A Conversation with Bishop Fellay
By Father Kevin M. Cusick*
Rorate correspondent for the
opening of the SSPX Seminary
The faithful gather from far and wide
Dozens of cars from many states and Canada lined the gravel drive that connects the blacktop country road in the small town of Dillwyn, Virginia, with the new seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X on a knoll in the heart of the property. I found an unclaimed spot along a side trail and began to walk myself, joining the faithful young and old on their way to the holy Mass at the head of the day’s events planned to inaugurate the new US headquarters for the mission of forming the priests of the apostolate.
A non-Catholic couple from Farmville, Virginia, stopped and offered me a ride, he a VIP guest from the Chamber of Commerce. I gratefully accepted: my formal shoes ill-suited for the hike still ahead of me along the drive that by turns was muddy. I exited the vehicle before a vast white tent where the pontifical High Mass was already underway, priests hearing confessions on the open ground next to it.
The day’s events
Once inside the tent I found open seating at the front near the SSPX sisters at the temporary altar rails. Over 1,000 intrepid faithful overflowed the tent, some with mud caked on their shoes, eloquent evidence of the difficulties which they are willing to endure for the Faith fed by the Mass of all time. The abundance of families have become no doubt well used to Mass in fields under inclement weather over the years in what has been an often homeless apostolate. The full sunshine on this day, however, promised a natural benediction to accompany the bishop’s sacramental ministry.
The Mass was certainly beautiful, secured as such through faithfulness to the tradition handed down to ensure the worthy praise and honor of God. The seminary schola and servers were alert and attentive soldiers in the army of the Lord, formed now and for the future to fight for His rights as God among men who sometimes fall slack in their loving devotion.
Bishop Fellay’s sermon
In his sermon Bishop Fellay spoke simply and without pretense about the new seminary, the life of seminarians, the mission of the priesthood in the Church for the salvation of souls. Prayer, silence, spiritual reading and detachment from earthly things are among the necessities for men called to priesthood, he reminded us.
Many young people and families from a dozen or more states in the throng are a strong promise for the future. Some queued in the line for the lunch ahead of me had flown from Saint Mary’s, Kansas. European accents were in evidence in accord with the strong international identity of the Society.
The seminary building had only been approved for occupation the previous day and then only with the proviso that a fire truck be standing by at all times. A generous benefactor made even that possible so that the day could proceed as planned.
Lunch took place in the vast refectory under the imposing crucifix as well as on tables set up in courtyard around a water reservoir necessary in case of fires due to seminary’s remote location.
The blessing procession began with the bishop and clergy formed up in the small seminary chapel and exiting to meet faithful outside for commencing the litanies and blessing prayers. First the exterior of the building was blessed and then interior, the refectory and the refectory crucifix as we chanted the “Asperges me”. Bronze non-liturgical bells from France were blessed outside and then hung in hallways and classrooms for marking the periods of the seminary day.
The seminary building reminds of a French Romanesque chateau with its rounded corner towers capped by conical roofs. The appointments are spare in favor of quality construction to last for many years in brick, stone, slate and copper. Turkish travertine paving stones will be laid over the cement walks, the heavy wooden doors and banisters were made by seminarians practiced in the carpenter’s trade. These are rendered in a beautiful and loving craftsmanship intended to endure, reflecting both of the beauty of our Creator God through what He has made and His image in man whose skills praise Him.
I met with Bishop Fellay after a tour of the seminary, work on the final finishing details interrupted briefly for the hospitality necessary to serve the day’s numerous guests. Work has progressed enough to allow the worship, prayer and classes to begin. Our conversation was made possible through kindness of the Society’s media relations man and Society priests.
I asked the bishop if he had good news to share about the status of the personal prelature rumored to be on offer in Rome in order to integrate the Society fully and permanently into the life of the universal Church. The bishop described the current arrangements as “almost ready” and one of “fine tuning”, his demeanor and expression exuding confidence and serenity. When I asked if the situation was one merely for prayer he was very quick to assert that developments in the canonical proceedings had progressed beyond that point. But, he said, “the problem is not there” but with the matter of Vatican II.
“There’s still some need of clarification.”
He went on to elaborate, however, that the documents of Vatican II are at issue, a matter with which many readers are already aware, the remaining sticking points being those documents treating religious liberty, ecumenism and reform of the liturgy. The Society has been very firm and consistent over the years that these teachings are incompatible with the integral tradition of the Church.
The bishop recommended three major interviews given by Abp. Pozzo and published by the French bishops’ newspaper La Croix as a good source for an adequate summary of the current status of talks between the Society and the Holy See because “these give the position of Rome clearly”. The most recent of these was published in July.
The bishop elaborated by describing the talks on the documents of Vatican II with Rome as being in a “clarification” stage. He mentioned this as being the case in particular because of the statement by Archbishop Muller that the Society must accept Vatican II, including the portions at issue.
The bishop said that “there is a lot of pressure from those which we call the Modernists” to make things impossible when it comes to integrating the Society.
He said that “a certain mentality” is involved here and “you know it can be very difficult to change mentalities”; it is the mentality of a certain generation” and these things “take time”. He said that we must arrive at a point where one can “disagree and still be a Catholic” when it comes to the mentioned points of Vatican II at issue.
It appears Bishop Fellay is prepared to wait if necessary, biding his time though not idle in the least, for the work of the Society continues to grow and flourish. I thanked him for his ministry as bishop and for the beautiful Mass and sermon which began this first day of a new phase in the life of the society.
The men lining up to bolster as priests the already vigorous life of the Society begin formation in the new seminary, prepared for a capacity of 120, are a sign of robust faith. No modernists here.
*Fr. Cusick, a chaplain in the United States Navy, is also the pastor of St. Francis de Sales, in Benedict, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington)