For various reasons, we very rarely post long excerpts or full transcripts of articles published in large media outlets. In this case, we are forced to open an exception: the interviewer, a journalist in German daily Die Welt, is slightly more aware of what he is speaking about than the average mainstream journalist, and Father Franz Schmidberger, former Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX) and its current Superior for the German District, provides very specific answers. Let us hope all involved realize when the time has come to "go up to Jerusalem" (cf. Gospel for Quinquagesima Sunday).
Translation by reader IM, adapted.
Translation by reader IM, adapted.
The traditionalist SSPX does not want to reconcile with the Pope at any price
The process of reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX enters a crucial phase. Three years ago, it emerged with the lifting of the excommunication of its four bishops in the headlines because one of them, British Bishop Williamson had denied the Holocaust. Now, it may be soon decided whether the attempt of the Pope to bring the ultra-conservative Catholics in the boat are successful, or whether there will be a definitive expulsion of the rebels of the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church. Her Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, said in America that the latest proposal of Rome is unacceptable [Rorate note: this was not what Fellay said, but an outright deception planted by malicious Italian Vaticanists, as we said on the same day the sermon was publihed.] For Father Franz Schmidberger, the District Superior of the SSPX in Germany, matters do not sound so definitive. Paul Badde spoke with him.
Die Welt: In Rome there are increasing signs that a full reconciliation with the SSPX may at last take place, and that they should soon have its own personal prelature, which is not unlike the status of Opus Dei. It is also mentioned, however, that negotiations between the Vatican and the SSPX have failed. Can you clarify it?
Father Franz Schmidberger: On September 14, 2011, Cardinal Levada presented Bishop Fellay, our Superior General, with a "doctrinal preamble", whose acceptance is the condition for a canonical recognition of the SSPX. We consulted extensively on the text and came to the conclusion that it was not acceptable. Finally, I myself, on December 1, brought the response of the Superior General to Rome, and, at a Roman request, he delivered a clarification of that response. Now we wait with great anticipation the response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Die Welt: The Pope said that he would not have agreed to the lifting of the excommunications of your four bishops if he had been aware of the statements of Bp. Williamson. What will happen with Bp. Williamson after the reconciliation?
Fr. Schmidberger: I am not a prophet, but I do believe that during the discussions about a canonical structure for the Fraternity, which will certainly not be held in only one session, the participants will also talk about Bp. Williamson. Certainly, it may expect from him that he will obey the Superior General’s instructions.
Die Welt: It is said about Archbishop Lefebvre, the founder of the Fraternity, that he “adhered to eternal Rome with all his heart”. Would he by now not already have reconciled himself with this Pope who stretches out his hand so much?
Fr. Schmidberger: Things are not that easy. During the visitation of our work by Cardinal Gagnon in 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote the Cardinal a letter and proposed a canonical structure for the Fraternity. At the same time, he made it very clear that current ecumenism under the symbol of religious relativism, religious liberty, the fruit of which is today’s secularism, and collegiality, that paralyses completely the life of the church, are unacceptable for us. Alas, even today there are still differences when it comes to this with the reigning Pope.
Die Welt: What reasonable arguments does the Fraternity in fact still have against religious liberty, the enforcement of which is key for world peace today?
Fr. Schmidberger: Religious liberty is not, in the first place, a matter of practice, but a matter of doctrine. The condemnation of religious liberty by the popes never implied the will to force others to accept the Catholic religion, but it implied that a state, in which the majority of the population is Catholic, should acknowledge that the Catholic religion is the religion revealed by God. At the same time, it can very well to tolerate other religions and confessions and even lay those tolerances down in civil laws.
Obviously, in today’s pluralistic times, such a tolerance would have to find broad application. At the other hand error never has a (natural) right. When, however, it comes to man being capable of recognising God by the light of reason and of being aware of the true religion, then this is also true for statesmen; and it is exactly this that the Popes, up to Pius XII, maintained by condemning religious liberty. Everything else is, in the end, agnosticism.
Die Welt: The latest Popes have all committed themselves to ecumenism, even to a consolidation of the confessions, according to the word of Christ, which says: “that all may be one”, as Jesus prayed (John 17, 21). What would you bring forth against that?
Fr. Schmidberger: Every Sunday the faithful sing: “I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church;" the prayer of Christ does not refer to the fact that they first have to become one. Indeed, in the course of history, groups have broken away from the Church time and time again; for example the Greeks in the 11th century, and Luther with his followers in the 16th century. For every sincere Christian this is a pain and so we pray daily for the return of those who are separated from the Church to the parental home.
Die Welt: Until today every sect has presumptuously declared that it was right – and it showed a good portion of arrogance towards the majority. Archbishop Lefebvre was different. He suffered a lot from the impending division and the state of emergency of the unresolved status of the Fraternity. Has the Fraternity meanwhile gotten accustomed to the state of emergency – or is the awareness of the
danger of a permanent separation still seen as a distress?
