Father Franz Schmidberger: “The Church has entered calmer waters.”
Kathnews Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Greschner in an exclusive interview with Fr. Franz Schmidberger FSSPX.
Stuttgart (kathnews exclusive). The theological discussions between representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX) are under way. More than 20 years after the illicit episcopal consecrations by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre there is some movement in the difficult relationship between the Holy See and the fraternity. Kathnews Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Greschner spoke with Father Franz Schmidberger, Superior of the German District of the Fraternity. The main topics were the current status of the discussions with Rome, the liturgy, and the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.
Fr. P. Franz Schmidberger was born on Oct 19, 1946 in Riedlingen. After studying mathematics at the University of Munich, in 1972 he entered the seminary of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X at Ecône. There, in 1975, he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 1979, Schmidberger became Superior of the German District of the Fraternity and, in 1982, became Superior General of the Fraternity. From 1994 to 2003, he was active in the leadership of the Fraternity. In 2003 he was appointed Rector of the seminary in Zaitzkofen. In 2006 he again became Superior of the German District.
Benjamin Greschner: Reverend, what is your assessment of the current status of the theological discussions between representatives of the Fraternity of St. Pius X and the Holy See?
Father Schmidberger: According to the rather meager available information, the theological clarification discussions have begun well. For the first time we are able to unhurriedly bring our reservations about the statements of the II Vatican Council and developments after the council to the competent authority. These discussions will certainly continue for a lengthy time, perhaps years. But maybe our discussion partners will be able to quickly determine that it is not possible to deny that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X is Catholic, even though there may be areas of disagreement. That would represent enormous progress. The very discreet nature of the discussions is absolutely necessary for success, nothing good causes an uproar and nothing good comes from an uproar.
Benjamin Greschner: Recently in a video interview, Bishop Richard Williamson commented about the discussions. He expressed himself rather negatively and was obviously unconvinced that they would result in an agreement. What do you think about his comments? Do they represent the official position of the Fraternity?
Father Schmidberger: Bishop Williamson's opinion of the discussions in Rome are regrettable, because they certainly do not represent the position of the Fraternity. On the other hand, meanwhile, it is necessary to clearly warn against exaggerated optimism with respect to the discussions. Bishop Fellay has said it would be a miracle, if they were to conclude truly successfully.
Benjamin Greschner: In your judgment, how realistic is an agreement between the Holy See and the Fraternity of St. Pius X? In 1988 as Superior General, you were previously involved in similar discussions. Has the situation changed since then?
Father Schmidberger: An agreement between the Holy See and the Fraternity could only mean one thing: that Rome accepts the voice of the preconciliar Magisterium. The Fraternity has never developed a unique position of its own, but has instead made itself a mouthpiece of the Popes, especially those from the time of the French Revolution up to the II. Vatican Council. Since 1988, the situation has changed to the extent that Rome now takes our objections seriously and is looking for answers.
Benjamin Greschner: In your opinion, which are especially in need of clarification and discussion on theological or magisterial grounds? Are there any topics that you would describe as “hot potatoes?”
Father Schmidberger: The question of the new liturgy is doubtless a point of discussion, but then so is ecumenism, the roll of other religions, and the relationship of the Church to the world. As “hot potatoes” I would especially describe the question of religious freedom and also the question of doctrine.
Benjamin Greschner: A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of your Fraternity's four bishops. Has this decision of the Holy Father had a positive effect on the work of the Fraternity?
Father Schmidberger: The lifting of the decree of excommunication removed barriers and brought more Catholic faithful to us. On the other hand the uproar in the press has raised some new barriers. I believe, however, that this courageous decision made by the Pope has positively affected not only the Fraternity and its work, but in fact the entire Church.
Benjamin Greschner: How do you you assess the current mood in your priories and establishments? What do the faithful and the priests think about the discussions with the Holy See?
Father Schmidberger: As far as I can tell, the mood in our priories and establishments is generally quite good, and in general, our members welcome the discussions with the Holy See. However none of us are under any delusions.
Benjamin Greschner: In April 2005, with Joseph Cardinel Ratzinger, a prince of the Church was elected to the throne of Peter who represented a gleam of hope for many “traditional” Catholics. Already now, Benedict XVI has ruled the Church for almost five years. How do you assess these first five years of his pontificate?
Pater Schmidberger: The Church has entered calmer waters with Benedict XVI. The rehabilitation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the traditional form, the lifting of the decree of excommunication, and the doctrinal discussions with the Holy See are very positive acts of this pontificate. On the other hand we regret the visit to the Roman synagogue and especially the statement of the Pope that we and the Jews pray to the same God.
We Christians worship the most holy Trinity and adore our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father. The Jews of today, in contrast, do not accept either of these fundamental truths of our holy religion. Since there is no other God than the most holy Trinity, no other Lord than Jesus Christ, we do not worship the same God as the Jews.
Things were different with the righteous of the Old Testament. They were open to the truth of the trinity and the divine sonship of the promised messiah. The Pope has distanced himself alarmingly from those words of the first pope, St. Peter: “Neither is there salvation in any other [than Jesus Christ]” (Acts 4:12). This goes for every person, for Jews and Muslims also.
Thanks to a reader for the translation!