May 2001 - Superior General's Letter #60

The new language of the Second Vatican Council is being used to convey a new theology which contradicts what the Church has always taught. The Society has sought to lay the axe to the root of today's present crisis by bringing Rome back to sound doctrine but Rome has refused. Instead Rome desires a unity of communion without a unity of doctrine, a practical agreement, which the Society has consistently refused and that is why the Society has been marginalized.


Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Current assessment of the Society's relations with Rome

This letter is coming to you somewhat late. We did not wish it to reach you before we could give you news as accurate as possible on the state of our relations with Rome. It seems to us that the time has now come to assess the situation. Many rumors have been circulating, a number of them false. Also we are aware of how much is at stake, and how decisive it can be for our future. We will lay out here various aspects of the question.

Society marginalized because of its doctrinal stance

For our part, we have been marginalized by the authorities in Rome, not to say rejected, because of our refusal of Vatican II and the post-conciliar reforms, for reasons of doctrine.

How the new language of Vatican II affects doctrine

When we say that we refuse the Council, we do not thereby mean that we totally reject the letter of all the Conciliar documents, consisting as they do in large part of simple repetitions of what has already been said in the past. What we are attacking is a new language, introduced in the name of the “pastoral” Council. This new language, being vague and much less precise, conveys a different philosophy and it is the basis of a new theology. It rejects any stable way of looking at the essence of things, to base itself rather on the state of their existence at any given moment, which is bound to be changing, varied, and more difficult to grasp according as it varies. As change and movement are part of the life of all living things, so change will come to the forefront and be considered a necessary part of the Church. Dogmas previously untouchable then become liable to correction and improvement… They are shut into the age in which they were pronounced as though they ceased to be binding once that age was over… To insist on understanding them in the same sense and the same way they have always been understood becomes a thing of the past. The ensuing temptation to make an absolute out of the particular, out of the human person, becomes great… finally that human person, i.e. man, gets put in the center and God is pushed to one side. A new religion is dawning.

Same words, different meanings

The modernist is clever enough to avoid direct confrontation between the new and the old. He presents the new as though it were the enrichment of an under-nourished way of thinking now surpassed by the new concepts. Almost all words – “redemption”, “grace”, “revelation”, “sacrament”, “mystery”, take on a new meaning.

New liturgy Is man-centered not God-centered

In the Church’s life, this process is particularly striking in the case of the new liturgy, which in its physical movements centers on man, and is no longer hierarchically directed through the priest towards God. Sacrifice is no longer mentioned, being replaced by “Eucharist”, a word that used to apply only to the consecrated host: henceforth the emphasis is on the meal.

New concept of religious liberty cannot stand up to wave of secularization

In these very changes we see the origin of today’s collapse of what still remained of Christendom, and the cause of the present crisis of the Catholic Church. Religious liberty is radically incapable of standing up to the wave of secularization sweeping through the modern world, a world in effect without God, making itself into God: for, the creature once having cut off its dependence on its Creator in order to establish its autonomy and liberty, it has no further basis for its intrinsic and absolute dependence on its God. So to save the human person from the totalitarianism of the modern state, the creature has sought to establish that the person and its liberty are superior, at which point it can no longer reconcile this very real liberty with the absolute dependence on God. Then, perforce, sin, as the misfortune of the creature rebelling against its Creator, is no longer understood, the creature’s responsibility becomes very vague, and the Redemption, God’s answer to that misfortune, is turned inside out.

Since man is so great there is no room for God

The whole life of man becomes much easier; God’s commandments are consigned to oblivion ; all discipline, strictness, austerity and renunciation fade away. Once the human person’s greatness is affirmed in this way, his relation with his God, which is his religion, will take on a completely different look. This new look at the person and his acts seeks to be so positive, and such an effort is made to discover “seeds of the Word” in all directions, that the idea that everybody is saved is now firmly implanted in numbers of Catholics’ minds, and all the ecumenical celebrations and inter-religious declarations merely go to corroborating this new vision of life. The effect, if not the intention, is a frightening spread of the belief that it does not matter what religion one belongs to.

Truth dismissed as being old-fashioned and out of date

Hence, on our side, our firm attachment to everything that the Church taught even recently, to everything that used to guide Christian life but is now dismissed as being old-fashioned, out-of-date, antiquated, narrow-minded. We do not deny that a certain amount of change is part of any society’s life, which therefore includes the Church, but we state that the apple-tree’s life will produce apples, and that it is absurd to expect the changes bound up in the life of the apple-tree to suddenly produce coconuts.

Rome approaches the SSPX

The Christian life of the Society of St. Pius X is producing undeniable fruits of salvation, as even Rome recognizes. That there is a grave crisis in the Church, an appalling falling off in the preaching of doctrine, a lack of interest on the part of the Christian people, Rome also recognizes. That one of the motives of the Vatican’s approach to us may lie in these two considerations, is not to be excluded; and if Rome calls upon us as firemen to help put out the fire, we will not refuse our services, but before we get involved in the blaze we do ask for the gasline which is the source of the fire to be cut off!

However, deep down, the Romans were coming to us for a different reason.

