Rorate Caeli

A Historian observes the Catholic moment
One year of Summorum Pontificum and the SSPX

Luc Perrin is a professor at the University of Strasbourg 2 - Marc Bloch, where he teaches History of the Church. Perrin, widely known in Traditionalist circles in France, has written several works on the History of the pre-Conciliar and post-Conciliar trends in the Catholic Church, including on the so-called "Traditionalist Question", such as L'affaire Lefebvre (The Lefebvre Affair) and Paris à l'heure de Vatican II (Paris at the time of Vatican II).

We have interviewed Professor Perrin twice in the past, and have asked him a few questions on the Catholic moment one year after Summorum Pontificum and on the future of the negotiations of the Holy See with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX).


As a historian and as an observer of the Catholic Church in the past decades, do you believe that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum has been relevant for the universal Church? Has its impact been what you expected when it was published one year ago?

First of all, it is important to underline that this 2007 motu proprio can have a major impact only on the long term for various reasons. The vast majority of the clergy and the episcopate worldwide has been trained to see the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite as "the" Rite per se, a so-called "restoration" of a pretended Early Christian times liturgy and "the" liturgy promoted by The Council, the only council they know or want to know i.e. Vatican II. They have a sort of Berlin Wall in their mind that keeps them protected from any interference from the Liturgical Roman tradition. This mental wall is extremely thick and resistant.

We can see how entranched the neo-liturgical lobbies are at every level (Roman Curia, episcopal committees, diocesan Curia, seminaries, parishes) with one example regarding the Ordinary Form. In most vernacular Masses (English, Italian etc.), "pro multis" is abusively translated into "for all", instead of "for many". John Paul II, with "Liturgiam Authenticam" in 2001, specifically mentioned this abuse, to no effect. Five years later, cardinal Arinze, prefect of CDW [the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments], sent a letter to the bishops where the false translation is currently used asking them to make a "necessary catechesis" of the people within "one or two years" so the change finally comes true. One year passed, a second year is nearly over and guess what ... nothing happened. Thus the neo-liturgical establishment has been powerful enough to block the change of ... two words during 7 years. The "pro multis" movie is going to stay on the screen for a while : cardinal Arinze recently approved the new translation but for the USA only and he is giving a new ... delay to prepare the faithful that should have been prepared during the past two years. But without any specific date. So don't expect that in one year any substantial change of attitude regarding the Extraordinary Form could have taken place.

Besides, some episcopal attitudes have made it clear from the start: the German, Swiss and Polish bishops took a stand of frontal opposition after the release of the document during Fall 2007. In France, episcopal opposition was very vocal before the motu proprio, especially in 2006, but the majority of French bishops adopted a more quiet attitude after July 2007. Wisely, the French Conference of bishops abstained to edit abusive guidelines like in Germany. In general, French bishops refrained to publish anything like open restrictions added to the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, like a few American or Italian bishops initially did. But a "containment policy" is implemented under the leadership of cardinal Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, elected president of French bishops in 2007, especially for his subtle opposition to the pope's will to free the Traditional Latin Mass. The aim of this policy is to retain a 1984-1988 regime in spite of Summorum Pontificum: bishops want to stay those who allow or not the celebration of the Extraordinary Form, superseding the faculties granted by the pope to the parish pastors and chaplains. Only a minority of French bishops is really open to a generous implementation of the Motu proprio.

Some facts are illustrating this containment policy: not a single personal parish (article 10) has been erected in France in a year; the 3 existing personal parishes were erected in 2005 and 2006. Not a single seminary has scheduled to systematically train the future priests in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form: in the best cases, like in Toulon under very benevolent Bishop Rey, the eventual volunteers are allowed to attend a training given by local traditionalist priests. One of the most hostile bishops, Archbishop Jordan of Rheims, granted a Mass but for two Sundays per month ... The reluctance to call for traditional Institutes is obvious, although it's not a general rule. In Paris, the cardinal-archbishop is refusing to negotiate a status for the Good Shepherd Institute which has a small conference center (Centre Saint-Paul) and traditional institutes have not a single diocesan apostolate. The contrast is striking with the former president of French bishops, cardinal Ricard, who has in his diocese of Bordeaux two FSSP chapels, one ICR-SP chapel and signed an agreement with the Good Shepherd for Saint-Éloi church in February 2007. So the increase of TLM locations is slow in France though it happens in spite of all these obstacles. According to some observers, around 40 new locations have been added to those existing under the Ecclesia Dei canonical provisions.

