Aug. 24 Update on SSPX-Rome Relations
“Pope Francis does not think that Canonizations are infallible” & other curious Anecdotes
On August 24, 2016, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, Bp. Bernard Fellay, offered more of his usual “Fellay Tales” to his adherents, that intriguing mix of the mysterious, the incredible, and the laughable with regard to the SSPX and its relations with the Vatican, which have as their (no doubt intended) effect the continual pacification and confirmation of Lefebvrists in their current position as adherents to Bp. Fellay and the theological “recognize-but-resist” schizophrenia that characterises the Society.
In an English-language talk that lasted well over 100 minutes and is available in six parts in the videos embedded below, Bp. Fellay once again presents himself as the man with the “inside knowledge” of what is happening in the Vatican, and essentially assures his listeners that things have never been better for the SSPX. In addition to a few stunning new revelations, Fellay’s latest tales contain much of the “same old, same old” he’s been telling people for well over ten years, such as:
- let me tell you what people in the Vatican told me personally!
- there are bishops and cardinals who believe/know/say we’re Catholic!
- there are bishops and other clerics who agree with us!
- there are bishops who want us to keep fighting!
- the Pope is on our side, he even says we’re Catholic!
- John Paul II has lamented the prevalence of heresy!
- Paul VI said the smoke of Satan had entered the Church!
- not everything that comes from Rome is in agreement with what the Pope wants!
- Tradition is making progress!
…All of which always leads the hearers to the same practical conclusion, one that is highly desirable for the SSPX Superior: The Society is right in what it does; therefore stick with us, hang in there; soon we will win. It is a call for perseverance in the status quo, and this seems to be always the same modus operandi for Bp. Fellay and his Society.
Where the SSPX contradicts traditional Catholic teaching — for example, with regard to the infallibility of papal canonizations of saints, as discussed below — this is quickly smoothed over by assuring the hearer that the Pope agrees with us on this! All this would mean is that the “Pope” is in error, too — that’s all. But theological principle has never been the strong suit of the SSPX.
Here are the six videos that together make up the entirety of Bp. Fellay’s conference of August 24, 2016. Most of the “good stuff” is found in Parts 3-6:
Manifest heretics and schismatics are excluded from membership in the Church. Heretics separate themselves from the unity of faith and worship; schismatics from the unity of government, and both reject the authority of the Church. So far as exclusion from the Church is concerned, it matters not whether the heresy or schism be formal or material. Those born and reared in heresy or schism may be sincere in their belief and practice yet they publicly and willingly reject the Church and attach themselves to sects opposed to her. They are not guilty of sin in the matter, but they are not members of the Church. For this reason, the Church makes no distinction between formal and material heresy when receiving converts into her fold.
(Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1927], p. 226; underlining added. The 1955 edition of the book is available here.)
Among the newer or more startling claims Bp. Fellay makes in his conference, we would certainly have to number his assertion that he believes, based on what “Abp.” Pozzo has said about the SSPX not needing to accept all of Vatican II, that it’s possible that this marks a “turning point in the history of [the] council” (Part 6, 12:58 min) and the beginning of the end of Vatican II — which, again, amounts to an exhortation to his people to hold out, so that they will remain attached to the SSPX. But as anyone who actually understands Catholicism knows, a church-gone-bad that fixes itself is still a church that went bad. “Fixing” Vatican II solves nothing, because the church that gave us Vatican II already cannot be the Catholic Church — if it were the true Church, the council wouldn’t need fixing! Besides, an authority that first imposes heresy and then later says, “Just kidding! We’re going to rescind it!” is not credible and could never be “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), which enjoys “the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy” (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, n. 22).
