeavor to find a remedy. And because We know that Our best and firmest hope of a remedy is in the power of that divine religion which the Freemasons hate in proportion to their fear of it, We think it to be of chief importance to call that most saving power to Our aid against the common enemy. Therefore, whatsoever the Roman Pontiffs Our predecessors have decreed for the purpose of opposing the undertakings and endeavors of the masonic sect, and whatsoever they have enacted to enter or withdraw men from societies of this kind, We ratify and confirm it all by our apostolic authority: and trusting greatly to the good will of Christians, We pray and beseech each one, for the sake of his eternal salvation, to be most conscientiously careful not in the least to depart from what the apostolic see has commanded in this matter.” —Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Humanum Genus (1884), n. 30
- “The great enemy [Satan] counts on the Jews to govern Masonry as he counts on Masonry to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ” —M. Doinel as quoted by Fr. Edward Cahill, Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement (1930)
- Article “How The Jews Changed Catholic Thinking” by Joseph Roddy, Look Magazine, vol. 30, no. 2 (Jan. 25, 1966)
- Article “Converts Who Changed the Church: Jewish-Born Clerics Helped Push Vatican II Reforms” by John Connelly, Forward: The Jewish Daily (Aug. 3, 2012)
- Online Book: The Talmud Unmasked by Fr. I. B. Pranaitis (Imprimatur, 1892)
- Online Book: The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation by Fr. Denis Fahey (1953)
- Online Book: The Plot Against the Church by Maurice Pinay (1962) – this is the book secretly distributed at Vatican II to warn the bishops of a Jewish fifth column to change Catholic teaching – which is exactly what happened!
- “Sicut Judaeis” — the Catholic Church’s Position on the Jews throughout history is firm but charitable and moderate: In a Catholic state, Jews are to be repressed but not persecuted
One of the key takeaways here is this: The Jews, Modernists, and Masons are the enemies of the Catholic Church — but obviously not of the false and apostate Novus Ordo Sect. This really tells you all you need to know. There is a new religion in town, and it’s not the religion of the ages founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome to the “New Catholicism” of Vatican II.
(2) Papal Authority & Submission to the Pope
On this topic, Sebastian hit the Achilles’ heel of the Society of St. Pius X, because their position on papal authority and submission to the Pope is an inconsistent, confused, and confusing mess that is certainly not backed up by any traditional Catholic teaching. They arbitrarily reduce everything to a question of infallibility, which, although related, is really not the issue at all. Even long before the definition of papal infallibility in 1870, the Church required submission to the Pope under pain of mortal sin and schism.
Challenged by the interviewer on the binding nature of the Second Vatican Council (under the supposition, of course, that it was ratified by a true Pope, which Fellay believes), Fellay immediately deflects the issue and turns it into a question of infallibility. But infallibility and authority are not the same thing — as though nothing were authoritative unless it were also infallible, or as though anything were authoritative only to the extent that it is infallible. Such an idea assumes as true the misconception, very widespread today, that the Church’s or the Pope’s authority derives from their inability to be wrong, but this is not the case. Rather, the Church and the Pope are authoritative because they are the divinely-appointed teacher, infallible or not. This is beautifully explained by Canon George Smith in his 1935 essay, “Must I Believe It?”, available here. Thus, the Pope has the right and the power to bind his subjects’ consciences, not because he is infallible, but because he is the Vicar of Christ. This is something continually ignored and denied by the SSPX and the various “resistance traditionalists.”
(3) Respect for the Pope
Sebastian then questioned the SSPX Superior on what he had said about “Pope” Francis in October 2013, when he called him a “genuine Modernist” and asserted, “…the situation of the Church is a real disaster. And the present Pope is making it 10,000 times worse” (source). The interviewer pointed out that this is obviously a disrespectful thing to say about the Pope, which Fellay denied, “clarifying” that it was not disrespect but a “statement” — as though a statement couldn’t be disrespectful. Perhaps Fellay meant that it was an observation, and an observation can be either accurate or not, but it cannot be disrespectful.
“Do you think Pius X would have tolerated insubordination of that kind from one of his bishops…?”, Sebastian followed up inquisitively. Not surprisingly, Fellay questioned the word “insubordination” — as though it were up to the inferior to tell his superior whether he is actually recalcitrant! — and then deflected the substance of the charge, conceding that calling the Pope a disaster is “not the highest respect”. The SSPX Superior then rushed to “clarify” what heunderstands by granting the Pope the veneration and respect that, as Vicar of Christ, is owed him: “When I greet him, I certainly do show him my respect, I do.” And this, ladies and gentlemen, essentially sums up the SSPX’s entire position on submission to and veneration of the Roman Pontiff: When you run into him, you kindly say hello. Submission of intellect and will? Not so much. Brilliant!
But Sebastian would have none of it and retorted, “And then behind his back you say he’s a disaster!” Now, while one can debate whether the SSPX’s resistance towards the “Pope” is technically being done “behind his back” or not, one thing is for certain: Beyond having his picture in the sacristy, putting his name in the Canon of the Mass, and publicly acknowledging him as Pope, the SSPX really has no concept of respect for and submission to the Vicar of Christ.
