Rorate Caeli

Bp. Morerod on why Calvinists, Lutherans, and Orthodox can worship and preach and celebrate sacraments in his diocesan churches - but not the SSPX

Bp. Charles Morerod, OP
in a spiritual trip to the Leysin ski resort with
the diocesan youth movement
In a response to the considerable outcry regarding his stunningly contradictory document (which Orthodox columnist Rod Dreher appropriately mentioned as an example of "the Narcissism of small ecclesial differences"), the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Charles Morerod, OP, published the following:

I notice that the publication of my January 20 Decree regarding the admission of other religions, confessions, or religious groups in the churches of my diocese has given rise to perplexities among some people, due to the prohibition regarding the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX [SSPX]). Other than responding individually, as I have done in the past few days, I [now] give a public explanation regarding the fact of the publication and one element of its content.

First of all, the Decree that I published was the result of a decision taken by the Conference of Swiss Bishops in September 2011, when I was not yet a part of it. It was, at the time, an updating of the norms of 1999 (that already forbade the use of churches by the SSPX). The text of the Decree was prepared, and its publication left up to the decision of each bishop or Territorial Abbot. It was published, for example, by the Diocese of Sion (along with the Territorial Abbey of St. Maurice) on January 10, 2012, and by the Diocese of Basel (along with [the Territorial Abbey of] St. Gall) on February 1, 2012: Basel and Sion are the dioceses in which the headquarters of the SSPX (Menzingen) and the seminary of Écône are located, and all French-speaking Switzerland is now covered by the same decree.

As for myself, considering that I took part in the dialogue with the SSPX, I did not wish to send a sign that might have suggested that I did not believe in this dialogue anymore, and I waited for over a year before publishing the decree. It seemed to me that the publication could wait, because the content of the decree corresponded, in any sense, to the practice of the diocese for years. If I have finally published the decree, this does not mean that I have lost all hope in the dialogue: if it should have a positive outcome, I would evidently be happy to change the norms corresponding to a situation that would have been changed. Nevertheless, several events have led me to consider the situation serious.

First of all, differently from the Orthodox or Protestants who can use the churches of the diocese under certain conditions and in case of need (for instance, because they do not have a nearby church, or due to works in their own church, this possibility often being reciprocal), the priests of the SSPX present themselves as Catholic.[*] The dialogue with the SSPX is not properly speaking "ecumenical", but an internal dialogue. What is, then, the situation of the SSPX priests in the Catholic Church?

On July 22, 1976, Abp. Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, was suspended a divinis by Pope Paul VI: all public ministerial act was henceforth forbidden to him. To my knowledge, this measure has never been retracted, differently from the excommunication of the SSPX bishops. It was in this way that our Episcopal Conference understood what Pope Benedict XVI said on March 10, 2009, and that our decree mentions, that is, that the SSPX priests do not exercise a legitimate ministry in the Church.

They are, in fact, priests ordained in an illicit manner, and no Catholic priest whose ministry is illicit - whether or not he is a member of the SSPX - may celebrate in a Catholic church, unless, of course, he be reconciled with the Church.

The difficulty proper to these priests, compared to Orthodox priests or Protestant pastors, is that their ministry in fact contributes - perhaps not in their intent - to divide the Catholic Church from the inside. And it is precisely regarding this point that my anxiety has grown in the course of the past few months. I was already horrified that a bishop of the SSPX had published a book repeatedly accusing Pope Benedict XVI of being heretical (Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, L’étrange théologie de Benoît XVI, Avrillé, 2010). This could nonetheless be an isolated viewpoint that did not engage the Society as such, even if coming from one of its bishops. The same applies to the famous declarations of Bp. Williamson, which was confirmed by his exclusion from the SSPX.

In the course of the past few months, the declarations of Bp. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, have sadly confirmed to my eyes the power of his Society to cause trouble within the Church, and to harm the reputation of the Church as seen from the outside.

