January 2003 - Superior General's Letter #63
In the eyes of Rome, the Campos-Rome agreement was merely meant to be the prelude to our own “regularization” in the Society of Saint Pius X, but in our eyes what is happening to our former friends should rather serve as a lesson to us. There is a desire on the part of some Vatican officials to put an end to the downhill slide. However, it is clear that the principle governing today’s Rome is still to put the Council into practice as has been done for the last 40 years. In this letter we will also tell you a little of our activity in the missionary countries of Lithuania and Kenya.
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Our relations with Rome
Once again our letter to Friends and Benefactors is reaching you a little late. Once again we hesitated to write to you sooner for fear of leaving out an important development in our relations with Rome, especially after the Campos-Rome agreement. In the eyes of Rome, obviously, what happened in Campos was merely meant to be the prelude to our own “regularization” in the Society of Saint Pius X, but in our eyes what is happening to our former friends should rather serve as a lesson to us.
Generally speaking, Rome means, all things being equal, to come to an agreement with the SSPX. On all sides we hear that the Pope would like to settle this matter before he dies. Alas, our fears roused by the Campos agreement have proved to be well-founded, and the evolution we observe of the Campos Apostolic Administration, contrary to Roman expectations, leaves us distrustful.
Of course we are dealing with a volatile situation capable of sudden and surprising changes, like in times of political instability. And in such a situation, nobody can be certain of what turn it will take. Also we do behold in the Vatican offices a certain questioning of the way things have gone for the last few decades, and a desire on the part of some officials to put an end to the downhill slide.
However, it is clear that the principle governing today’s Rome is still to put the Council into practice as has been done for the last 40 years. Neither official documents nor general policy show any fundamental re-thinking of this principle. On the contrary, we are always being told that what the Council set in motion is irreversible, which leads us to ask why there has been a change of attitude with regard to ourselves. Various explanations are possible, but it is primarily because of the pluralist and ecumenical vision of things now prevailing in the Catholic world. According to this vision, everybody is to mix together without anybody needing any longer to convert, as Cardinal Kasper said in connection with the Orthodox and even the Jews. From such a standpoint there will even be a little room for Catholic Tradition, but for our part we cannot accept this vision of variable truth any more than a mathematics teacher can accept a variable multiplication table.
The day will come, we are sure and certain, when Rome will come back to Rome’s own Tradition and restore it to its rightful place, and we long with all our hearts for that blessed day. For the time being, however, things are not yet at that point, and to foster illusions would be deadly for the SSPX, as we can see, when we follow the turn of events in Campos. For this purpose, let us emphasize two points in the evolution of the Campos situation: firstly, how their attitude to Rome has changed since the agreement and secondly, how Campos is moving further and further away from ourselves, with all the upset that that implies.
Changes in Campos
Campos, through its leader, Bishop Rifan, is crying out for all to hear that nothing has changed, that the priests of the Apostolic Administration are just as Traditional as before, which is the essence of what they have been granted, and why they accepted Rome’s offer: because Rome approved of the Traditional position.
For our part, let us begin by noting that we are well aware that in any disagreement one tends to discredit one’s adversary. For instance in the case of our former friends in Campos, there are certainly false rumors circulating to the effect that “Bishop Rifan has concelebrated the New Mass”, or, “Campos has completely given up Tradition”. However, that being said, here is what we observe:
1. The Campos website lays out the Campos position on the burning question of ecumenism: they claim to follow the Magisterium of the Church, past and present. There are quotes from Pius XI’s encyclical letter Mortalium Animos, next to quotes from John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio. We cannot help observing that there has been a careful selection process: Campos quotes John Paul II’s traditional passages while other passages introducing a quite new way of looking at the question are passed over. We read, “Being Catholics, we have no particular teaching of our own on the question. Our teaching is none other than that of the Church’s Magisterium. The extracts which we publish here from certain documents old and new, bear especially on points of Catholic doctrine which are in greater danger today”.