The situation is similar in most European countries, except maybe in Italy where apart from a very hostile lobby, several bishops look at the Motu proprio with an open eye, like Archbishop Bagnasco their president. I have not heard, so far, of a great echo either in Latin America (except for Brazil) or Africa and that was utterly predictable. On the contrary, as for the Ecclesia Dei motu proprio of John Paul II, implementation in the USA and Canada is much more encouraging both from the bishops and clergy. If we remember the hostile position of cardinal Lehmann (Germany), the negative attitude expressed by cardinal Murphy O'Connor (England), the containment policy of cardinal Vingt-Trois, it is amazing to see the benevolent policy of cardinal George, president of USCCB. In his diocese of Chicago (USA), he blessed the Canons of Saint John Cantius (who are celebrating with both Forms) and then invited the Institute of Christ the King (TLM only); the Liturgical Institute founded by the Cardinal is adding a mandatory course on the Extraordinary Form in its program and sessions of training have been organized for volunteers to learn how to celebrate with the Canons and in presence of Bishop Perry, the African American auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, who is known for his attachment to Liturgical tradition.

In short, Summorum Pontificum's practical implementation is a replica of Ecclesia Dei's expansion and limits. So far, PCED [the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei'] has not used its new authority - articles 7,8 and 12 -, just like the Pontifical Commission was not enforcing the provisions of the previous Motu proprio. We have also to remind that it's not easy, even with a welcoming parish pastor and bishop, for a group of lay people to be constituted in countries like France, where Catholicism is in sharp decline. Moreover, the TLM is very demanding in energy, financial contribution and time for lay people. n many aspects, the "active participation" of lay people in the Extraordinary Form Mass communities is superior to what it is in the standard Novus Ordo parish. You need more than one year to build a community.

However we should consider two facts that need time to be fully received by the Church. First fact: the status of the traditional Roman rite (Extraordinary Form) has been firmly settled as never before. On the very long term, it could help to influence the liturgical studies and consequently the teaching in seminaries and Faculties (see the examples of Mundelein and Kenrick-Glennon seminaries for Chicago and Saint-Louis which are magnets for vocations). The second fact is nearly impossible to evaluate: how many priests, especially young priests in Europe and Northern America, will have a spiritual benefit from article 2? It could be very interesting to have an inquiry to know the impact of the private celebration in the Extraordinary Form among priests.

I have constantly drawn attention to the structure of the motu proprio: the extension of the celebration in the parishes comes with article 5 but the right to celebrate privately for priests comes with article 2, i.e. the clergy is the main target of the document. Those who deeply refuse any move in the liturgical field toward Tradition are betting on the 3 year delay mentioned by the pope in his letter to the bishops. They are perfectly aware that Summorum Pontificum requests years and years, decades, to have a serious impact and bears its fruit so the "containment policy": in 2010, they will pretend the motu proprio is a failure and ask it to be rescinded.

What are the similarities and the differences in the attitude of the FSSPX and the Holy See in the negotiations of May-June 1988 and of June-July 2008?

Let us recall the whole process was in three, not two steps: the negotiations of 1988, the second attempt in 2000-2002 that ended with a declaration of Bishop Fellay saying the talks were stalled then the new talks that started after the August 2005 short encounter between pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Fellay.

We can find some similarities between the 1978 election of John Paul II, who chose to meet Archbishop Lefebvre very quickly after his election and the election of Benedict XVI. But the situations are very different: there was probably still a serious chance to reach a sound canonical agreement in 1988, although it was already difficult at that time like the events of May 5 and 6, 1988 showed. Fr. Tissier de Mallerais was then a member of the SSPX delegation and was urging the Archbishop to sign; today he is the most vindictive among the four bishops of the Society. He expressed, several times in 2007-2008, a true wrath against pope Benedict XVI, saying that the "horror" of the pope's theology is letting him "speechless", if we can say so for a bishop who has gone very vocal these days. He is now raising the threat of new episcopal consecrations.

Archbishop Lefebvre was constantly seeking a canonical status that would give his priests the possibility to "make the experience of Tradition", as he said in 1975-1976. From 1969 to 1975, when the SSPX was suppressed by Bishop Mamie, this was after all the situation of the Society, in full communion with the Holy See, with a statute that was far less favorable than the 2000 proposal of a personal apostolic administration. However the failure of the 1988 agreement was an indication this path was quite dead like Bishop Galarreta said in June 2008.