I think, for instance, of the sermon pronounced on November 11, 2011, by Bp. Fellay in Paris. I take some points from it:

- Regarding the Vatican II Council - that affirms, certainly, that its teaching is in continuity with the traditional teaching of the Church and is part of it - Bp. Fellay declares: "this council is an agreed-upon decision to do something new. And this is not a matter of just any innovation, a superficial novelty, but rather a profound innovation that is in opposition to, in contradiction with what the Church had taught; indeed, the Church had even condemned it."

- Regarding the mass celebrated after the conciliar reform, Bp. Fellay affirms: "Finally one other condition,, which concerns the Mass this time. We must accept the validity of the new Mass, but not only its validity. We would have to accept also its liceity. ... [...] a black Mass could be valid. ... In citing this shocking example, you understand of course that that is not permitted, that is not licit because it is bad. “Licit” means permitted because it is good. ... Usually we do not even speak about liceity, we simply say about this Mass that it is bad. That is enough."

- Regarding the dialogue, he places it in these terms: "this is the situation. And this is why it is obvious that since June—we announced it at the ordination ceremony—matters have reached a roadblock. It is a return to ground zero. We are at exactly the same point as Archbishop Lefebvre in the years 1975, 1974." Following such an observation, my own scruples are weakened...

I also think of the declarations of Bp. Fellay in New Hamburg, Canada, on December 28, 2012, presenting the Jews as "enemies of the Church". They are associated in this judgement to the Freemasons and the Modernists, described as active in Rome in order to prevent the reconciliation with the SSPX. This description of the Jews provoked a reaction of the Holy See spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, on January 7, 2013, and a declaration of the Conference of the Bishops of Canada of January 18, 2013. These facts reduce the reassuring significance of the exclusion of Bp. Williamson. Among other reasons due to historical drama[tical events] that are well known, the Vatican II Council wished to present the religious dialogue with Judaism in positive and amicable terms, confirmed by the visits of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the Great Synagogue of Rome. All declaration in a contrary sense by a Catholic Bishop or priest gravely harms the reputation of the Catholic Church, and this justifies the prohibition of speech in Catholic churches to a clergy that is likely to speak in such terms. These are the recent events that led me to leave the patient attitude which I had held since the beginning of my episcopate, since it was since the beginning that I had known the decree prepared by the Episcopal Conference. I repeat that if the attitude of the SSPX should evolve, I will be glad to recognize having been excessively pessimistic.

Fribourg, February 3, 2013
+ Charles Morerod
évêque de Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg [original, in French]

*The Orthodox present themselves as Catholic - in the sense that they think they are the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. They celebrate the sacraments. And they can be pretty harsh in their sermons - perhaps His Excellency has not heard a fiery Orthodox sermon or lecture, but he can just look around, beyond the platitudinous conferences prevalent in ecumenical congresses. For instance, we would like him to read (or read anew) what Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, former Russian Orthodox bishop of Vienna and current head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, said at the time of the change of a prayer of the 1962 Roman Missal, as we reported at the time. This is relevant also because it involves an issue surprisingly invoked by Bp. Morerod as a justification for his punitive decree - and we call it punitive because he himself said it does not alter anything in practice, that he waited to have it published, and that he published only as a response to colloquial declarations in sermons, not to official SSPX documents.

"Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy. For an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a 'rule of faith' (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries..."

"...The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction."

"Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called 'antisemitic' texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article 'How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church,' in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint-Petersburg, 1999, in Russian). He also maintains that only a 'superficial and selective' reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ. In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion."

"This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to 'corrections' in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of 'political correctness' demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church's services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends."

Bp. Morerod should then avoid a double standard and also exclude the Eastern Orthodox, particularly the Russian Orthodox, from his diocesan churches: they claim to be Catholic, and can be pretty incorrect and fiery in their declarations. Regarding the clearly irregular situation of the SSPX, the end of the double standards would be a great start. This double standard, the lack of plain equity brought forth by this narcissism of small ecclesial differences, that has never applied to Liberals who have changed, and change everyday, the doctrine of the Church, and even to open heretics and schismatics, but is applied with rigor to the SSPX, has been, in our view, a greater impediment to the solution of this 40-year-old crisis than anything else.

[The discussion on the 1962 Missal prayer change is not to be reopened here under any circumstances. Rorate does not share any of the positions quoted above, which were placed here for informative purposes.]