Fr. Schmidberger: A case of emergency is a case of emergency, it is abnormal and aspires towards normalisation. How are we, however, to get to a settlement with meetings in Assisi that implicitly (not explicitly!) claim that all religions are paths to salvation? We certainly suffer from the current situation; but we suffer infinitely more from this religious indifferentism that leads uncountable numbers of souls to their perdition.
Die Welt: The Pope staked his reputation (and the unity of the entire Church) three years ago for the reconciliation with the Fraternity. What does the Fraternity offer for the reconciliation with the Church?
Fr. Schmidberger: When it is canonically recognised, the Fraternity will bring a large religious potential and great religious strength into the interior of the Church. I see few ecclesiastical communities that have taken up the cause of complete unity between dogmatic theology, spirituality and liturgy, and that live by it. We bring a great treasure, for, from the very beginning, we have celebrated solely the ancient, magnificent liturgy with its charism of faith and sanctity.
Furthermore, the Fraternity will be a great support for the Pope in conquering the latent schism that is present everywhere in Europe due to centrifugal forces; see Austria, for example. Only recently an Archbishop in Germany told me that also here they expect the breaking away of large communities.
Die Welt: That was not my question, however. I reminded you of what the Pope had risked for the reconciliation, and I would like to know again what you would be willing to sacrifice.
Fr. Schmidberger: We give up our relative freedom that we have used so far for the worldwide expansion of our work and we put it into the hands of the Pope. For the rest, this is not about some diplomatic agreement, but about the welfare of the Church and the salvation of souls. The problem in the Church is not the Fraternity, but the Modernist theologians and the advancing collapse of the life of the Church since the Council.
Die Welt: Now, even the Anglicans find a home in the Catholic Church. What then has prevented you from feeling home in the Church during the last decades?
Fr. Schmidberger: In fact, the same tendencies that made the Anglicans flee to the Catholic Church have, since the Second Vatican Council, spread within the Catholic Church and led to a devastating loss of faith, to a downfall of morals and to havoc in the liturgy. If you would only think for a moment of the Carnival Masses that enter the churches everywhere these days. You see, I here have the address of the Pope to the representatives of the Central Committee of German Catholics of September 24th 2011. In this address he says: “the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith. If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.” Through the Council it is not the spirit of the Church that has entered the world; it is the other way around: the spirit of the world has invaded the church.
Die Welt: I do not tell you something new when I point to the small portion in the middle (or at the edge) of the Fraternity that will not participate in a reconciliation with the Pope. Are you prepared to let the reconciliation fail for this portion, or are you prepared to separate yourself from those?
Fr. Schmidberger: If the Roman authorities do not require something from the Fraternity for their canonical recognition that is against the traditional teaching and the praxis of the Church, then there will be no major difficulties concerning a regularization. If, however, Rome would require that we accept the whole of Vatican II unconditionally, then I do not see a possibility for reconciliation.
Die Welt: On the assumption of reconciliation: how would you want to distinguish yourself from other groups that have also committed themselves to Tradition? After a successful reconciliation, what will be and remain specifically your own thing, that others do not have?
Fr. Schmidberger: Our special charism is the formation of priests and the care for priests. Besides that, we in the Fraternity have specialized in the preaching of the Spiritual Exercises, the running of schools, and also simply the care of parishes, which is in a sorry state nowadays. Just think of the Sacrament of Penance that, for example, here in Stuttgart, is no longer granted in the parishes, with a few heroic exceptions. With that, the consciousness of sin and the need for salvation are fading away, as are prayer, the recption of the Sacraments, and the spirit of sacrifice.
Die Welt: There are voices that say that the labor of the Pope for this reconciliation is but a mere pilot for ecumenism as a whole. Do you share this idea, or do you fear it?
Fr. Schmidberger: If what I see is correct, then this can only apply to the Orthodox, but not at all to the different groups of Protestants. For, concerning the former, it is about the acknowledgement of the jurisdictional primacy of the Pope; concerning the latter, there exists besides that a substantial deviance from the Catholic Deposit of Faith, as well as from the teaching and practice of the Sacraments. We did not incur guilt by either one of those ways, even if, based on arguments of the faith, we had to resist certain directives – like the acceptance of the new liturgy.
Die Welt: No Pope has been as considerate to you as much as Benedict XVI. He will soon be 85 years old. Do you ever fear that time might work against you?
Fr. Schmidberger: It is true that the reigning Pope shows us some favor, and I hope that we will find a solution during his pontificate. On the other hand, the situation in the Church is assuming ever more dramatic shapes every day; the Pope himself speaks of the loss of faith in large regions. Would this not be related to certain statements of the Council and the post-conciliar reforms? On some prelates a light seems to dawn here and the longer the crisis acts, the brighter this light will be. And in that sense, time works in favor of us as well.
Die Welt: What gives us most hope that the danger of a new schism between Rome and the Fraternity might be abolished by Easter already?
Fr. Schmidberger: The Fraternity has seen many crises and has emerged from all of them more strengthened than weakened. Above that, together with all its members and houses, it consecrated and gave itself to the Mother of God on December 8, 1984. I hardly believe that God will let a work of His Mother slip away.