2. The ambiguity implicit here has become more or less normal in the new situation in which they find themselves: they emphasize those points in the present pontificate which seem favourable to Tradition, and tip-toe past the rest. Say what we will: there took place in Campos on January 18, 2002, not only a one-sided recognition of Campos by Rome, as some claim, but also, in exchange, an undertaking by Campos to keep quiet. And how could it be otherwise? It is clear by now that Campos has something to lose which they are afraid or losing, and so in order not to lose it they have chosen the path of compromise: “We Brazilians are men of peace, you Frenchmen are always fighting”. Which means that, in order to keep the peace with Rome, one must stop fighting. They no longer see the situation of the Church as a whole, they content themselves with Rome’s gesture in favour of a little group of two dozen priests and say that there is no longer any emergency in the Church because the granting of a Traditional bishop has created a new juridical situation…They are forgetting the wood for a single tree.
3. Bishop Rifan, in the course of a brief visit to Europe, went to see Dom Gerard at Le Barroux Abbey in France to present his apologies for having so criticized him back in 1988 when Dom Gerard condemned Archbishop Lefebvre’s consecrating or four bishops. In a lecture he gave to the monks, Bishop Rifan pretended there were two phases in the life or Bishop de Castro Mayer: up till 1981 he was supposedly a docile bishop respecting the rest of the hierarchy, from 1981 onwards he was a much harder churchman… “We choose to follow the pre-1981 de Castro Mayer”, said Bishop Rifan to the monks, some of whom were surprised at such words, and one of them was scandalized to the point of coming over to the SSPX.
4. Within this way of thinking even the Novus Ordo Mass can be accommodated. Campos forgets the 62 reasons for having nothing to do with it, Campos now finds that if it is properly celebrated, it is valid (which we have never denied, but that is not the point). Campos no longer says that Catholics must stay away because the New Mass is bad, and dangerous. Bishop Rifan says, by way of justifying his position on the Mass: “So we reject all use of the Traditional Mass as a battle-flag to insult and fight the lawfully constituted hierarchical authority of the Church. We stay with the Traditional Mass, not out of any spirit of contradiction, but as a clear and lawful expression of our Catholic Faith!”. We are reminded of the words of a Cardinal a little while back: “Whereas the SSPX is FOR the old Mass, the Fraternity of Saint Peter Is AGAINST the New Mass. It’s not the same thing”. That was Rome’s argument to justify taking action against Fr. Bisig of the Fraternity of Saint Peter at about the same time that Rome was cozying up to the SSPX. The Cardinal’s curious distinction is now being put into practice by Campos, as they pretend to be for the old Mass but not against the new. Likewise for Tradition, but not against today’s Rome. “We maintain that Vatican II cannot contradict Catholic Tradition”, said Bishop Rifan quite recently to a French magazine, Famille Chrétienne. Yet a well-known Cardinal said that Vatican II was the French Revolution inside the Church. Bishop de Castro Mayer said the same thing….
So little by little the will to fight grows weaker and finally one gets used to the situation. In Campos itself, everything positively traditional is being maintained, for sure, so the people see nothing different, except that the more perceptive amongst them notice the priests’ tendency to speak respectfully and more often of recent statements and events coming out of Rome, while yesterday’s warnings and today’s deviations are left out. The great danger here is that in the end one gets used to the situation as it is, and no longer tries to remedy it. For our part we have no intention of launching out until we are certain that Rome means to maintain Tradition. We need signs that they have converted.
Leaving the SSPX behind
Besides this wholly foreseeable evolution of minds by which the Campos priests have, whatever they say, given up the fight, we must note another occurrence, the increasing hostility between us. Bishop Rifan still says that he wants to be our friend, but some Campos priests are already accusing us of being schismatic because we refuse their agreement with Rome.
A little like one sees a boat pushing into mid-river, drifting down-stream and leaving the bank behind, so we see, little by little, several indications of the distance growing between ourselves and Campos. We had warned them of the great danger, they chose not to listen. Since they have no wish to row up-stream, then even while inside the boat things carry on as before, which gives them the impression that nothing has changed, nevertheless they are leaving us behind, as they show themselves more and more attached to the magisterium of today, as opposed to the position they held until recently and which we still hold, namely a sane criticism of the present in the light of the past.
To sum up, we are bound to say that the Campos priests, despite their claims to the contrary, are slowly being re-molded, following the lead of their new bishop, in the spirit of the Council. That is all Rome wants – for the moment.