In the fourth part of the talk, Bp. Fellay makes a curious assertion, perhaps without realizing what implications his statement has for his own position. Speaking about Church unity in matters of government, he says: “…this unity in government is destroyed because the people in Rome no longer obey the Pope” (Part 4, 1:11 min). There is a name for a lack of unity in government, a refusal of submission to the Pope: it’s the nasty word schism. As Pope Leo XIII taught:
Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino [by divine law]. “The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head” (St. Thomas, 2a 2ae, 9, xxxix., a. I). From this it is easy to see that men can fall away from the unity of the Church by schism, as well as by heresy.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 11; underlining added.)
So, “the people in Rome no longer obey the Pope”? Aren’t there also people like that in Menzingen and Econe, Switzerland — and indeed throughout the entire world, banded together under the name “Society of Saint Pius X” who have not obeyed “the Pope” since at least 1976? Or is Bp. Fellay now in all seriousness going to point to himself and his Lefebvrist Society as examples of fidelity to the man they believe is Pope? Moreover, considering what has Francis has been doing and saying, shouldn’t Bp. Fellay be glad that there are people in the Vatican who will not obey him?
But, again, the SSPX Superior does not reason this far and perhaps hopes that his listeners won’t either. Instead, when it comes to the question of whether the SSPX is guilty of schism, he acknowledges that some “cardinals” indeed believe this, but not the “Pope”! He relates that Vatican “Cardinal” Gerhard Ludwig Muller had a decree of renewed excommunication prepared for the SSPX bishops, all ready to go, and, handing it to Francis, asked him to sign and date it. But Francis, according to Fellay, refused, telling Muller that “they are Catholics!”
And so, once again Bp. Fellay resolves a theological issue in his favor, not with Catholic theology, of course, but with an anecdote that he simply relates and asks his listeners to accept. Oftentimes the sources for these anecdotes are kept entirely anonymous — Bp. Fellay simply likes to claim that “bishops say” and “cardinals have told me” and such like. The more Bp. Fellay presents himself as a quasi-oracle in this manner, the more cultish the SSPX becomes. Catholic theology is thus being replaced by what somone claims someone else said that the “Pope” said. Even supposing it all to be true, that’s simply not how Catholic theology works, and Bp. Fellay knows it.
Clearly, the most interesting claim Bp. Fellay makes in his entire talk comes in Part 6: “Pope Francis does not think that the Canonizations are infallible” (Part 6, 11:24 min)! Yet again, the SSPX ignores traditional Catholic theology, which holds that canonizations of saints are infallible, and replaces it with, “Francis agrees with us that they’re not!”
So let’s say that Francis does indeed agree with them on this and does believe that Lefebvrists are Catholics. So what? Francis also believes Martin Luther was right on justification, that heresy is no big deal, that adultery is just an imperfect participation in the sacrament of matrimony, that the Crucifixion of our Blessed Lord is great to use as the punch line of a joke, that Our Lord probably apologized to Mary and Joseph, that today’s Jews are God’s Chosen People, that the observance of Ramadan can bring abundant spiritual fruit, that the Blessed Mother may have blasphemed, that the greatest problem in the world is the unemployment of the youth and the loneliness of the elderly, and on and on, ad nauseam. (Evidence for all this and much more can be found here.)
But hey, Francis believes the SSPX is Catholic, so that’s all that matters, right? And no doubt he also believes that Joe Biden is a Catholic. Precisely why should anyone care? Francis is being used here as an authority only whenever what he says floats Bp. Fellay’s boat — otherwise, not so much. In other words, the final authority is still and always will be the SSPX; others have authority only insofar as they agree with the Society. That would explain why they are still negotiating with Rome — this is far removed from what is understood by submission to the Pope in Catholic theology. We remember Pope Pius IX, another authority the SSPX pays lipservice to but only adheres to selectively, depending on what Bp. Fellay argues at a particular point in time:
Nor can we pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that “without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.” But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quanta Cura, n. 5)
One will presumably search SSPX publications in vain for a quotation of this papal teaching.
