September 1997 - Superior General's Letter #53

In May of this year, Bishop Brunner of the diocese of Sion in Switzerland published two texts that he had received from Rome which laid out the situation of the Society of St. Pius X as following on the consecration of the four bishops in June 1988. The texts mentioned schism and excommunication for everybody, priests, bishops and laity alike. On closer examination, the texts are mere notes. Moreover, at the same time the Roman Commission Ecclesia Dei went no further than to speak of “grave danger of schism,” which is a different thing altogether.

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

In May of this year, Bishop Brunner of the diocese of Sion in Switzerland felt he needed to publish two texts that he had received from Rome.  These laid out the situation of the Society of St. Pius X as following on the consecration of the four bishops in June, 1988: the texts mentioned schism and excommunication for everybody, priests, bishops and laity alike.1 It should be noted that at the same time the Roman Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” in various replies to individuals or even bishops, went no further than to speak of “grave danger of schism,” which is a different thing altogether.2

The bishop of Sion presented these two texts as documents coming from Rome (“I asked the competent church authorities for an official statement,” he said), the one supposedly issuing from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the other from the Council for the Interpretation of legislative texts.

Because there were obvious mistakes, we wrote to Bishop Brunner asking for a little more information.  He replied that the date was indeed wrong,3 but that the first document was truly from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and he gave us to understand that he published the texts exactly as he had received them.

Soon afterwards, both the French bishops who had asked the Pope to condemn the Society of St. Pius X last autumn only to be advised “to put together a document themselves”4, and the Fraternity of St. Peter, gave a noisy welcome to these condemnations “from Rome.”

The Fraternity of St. Peter reproduces the texts as they stand, whereas the French bishops’ magazine La Documentation Catholique introduces a modification: in Bishop Brunner’s introductory text as in the title, the first document is no longer presented as coming from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but from the Congregation of Bishops, as we had suggested in our letter.  All of which calls for a few remarks:

1. Both texts are unsigned.  They remain anonymous.

2. Bishop Brunner said he received them on October 31, 1996, but he only published them on May 16, 1997.  In fact both texts are undated, and lack the Protocol number such as all official Roman documents are meant to have.

3. The conclusion to be drawn is that the texts are mere notes, sketches, a draught, which is what the poor quality of the texts with their gaps and inaccuracies would suggest.

4. The sketch is so sketchy that these officials cannot even state its origin and author without getting mixed up.  To scare off the faithful they are reduced to waving around anonymous notes!

5. Yet anonymous notes is what they rely on to cry to the world that the Society of St. Pius X is schismatic and excommunicated, terms which in their mouths at any rate have lost virtually all meaning.

6. What meaning are we to give to “excommunication” which normally signifies being cast out of the Church?  When the Roman authorities think they can down-grade the Dogma “Outside the Church there is no salvation” to “its original meaning of encouraging Church members to be faithful,”5 then we are driven to think that excommunication may have undergone a similar down-grading — into a paper tiger!

Such obvious violation of the most basic principles of what is right and just seem to leave the Church authorities or St. Peter’s Fraternity wholly unmoved.  What civil authority would ever have dared to issue such a flawed document?  None.  This is the way to lose all credibility.  Once more we cannot help observing that the condemnation by Rome of the Society of St. Pius X is a path littered with gross examples of injustice on the part of the Church authorities.  Truly “there is nothing new beneath the sun.”

From time to time we are rebuked for not appealing to Rome against such injustice.  But it would be a waste of time.  Rome would merely reply, “Nobody can sit in judgement on the Holy See.”  The case is closed against us.  It comes then as no surprise for us to hear Cardinal Ratzinger in his new book The Salt of the Earth himself admitting, “The power we can wield in Rome today is really very little.”6

So much for the documents’ flawed form.  As for their contents, they tend to state, not very clearly, that there is a schism which was given concrete form by the consecration of bishops on June 30, 1988, and so all those who adhere formally to the schism are excommunicated, whether bishops, priests, or laity.

However, since there is no attempt to prove that Archbishop Lefebvre was not acting out of necessity, then we are in effect back to the same old “Obey!” without any desire to go into the basic question: Why, despite grave threats, did Archbishop Lefebvre decide that he had to pay no attention to Rome’s orders?  Why do we refuse the orders we are being given to get in step with the Conciliar and post-Conciliar reforms?  How can we be claiming to have a right to continue in such refusal?  Why is this refusal not schismatic?

The answer is to be found in the very basis of authority, and the obedience that goes along with authority:

In any given society, authority flows from the nature of the society7 which cannot exist without it.

Any society’s nature depends in turn on the society’s purpose, the goal it proposes to achieve.  The goal of any society fixes its nature, structure and means.

Hence authority is limited by the society’s purpose, which fixes the framework, extent and competence of authority.

The function of Authority is to direct minds and wills towards the goal of that society, and by so doing to ensure the society’s unity.  Now in the case of the two so-called “perfect societies,” human authority depends on the goal and, for most of the time, on the structure and means of the society.  Being then itself dependent on these, how can it change them?  It cannot.  “The Church’s right to command the faithful is restricted within the limits constituted by what is needful or useful to the eternal salvation of souls.”8

So if the Church authority took in hand such changes, it would be overstepping its bounds, there would be an abuse of authority, and in that case Church members are no longer bound to obey, but to resist according to the gravity of the abuse.