In 2000, cardinal Castrillon Hoyos tried to reopen this canonical path: clearly the reluctance was strong on the SSPX side but Bishop Fellay was positively impressed by the open hand of the Holy See. Just like the pope was positively impressed by the decision of the SSPX to participate to the Great Jubilee, in the dioceses and with a big pilgrimage in Rome. But a few months later, Bishop Fellay put the ball in the Roman side with the two prerequisite questions: freedom for the TLM, the excommunications to be lifted. It was a subtle way not to say "yes", without clearly saying "no". This was the beginning of the "in between" policy chosen by Bishop Fellay in order to restore a sense of Romanity within the SSPX: with years passing by, most Society priests have got only a vague idea of what a "pope" and "Rome" are. So when Bishop Tissier de Mallerais is saying, "In Rome, a new Pope? Really, if he would become worse, there is no need" (The Angelus magazine, interview, July 2008) -, he is probably the voice of many young SSPX priests.

Pope Benedict XVI is well aware of this feeling and he mentioned the danger of a prolonged schismatic attitude in his 2007 letter to the bishops sent with the Motu proprio and his intent to fight it : "one has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden". His election in 2005 allowed a renewal of the talks with Menzingen but, in spite of the Motu proprio or because of it, this phase inaugurated 8 years ago may come to an end.

Regularly, when the SSPX is getting closer to a reconciliation, the leadership breaks up and a period of "cold war" against Rome begins. For example, from 1988 to 2000, there were very few contacts, if any, between Menzingen and Rome. The lack of permanent structures for a negotiation between the Society and the Holy See is most likely one major reason for the regular failure of the talks. It is impossible to work seriously on complex doctrinal matters when you meet briefly at irregular moments.
What do you believe that the future holds for the Fraternity of Saint Pius X? Is there any hope of reconciliation if not in the Benedictine Pontificate?

The bishops of the Society are now saying that "a certain discouragement is coming back" (Bishop Fellay), to quote the most polite statement. Both Bishop Fellay and Bishop Tissier de Mallerais are openly talking of a 30 year delay, and the latter is even excluding frankly any "reconciliation"; Bp Tissier de Mallerais is using words so offensive that he is coming very close to Sedevacantism, though he still refrains to say so. It's easy to see why there is, to quote Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, "a hardening of the hearts, a blindness of the minds".

Pope Benedict XVI is strengthening the efforts made by his predecessor to interpret Vatican II "in the light of Tradition", which is exactly what Archbishop Lefebvre was requesting in 1978, after his meeting with the Polish pope. The thorny question of the traditional Roman Missal was, during a long time, an obstacle but with Summorum Pontificum, this obstacle is de jure - as Bishop Fellay acknowledged in the July issue of The Angelus - removed; there are still many problems to make it real within Church life and parishes, but the legitimate status of the 1962 missal, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, is now established.

So we are left to face all the other thorny questions as listed by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: religious liberty, ecumenism, Christian spirit of sacrifice, social kingship of Christ; curiously, the problems raised by inter-faith dialogue is not cited. But to be able to work with Roman theologians on these crucial issues, the SSPX would need some qualified experts and to be able to evaluate the achievements of the Church in the past decades with something more accurate than "John Paul II did nothing to rebuild the Faith" or, speaking of Ecclesia Dei communities, "These poor people (priests, religious, lay people) are liberals and pragmatics" (Bishop Tissier de Mallerais). These conditions are hardly met by the Society today.

Bishop Fellay spoke recently of a "road map" to guide the relationship between Rome and Menzingen and this was an excellent idea, keeping open the eventuality of a reconciliation but as a distant goal and with several steps ... in between. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos' five conditions of June 2008 were a way to request from Bishop Fellay to make a first move, at least a symbolical one. The June-July 2008 decisions are apparently - the response of Bishop Fellay to the Cardinal has not been published, only an official statement by Fr. Lorans - to store the "road map" in a drawer. When is Bishop Fellay or his successor going to reopen the drawer and give a serious attention to the road map? Will the papal visit to France in September be a providential occasion to do so? What would be the next step if the excommunications are to be lifted ? Providence will tell us. Maybe a Week of Prayer for ... Catholic Unity could help.