Our dear reader, the Most Rev. Abp. Thomas E. Gullickson, presents his views on the latest words of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), Bp. Bernard Fellay, regarding the past, the present, and the future of discussions with Rome. Here is his take:
"Pick up your Marbles and Move on!"
I was trying to decide whether it might be better to title this little reflection "Rules of Engagement", but that sounded too bellicose. Being at a loss all the way around, maybe I should not even attempt to gather and share my thoughts on RORATE CAELI's post of Bishop Fellay's All Saints talk and the commentary engendered by it over there (see Relevant). One of the comments in the combox alluded to the possibility that the missing component in the equation is "honesty": the contributor, who supports SSPX, would claim that many who hold fast to the Lefebvrian position today want no part of Rome or of obeying any authority; they make it up for themselves as they go along. I don't want to believe that possibility and hence the following little attempt to explain why I think that what is missing might simply be tagged "realism".
A goodly number of years ago a priest friend of mine became embroiled in a conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors on an issue of simple justice. My friend is the last person in the world I would ever class as selfish or self-serving; he was always on the side of the underdog no matter what it cost him personally; he could not tolerate hypocrisy, dishonestly, or aggression by the stronger against the weaker. He wanted little for himself really. At some point, he found himself with others in an assignment where all were expected to serve at the whim of the superior. When he balked and protested directly to the superior on his own behalf and on behalf of his colleagues, the superior resorted to pressure tactics, manipulation and verbal abuse. My friend was soon moved to another assignment for refusing to back down. That is all noble and fine. In our imperfect world we often run across similar circumstances. As we are not talking about a marital relationship but rather a work or professional rapport, these things can stand in a broader context and remain irreconcilable though not damning, as the two people must not necessarily live and work together in our big bright world. I know of lots of people in the world of work who change jobs in order to withdraw from an unhealthy or disagreeable environment. If you think about it, this explains partly the Church's discipline for priests being ordained to the service of a specific diocese and yet for good reasons (or not) having the possibility of changing their diocese of incardination, of finding a new place to belong.
This is where my discourse about realism comes in. Tragically let us say, even after being separated from the situation of injustice, my friend would not relent; he continued to seek consequences from others higher up to punish a man who had treated him and many others unjustly. No one denied the truth of his claims but no one was willing to proceed and pronounce judgment; that's not how things work. Realistically speaking, we can say that life this side of heaven is that way. I see parallels in the Lefebvrian case against Vatican II, which cannot come near to claiming that kind of clarity or cogency of my friend's case against his former boss.
To my mind, no one can seriously defend the thesis that the fathers of the council upset the apple-cart. It is utter folly to claim that if Blessed John XXIII had never called the Council we would not have known the tribulation of these years. Who knows if we would be better or worse off today? Despite liturgical abuse, despite the false irenicism distorting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, despite the inadequacy of teaching on religious liberty, democracy or social justice, the alternative closed-ranks defense would have obviated the need for debate on the place of the Church in the world of our time as we would all be required to wear our specific clothing and carry proof of the tax due for being different than the rest in society. This last statement was unfair simply because we don't know how things might have gone.
When Bishop Fellay says that he can't go any farther than he has already gone, I guess I'd like to introduce him to my righteous friend who could not forego insisting on seeing his former boss disciplined for being an oaf (the man's defects did not touch anything regarding the 6th or 9th Commandments). Granted, a few things have gone wrong over the past fifty years and some gravely so, but book burnings have never been popular events and never seen to achieve the results that time and careful scholarship obtain. Church history keeps coming back to Gioachino de' Fiori and Savonarola... I can't see them ever fairing as well as St. Joan of Arc. I'm sorry!