Returning to the issue of Francis and canonizations: It won’t do, as some may try to argue, to claim that since Francis is the one canonizing, he gets to determine whether his canonizations are infallible or not. It doesn’t work that way. If he’s the Pope, his declaration that someone is a saint is infallible, and it doesn’t even matter what process, if any, was used to arrive at this conclusion, because it is not the process that is ever infallible but the declaration. That’s what Catholics believe. But don’t take our word for it:
…the end of the infallible Magisterium demands those things that are necessary in order to direct the faithful without error to salvation through the correct worship [=veneration] and imitation of the examples of Christian virtues. But for such a purpose infallibility concerning decrees on the Canonization of Saints is necessary.
[This] is certain, because by the solemn decrees of the Canonization of Saints the Church not only tolerates and permits, but also commends and instructs the whole flock of the faithful that certain definite Saints whom it canonizes are to be honored, and it proposes them as examples of virtue who are worthy of imitation. But the mere possibility of error in such a solemn declaration would take away all confidence from the faithful and fundamentally would destroy the whole cult of the Saints; because [then] it could happen that the Church would solemnly propose to all and mandate that condemned and evil men perpetually should be honored. Therefore, in order to direct the faithful without error to salvation through correct worship and imitation of the examples of Christian virtues, infallibility is necessary concerning the solemn decrees of the Canonization of Saints.
(Fr. Joachim Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa IB: On the Church of Christ, trans. by Fr. Kenneth Baker [original Latin published by BAC, 1955; English published by Keep the Faith, 2015], n. 724; underlining added, italics removed.)
This is the Catholic teaching, to deny which would be “temerarious, bringing scandal to the whole Church, … smacking of heresy … affirming an erroneous proposition”, in the words of Pope Benedict XIV (see Salaverri, n. 726; italics removed). A Pope cannot simply turn his own infallibility on or off at will, because it is not something that proceeds from him as the source, but from the Holy Ghost.
In addition, this also puts to rest the sneaky and erroneous defense put forth by some that a decree of canonization only requires one to believe that the soul canonized is in Heaven, not that he is worthy of imitation or veneration or lived a holy life on earth — only that he finally “made it”. We understand the motivation behind making this claim — for who wants to say that the Koran-kissing snake worshipper John Porn II is worthy of imitation or veneration? — but Catholic theology demands more than having a good motive in making claims. We can’t make up Church doctrine as we go along, carefully tailoring it to give us what we need and nothing we don’t want, just so we don’t have to be sedevacantists. That’s just not how Catholicism works. If Catholic principle applied to the facts results in Sedevacantism, then that’s the position you have to embrace, whether you like it or not.
So, once again, a simple look at a pre-Vatican II theology manual shows that the SSPX cannot be relied on to put forth traditional Catholic doctrine on any given theological issue. And why not? Because they want the Vatican II “popes” to be valid — a Faustian bargain!
Another curious anecdote Bp. Fellay relates in his conference is that some cardinals have allegedly said: “We have exaggerated the power of the Pope. We need to reduce that.” Once again, the cardinals in question remain anonymous, and Bp. Fellay’s motive for mentioning this bizarre statement remains unclear. The power of the Pope comes directly from God; it does not come from the cardinals or from the Church. Although cardinals have the power to elect the Pope, this is merely the authority to designate the man who is to be invested by God Himself with the power of the Papacy. It is not a transfer of power from the cardinals to the Pope, as though the Pope were more or less an “employee” of the cardinals, a sort of CEO elected by a board who can be recalled at any time.
All in all, Bp. Fellay’s Aug. 24 talk is a mixed bag of countless observations, thoughts, ideas, concerns, and anecdotes — with a little bit of theology thrown into the mix to make it sound Catholic. Pray for the poor souls that look up to him as a traditional Catholic leader. He is leading them, alright — slowly but surely into the lion’s den of Jorge Bergoglio. And when that process is finished and the trapdoor closes, the vast majority of SSPX adherents will be caught like a deer in the headlights, not knowing what to do or think, because for decades they’ve fed their minds not on Catholic teaching but on Lefebvrite propaganda peppered with plenty of intriguing tales from Bp. Fellay.