When the authority is that of the Pope, the highest on earth, sovereign and universal, its limits are fixed not only by its goals (the continuation of the saving mission of our Lord), by the commandments of God and of our Lord its founder (for example, “Going, teach all nations,” etc.), but also by the divine Constitution of the Church.

If this authority, meant to be exact reflection of our Lord himself (“Who hears you, hears me”), undertook to overstep those limits, there would be an abuse of authority and we should have to respond as St. Peter did to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Now what we blame the Council and post-Conciliar reforms for its precisely that they undertake to change firstly the nature of the church, one and only bride of Christ our Savior, one and only source of the means of salvation which are supernatural and entrusted to her by her divine spouse; secondly the Church’s structure (to be replaced by a crippling and anonymous collegiality); thirdly the Church means of grace, Mass and sacraments (to be reduced to merely human activities).  Nor are all these changes merely imaginary on our part, but they are recognized and admitted by the Church authorities in place.9

That is the reason why we cannot obey.  We are refusing the demolition order because it is an abuse of power.

It is not we who have changed.  In all centuries, starting with St. Paul, the whole Church has warned against this kind of change.  In the name of the infallible Church’s teaching of all time, we refuse to co-operate in the Church’s self-destruction.

As long as Rome refuses to deal with this gravest of problems, we shall go round and round in a vicious circle, an on-going dialogue of the deaf.

Rome may scare us with all the threats of excommunication it likes, but we shall continue to cry out at the top of our lungs to our Mother for the milk of pure doctrine, for the Faith not hacked to pieces, for the right to praise and adore God without resorting the folklore or show business, but worthily of Him, as did our forefathers; for the right to receive the substantial food of grace through sacraments not doubtfully valid, the right to be led and directed towards eternal pastures instead of through the desert of innovation constantly evolving in accordance with Paul VI’s saying: “We have been given the word ‘novelty’ like an order, like a programme”10.

The Church is dying, torn apart by divisions hidden under the deceitful slogan of “We are in communion with the Pope”; the Church is being poisoned with the deadly teachings of heresy being scattered abroad “by the handful” in the words of John-Paul II in 198111!  Rome itself is lost in the maze of a “theology of worldly values” instead of reminding us of the luminous demands and interests of our Creator and Savior.

It is time for the sorcerers’ apprentices to give up their ruinous experiments and to come back to the age-old wisdom from which the Church has never defected, to give us back the Faith, grace, holiness, priesthood, Mass, papacy, all those Catholic treasures in which our Roman Catholic hearts take rest.  They belong to us, we have a strict right to them, and no human authority can ever deprive us of that right, not even post-Conciliar Rome.

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary, watching over the Church, deign to obtain for us that faithfulness to death which is the guarantee of salvation: “Only he who has been found faithful to the end will be saved.”

“The joy of the Lord is our strength!”12 May He deign to bless you.


† Bernard Fellay

Feast of St. Michael the Archangel

29 September 1997



1 “Evangile et Mission,” #21, May 29, 1997.

2 Letters #153/96 of 11/12/96, #667/89 of 12/1/96, #90/97 of 6/21/97, etc.

3 Concerning the date of the decree of excommunication, the text said, “our decree of June 1st, 1988.”

4 Exaudiat May 1997 (Catholic paper from the Somme region).

5 Test of the International Theology Commission on the question “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus,” #31, La Documentation Catholique, # 2157, April 6, 1997, p. 323

6 Cardinal Ratzinger, Le Sel De La Terre, Flammarion, 1987, p.86.

7 The philosopher Gredt holds authority to be proper to society, in such a sense that authority is something that cannot not go along with the essence of society, just as a sense of humor is proper to man.  Joseph Gredt, Elementa Philosophiae, Vol II, Herder, Barcelona 1961, p. 459.

8 Cardinal Ottaviani, Institutiones Iuris Publici Ecclesiastici, Vatican Polyglot edition, Rome 1958, p. 177.

9 Bishop Polge of Avignon: “The Vatican II Church is new and the Holy Ghost is constantly preventing it from remaining static,” Osservatore Romano, Sept. 3, 1976. (Cf. “Iota Unum,” p. 102.)

— Bishop Schmitt of Metz: “The stage of civilization we are going through involves changes not only in our outward behavior, but also in the very concept we form both of creation and of the salvation brought by Jesus Christ.” (Cf. Iota Unum, #37, p. 66; Itineraires, #160, p. 206.)  The whole book of Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, Study of Catholic Church Variations in the 20th Century” needs to be quoted.

— “Whenever there is a conflict between people and the Faith, it is the Faith which must give way” – “What God the sacraments are signs of.” Centre Jean Bart, Paris, 1975, p. 14-15.

— “Indeed, especially since the Conferences of all Orthodox Christians and the Second Vatican Council, the rediscovery and up-grading of the Church as communion by both Orthodox and Catholics has radically altered people’s outlook and hence their attitudes.” Declaration of Ballamand, June 23, 1993, Art. 13 La Documentation Catholique, #2077 (1993), p. 712.

— John Paulw Ro II: “Vatican II has given us a new vision of the Church, a more open view of the universality of the people of God.” To the clergy of Rome, Osservatore Romano, March 8, 1991.

10 Osservatore Romano, July 3, 1974.

11 John-Paul II, February 6, 1981. Osservatore Romano, February 8, 1981.

12 II Esdras VIII, 10.