Rome wants a unity of communion without a unity of doctrine

On Rome’s side, they are at present concerned above all to establish unity. All their efforts are going in that direction. One bold, shocking, scandalous act follows another in their attempt to draw together Christians disunited and torn apart. The determination to overcome doctrinal differences by liturgical acts in common very much expresses this new ecumenical thrust. One cannot help thinking they wish to give secondary importance to questions of truth in order to get on with living. Howsoever that be, there is an explicit desire to overcome doctrinal differences by joint action. Here is probably to be seen the motive for the Vatican’s approach to us last autumn.

We are being offered a practical solution not to be held up by points of dispute. Rome neither denies that there are points to be disputed, nor does it refuse to deal later with such questions, but it is inviting us to “re-enter the fold” without further delay. As a sign of good-will, we are being offered a solution acceptable in itself, in fact a solution which would suit us down to the ground from a purely practical point of view.

Reasons why the Society cannot accept a practical agreement

Yet it is an offer we must refuse, for the following reasons: the whole history of the Society of St. Pius X shows how much we are a sign of contradiction, how much our existence can raise violent reactions, even hateful reactions from Catholics, especially the hierarchy. The attitude of many bishops who are open to all kinds of ecumenism on the one hand, but treat us on the other hand with a harshness that has no name, is profoundly contradictory.

We suffer from this situation through the division to be found in almost all our families. But this division cannot be healed by a merely practical agreement. We embody the contradiction without meaning to do so, and a practical agreement will not change this basic situation. The solution to the problem is to be sought elsewhere. Deep down, Rome does not understand our attitude towards the New Mass and the conciliar reforms. Rome holds our attitude to be the manifestation of a rigid narrow-mindedness.

Whenever we try to tackle the deep-down problem, we find ourselves every time up against a brick wall: we are not allowed to call in question the reforms of the Council; we might be allowed a certain degree of criticism, but certainly not accusations so broad and grave as we keep on raising.

In other words, if we accepted Rome’s solution today, we would find ourselves up against exactly the same problems tomorrow.

Rome is missing the point

For our part, we are and we mean to remain Catholic. Our seeming separation from Rome is of minor importance compared with the major problem shaking the Church to her foundations, and of which we are despite ourselves merely an outstanding sign. For Rome’s part, to settle the question of the seeming separation is of primary importance, and takes priority over all else; doctrinal questions will be talked about later. Through this pursuit of unity, Rome has indeed changed its position towards us, it is indeed seeking for a solution, but as far as we are concerned it is missing the point. For sure, we wish to see this crisis come to an end. For sure, we wish to cease being opposed to Rome. But that calls for a different approach altogether.

Rome’s failure to understand our position is such that if today we accepted their agreement, tomorrow we would have to undergo exactly the same treatment as St. Peter’s Fraternity, which is muzzled, and being led where it does not want to go, slowly but surely towards Vatican II and the liturgical reform. If St. Peter’s Fraternity and the other “Ecclesia Dei” movements still manage to survive, as best they can, they will owe it to the firmness of our stand.

Rome seeks to uphold the Council at all costs

Certainly we are grateful for everything well-meaning in Rome’s approach, but it is our judgment that things are not yet ripe for us to be able to go ahead. The reasons we were given for their refusing to grant our pre-conditions for re-establishing trust, are highly significant: “It would raise too much opposition, it would mean giving up the whole work of the Council”.

The Society desires a unity based on truth

There is always an immense amount of work on our hands, which is why we would by no means refuse a true discussion with Rome of the real questions, but we have not yet reached that point.

We too have a profound desire for the Unity of the Mystical Body; Our Lord’s prayer “that all be one” is our prayer too, but while the practice of charity can greatly help to promote the cause of unity, nevertheless it is only when minds are agreed on the truth that wills can be united in seeking the common goal apprehended as such.

Citation of St. Pius X's Encyclical “Haerent Animo”

“Our eyes raised to Heaven, we often renew on behalf of all the clergy, Jesus Christ’s own entreaty: Father sanctify them. We rejoice in the thought that a very large number of faithful of all classes, taking to heart their clergy’s good and the good of the Church, join us in this prayer; it is no less agreeable to us to know that there are also many generous souls not only inside convents and monasteries but also living in the world who offer themselves unceasingly as holy victims to God for this purpose.

May the Most High accept as a sweet perfume their pure and sublime prayers, and may He not disdain our own most humble entreaties; may He in His mercy and providence come to our aid, we beg Him, and may He pour out upon the clergy those treasures of grace, charity and every virtue enclosed in the most pure Heart of his dearly beloved Son”. (St. Pius X, Hærent Animo)

Prayer recommendations

We strongly recommend to your prayers what we have no doubt you have already been greatly praying for, that the Church recover her true visage, serene, eternal, shining with the holiness of God and setting the earth on fire with the love of a God who so loved us. May Our Lady who presides so clearly over the destiny of the Church at this beginning of a millennium protect you and bless you with the Child Jesus, “cum prole pia”, as the Liturgy says.

† Bernard Fellay

Feast of St. Pius V

May 5, 2001