One may object that our arguments are weak and too subtle, and of no weight as against Rome’s offer to regularize our situation. We reply that if one considers Rome’s offer of an Apostolic Administration just by itself, it is as splendid as the architect’s plan of a beautiful mansion. But the real problem is the practical problem of what foundations the mansion will rest on. On the shifting sands of Vatican II, or on the rock of Tradition going back to the first Apostle?
To guarantee our future, we must obtain from today’s Rome clear proof of its attachment to the Rome of yesterday. When the Roman authorities have restated with actions speaking louder than words that “There must be no innovations outside of Tradition”, then “we” shall no longer be a problem. And we beg God to hasten that day when the whole Church will flourish again, having re-discovered the secret of her past strength, freed from the modern unthought of which Paul VI said that “It is anti-Catholic in nature, Maybe it will prevail. It will never be the Church. There will have to be a faithful remnant, however tiny”.
Life inside the SSPX
Let us also tell you of life inside the Society, to give you a little share in our apostolic joys and labours. And let us make use of this letter to tell you a little of our activity in missionary countries. It is true that today almost all countries, especially in our old Europe, are again becoming missionary countries. Priests, in their apostolic travels, visit over 65 countries, some of them still today suffering direct persecution of the Faith. But as this letter is already long, let us confine ourselves to two new areas of our apostolate. We had been visiting them off and on for a number of years, but just recently we think they are opening up in an astonishing way: Lithuania and Kenya.
In order the better to organize our apostolate in Russia and White Russia, we have established a bridgehead in Lithuania, a country which suffered much under Russian Communist persecution and where it took heroism to keep Catholicism going. Once the Iron Curtain fell, the Eastern countries put their trust in the novelties from the Vatican, being persuaded that anything coming from the West had to be good! These countries swiftly caught up on the state of disaster inflicted by the reforms. Any reaction is rather passive than visible, so we do not see them taking action. But once our priests got over the language difficulty, they are discovering ground that promises to be fertile for Tradition, more so than our first fruitless attempts had given us to expect. Welcomed with a severe warning from the local bishops to Catholics to stay away from us, our priests nevertheless discovered numerous priests wishing to join us. These explained their bishops’ severity: it was out of fear that Catholics would come to us in large numbers. For instance we have been approached by a little congregation of Sisters, founded by Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevicius, Archbishop Emeritus of Kaunas. Before he died on May 28, 2000, he left orders with the Sisters: “When the Society of Saint Pius X comes, you must join them. They will restore the Church in Lithuania”. May God with His grace enable us to live up to the Archbishop’s expectation! The main cities now have their little Mass center where interest is slight for the moment, but becomes more pressing each day.
Kenya has been receiving sporadic visits from Society priests for the last 25 years, but we have only just discovered the existence of a group of 1,500 faithful organizing their struggle for the Faith with their refusal of communion in the hand and standing. Our first contacts with them show very clearly that they are battling not only for the right way to receive communion but also for a whole Traditional attitude. We are discovering also a number of nuns who have left their different Congregations or been chased out of them because they refused the Vatican II reforms. Living in the world they remained faithful to their vows. Now 16 of them are coming over to us in the hope of being able once more to live in community.
A young priest said to us, “If you set up a chapel here, it will empty out the cathedral. When I visit the faithful they say to me: ‘Why have you changed our Church? Say Mass like it used to be!’ But I don’t know the old Mass, I don’t know how the Church was before. When I ask older priests, they send me packing. Can you teach me to say the old Mass? Can I visit you to learn?” Another priest, also young, said in a tone of voice that spoke volumes. “I will note down in my diary for this evening: my first Tridentine Mass”.
How can the Church authorities not heed the cry of these souls thirsting for grace and the Catholic life? Beneath the ashes and ruins left by Vatican II, there are still traditional Catholic embers glowing, needing only to blaze up again. The Church does not die. God watches over it. May He grant us to be His docile instruments to spread the fire that His Heart burns to spread throughout the world!
But you in particular, dear faithful, are well aware that we cannot manage to do all we would like to do; how we need priests! Pray, pray the master of the harvest to send numerous workers into his apostolic field.
At the beginning of this new year, full of gratitude and warm thanks for all your unfailing generosity, we entrust you with praying for priests, for the sacrifice of the Mass. God bless you and all your families with an abundance of all His graces.
† Bernard Fellay
Feast of the Epiphany
6 January 2003