We could endlessly quote papal teaching on what respect for and submission to the Pope actually means or implies, but we will confine ourselves to just one example, from Pope Pius IX, published almost 20 years before the declaration of papal infallibility and therefore not at all connected with the issue of infallibility:
In fact, Venerable Brother, you are not ignorant of the truth that nothing should be nearer to a Catholic Bishop, nothing is more obligatory for him, than heartfelt respect for the supreme power of this Chair of St. Peter, whence flows sacerdotal unity, the ordination of bishops, and the government of the Church; than to defend with all his strength the rights of this See and to honor them, splendid as they are with an authority, not human, but divine; than to attach himself firmly to the Sovereign Pontiff, to recognize him, faithfully to render to him all respect and obedience, this Pontiff, placed in this See, who has received from Our Lord Himself in the person of the Blessed Prince of the Apostles, all power to feed the sheep and the lambs, to confirm his brethren, to rule and govern the whole Church throughout the world.
(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Redditae Sunt, Jan. 6, 1851; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 153.)
Remember this next time someone in the Recognize-and-Resist camp tells you that Francis is Pope but then treats him like the village idiot (two of the best real-life examples being the bloggers Hillary White and Mundabor).
(4) “Bishop Fellay, what are your Sins?”
Obviously a master of his craft, Sebastian knew to end the interview with a bang. As his final question, he had the gall to ask: “Bishop, you talk a lot about sin and heresy and the right way… what are your sins?” Clearly, the interviewer was looking for fireworks, and he got them, because Bp. Fellay took the bait and tried to answer the question. Obviously struggling to find sins that he could publicly admit to without embarrassing himself too much, and yet feeling the urgency to say something, Fellay, in between stretches of what seemed like an eternity of silence as his inquisitor was staring at him, eked out, “talk[ing] a little too much”, “giving this impression of being too sure of myself”, and… spending too much time in solitude and not enough with others!
Wow. What a monumental embarrassment! Obviously, there was only one way to answer this question, namely: “With all due respect, Sir, my sins are none of your business; they belong in the confessional and not on public television. I will not answer this question.” Fellay should have put Sebastian in his place, but he didn’t.
All in all, this was clearly an “epic fail” moment in the history of SSPX leadership, a near-total breakdown in public relations management. Some may say we are being too hard on Bp. Fellay, but let us not forget that Fellay has freely chosen to adopt the role of the “Pope’s” doctrinal babysitter. He claims for himself the right and the competence to sit in judgment on, disagree with, disobey, and (de facto) refuse submission to the “Roman Pontiff” on any point he deems necessary, as long as he is sincerely convinced that it is the right thing to do. Surely he will not mind being likewise held to a standard commensurate with his chosen role as SSPX Superior General and “papal” watchdog.
Bp. Richard Williamson once had his interview moment, and now Bp. Fellay has had his. We invite both of them to respond to the little challenge we issued a year ago:
Perhaps loudmouths like John Salza and Robert Siscoe will now want to shift back a few gears in advertising the fact that their anti-sedevacantist book, True or False Pope?, features a foreword written by Bishop Fellay. That’s the same Bishop Fellay, incidentally, who could not even manage to write the opening paragraph without outrageously offending Catholic doctrine. Speaking of Novus Ordos, he wrote: “Through unwitting obedience to recent Popes, these now profess and practice a faith unrecognizable to our forefathers” (in True or False Pope?, p. i). By contrast, Catholic teaching holds that it is precisely obedience and submission to the Holy See that guarantees orthodoxy in doctrine, as we demonstrated in our recent podcast episode (TRADCAST 012).
Alas, this is the inevitable outcome when you try to do the impossible and attempt to reconcile two concepts that are necessarily diametrically opposed to one another, namely, that of “heretic” and that of “Vicar of Christ”. The result is an absurdity, as the following short little video clip demonstrates quite beautifully:
We end this post with a heartfelt appeal to the many souls of good will who still find themselves trapped in the Society of St. Pius X: We know you mean to be good and traditional Catholics, but a number of your positions are at grave odds with Catholic teaching, especially on the papacy. Objectively speaking, you are Lefebvrists and Neo-Gallicans, not Catholics. Take a very good look at this interview, which shines the spotlight on some of your theology and especially on your hero, Bishop Fellay. Is he really the antidote to Francis? Is he the man you think will “save the Church”? Quite possibly, this interview may be God’s final wake-up call to you all. Fellay is about to lead you into the Modernist den under the apostate Jorge Bergoglio… Do you really think it is God’s will for you to end up there — as one more “flavor” of Catholicism among many; with a traditional side altar, so to speak, in the Modernist cathedral?
Tim Sebastian’s interrogation of Bp. Fellay was providential. No one could have expected anything different from the secular journalist, but the SSPX Superior’s performance was more than revealing. At a critical time, when the “Pope’s” heresies in Rome are multiplying exponentially day by day, the Vatican and the SSPX are closer to a practical reconciliation than ever before, and a “dynamic duo” has emerged with a mission to stamp out Sedevacantism — there Almighty God throws a monkey wrench into it all to lay bare the sorry state of SSPX “Catholic Traditionalism” and its incompetent leader.
Please, good souls, accept this grace God is giving you and realize that the SSPX is not the solution but part of the problem.
The Chair of St. Peter is vacant, and the Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church.