November 2000 - Superior General's Letter #59

Thirty years ago the Decree of Erection of the Society of St. Pius X was signed. Within two years the Vatican itself was undertaking the first steps towards granting the Society pontifical status. After this promising start there soon came years of trial through which our Founder’s determination not to compromise on principles has inspired the Society to this day. The last 30 years have been full of persecution as well as of action. 

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Thirty years ago on the first of November 1970, Bishop Charrière of Fribourg in Switzerland signed the Decree of Erection of the society of St. Pius X. What a series of events the Society has seen since then! Starting with the Church’s recognition and praise of the Society in its early days, both at diocesan level in the first dioceses where it was set up, and at pontifical level in Rome. Within two years of the Society’s erection, the Vatican itself was undertaking the first steps towards granting the Society pontifical status at a time when it was setting up its first priests overseas.

After this promising start there soon came years of trial. While the Seminary in Ecône was fast filling, Church authorities on high prepared to cause trouble. In 1974, Bishop Etchegaray told some Catholics: “In six months, Ecône will be dead and buried”. So our fate was decided in advance. But they had reckoned without the tenacity of our valiant Founder, who in the name of the highest principles would stand up to the steam-roller that was meant to crush from the outset his work of priestly renewal. It began with the scandalous canonical visitation of autumn 1974, scandalous in the sense that the visitors from Rome scandalized Ecône’s professors and seminarians by their modernist remarks. The result was the famous Declaration of November 21, 1974, which is always astonishingly up-to-date. Meetings in Rome with a Commission of Cardinals confirmed Archbishop Lefebvre in his anxiety over the line of action being followed by the Roman authorities at that time: they seemed less concerned with saving souls or with nourishing them at the sources of liturgical grace or the integral Faith than with imposing the recent Church reforms, however devastating these might prove to be.

“I do not want to be part of destroying the Church”, said the Archbishop more than once, like a heart-rending musical refrain.

The unjust suppression of the Society in 1975 would impel the Archbishop to carry on courageously with the work he had just begun. The media mockery and insults would rain down on him, the threats and commands from Rome and the Pope would make no difference: remaining under fire as calm and gentle as ever, the Archbishop soon to be suspended from saying the new mass went ahead regardless. The splendid priestly ordinations of June 1976, on the occasion of which it became absolutely clear that for him merely to have celebrated once the New mass “would have arranged everything”, showed our Founder’s determination not to compromise on principles. From those years of war the Society drew the determination which has inspired it to this day.

Those same years show also the Archbishop’s superior wisdom, foresight and grasp of events: in those circumstances, to “obey” would have been quite the opposite of practising the virtue of obedience, it would have been to render the Church a grave disservice by inflicting one more wound, by depriving it of a means of salvation it could well one day be in need of in the middle of a shipwreck one does not throw away the lifejackets. If then Rome pretended that the Society’s attitude was a problem of Church discipline, the Society for its part saw in Rome’s attitude the tip of an enormous iceberg, no less than the anti-christian Revolution within the Church — did not Cardinal Suenens say that Vatican II was the French revolution of 1789 inside the Church?

The introduction of freemasonic principles, the harmonization with the world, the way of looking kindly on everybody previously considered by the Church to be dangerous enemies such as liberals and even communists, together with the opening to the east, modern philosophy, a new way of dealing with other religions no longer to be called false, and ecumenism’s dropping of the exclusiveness of the Catholic Church’s mission to save souls — all of this made clear to the Archbishop the gravity of the hour, and would make him a few years later take further action along the same lines to save the situation: the consecration of four bishops. When we speak of emergency in connection with these consecrations, we mean the state of emergency in which the whole Church is to be found, an unprecedented state of havoc (which Rome quietly admits), from which suffer above all those Catholics who no longer know whom to turn to for the spiritual bread which will nourish and save their souls.

At those consecrations, Rome predicted and counted on a mass departure of souls from the Society, and, at the Archbishop’s death, on the Society falling to pieces from within. On the contrary, the Society quietly continues sanctifying souls and forming priests.

Over the same period of time up to today, certain bishops discreetly recognize what the Society is accomplishing, while others tell us of the Church’s death-agony in several countries of Europe. And Rome? What position does Rome takes towards the Society? Towards the Traditional movement? What line of thinking lies behind the silence in which it smothers us?

Rome’s action towards the Fraternity St. Peter is a good indication.

How can we interpret Rome’s recent action against St. Peter’s Fraternity except as an over-all determination to continue driving up the blind alley of the new mass? Rome shows a coherence in its line of action matched only by its blindness: at all costs the new mass must be imposed everywhere. Only when souls submit to this condition will some of them be allowed a rare taste now and again of the old rite of the Mass, henceforth ranked as a museum-piece! While on all sides breaches are made in the teaching and transmission of Catholic doctrine, while Catholic morals in numerous countries are reeling under unheard-of blows destroying marriage and normalizing homosexuality, we are given to understand that the only thing prohibited, the only behaviour forbidden is a normal Catholic life, entirely faithful to the teaching and discipline which go back centuries! The fruits are there for all to see: what is Rome waiting for to change direction, and recognize the legitimacy of our refusal to slash to pieces the religion received from our ancestors? In the name of the Holy Ghost, Rome still refuses even to begin discussing our questioning of the Council, its ambiguities, its errors, its application in the post-conciliar reforms, and this at a time when at least one Cardinal recognizes that the Society’s fruits are good and that the Holy Ghost is at work in the Society! Why continue to brand us or let us be branded as Enemy Number One? All around, the true destroyers of the Church are at work and the true rebels against papal authority are given free rein as they openly defy the henceforth virtually futile attempts to call them to order.

“Those Society people are dangerous”, said the Abbot of St. Paul Outside the Walls, when we were there on pilgrimage in August. Dangerous to who?

Over the last 30 years the Church has undergone a spectacular change of direction: putting Vatican II into practice by a series of reforms affecting all domains of Church life has changed the face of the Church. That is why the differences are notable between priests and laity of the Novus Ordo and those of the Society. These differences were obvious during our pilgrimage this summer to Rome. The contrast between our Roman visit and the World Youth Days was a contrast between two worlds. The Vatican frankly had to undo its moral regulations concerning dress to let those young folk into the roman basilicas...

Indeed the last 30 years have been full of action. And we must thank God especially for having allowed us to keep our Catholic identity amidst such upheavals. And we thank you, dear friends and benefactors, for your generous support without which our dramatic story could never have achieved the results we see. We number now over 400 priests scattered all over five continents, with 60 countries receiving the support of Tradition, 50 of them by the regular apostolate or passage of priests. Gradually garages everywhere are making way for buildings more worthy to be called churches. The effort going into building is quite simply immense: over the last few years the Society has built some 50 churches throughout the world, while an even greater effort is going into our 70 odd schools. Will we have enough priests to continue the effort? Our seminaries number some 180 seminarians, but that figure falls well short of our needs. We entrust this important intention to your prayers.

However, the spiritual building up of your souls, which is not to be measured in numbers, counts much more than any material advance in the eyes of God and of ourselves. The welfare of your families is more dear to us than all these buildings.

On this Feast of All Saints, we ask the Immaculate Heart of Mary to repay your generosity with graces: graces of charity, of peace, of untiring courage which will not give way. May the same Heart to which the Society is consecrated deign to protect it and make it grow ever more, and inspire it ever better with the zeal that drove the Apostles to set alight in all places the fire that Our Lord burned to see it everywhere.

May God bless you abundantly.

+ Bernard Fellay, Superior General

Zaitzkofen, Feast of All Saints