In February of this year Fr. Franz Schmidberger, rector of the SSPX seminary in Zaitzkofen, Germany, wrote a short essay expressing his reasons, from a personal point of view, for members of the Society to accept a normalization of relations with Church authorities. Here we present an English translation of the document “Thoughts about the Church and the Place of the Society of Saint Pius X in it”.
Under normal circumstances this is a document we would not have published, because NLM has learned that Fr. Schmidberger wrote it as a private communication. He sent it to the SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, and to a small circle of colleagues, including fellow professors at the seminary. He did not authorize anyone to release it on the internet, let alone to claim incorrectly that he had sent it to all members of the Society; but in recent days both of these have taken place without his consent.
Now that erroneous translations of the text and untrue stories about the document are doing a disservice to innocent readers, Fr. Schmidberger has approved the publication of this authorized translation in English, in order to clear away the errors.
Thoughts about the Church and the Place of the Society of Saint Pius X in it
I. The Church is a mystery. She is the mystery of the one true God who is present among us, the saving God who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. This conversion requires our cooperation.
II. The Church is infallible in her divine nature, but she is led by human beings who can go astray and also be burdened with failings. An office should be distinguished from the person in it at a given moment. The latter holds office for a certain time and then steps down—either through death or through other circumstances; the office remains. Today Pope Francis is the holder of the papal office with the power of the primacy. At some hour that we do not know, he will step down and another Pope will be elected. As long as he occupies the papal throne, we recognize him as such and pray for him. We are not saying that he is a good Pope. On the contrary, through his liberal ideas and his administration he causes much confusion in the Church. But when Christ established the papacy, He foresaw the whole line of popes throughout Church history, including Pope Francis. And nonetheless He permitted the latter’s ascent to the papal throne. Analogously, the Lord instituted the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar with the Real Presence, although He foresaw many sacrileges over the course of history.
III. The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in the midst of these confusing times for the Church. It is called to provide a new generation of priests for the Church, to safeguard the true Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to proclaim the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all of society, even in the presence of liberal popes and princes of the Church who betray the faith. This necessarily led to a conflict: the Society was sent into exile in 1975. There, not only has it survived but it has grown and become for many people a sign of contradiction against the destructive work of these days. This contradiction became apparent in a special way on June 30, 1988, through the consecration of four auxiliary bishops by Archbishop Lefebvre, which was necessary for internal reasons.
IV. Despite this, Archbishop Lefebvre always sought a canonical solution for the Fraternity after its condemnation and did not shy away from dialogue with the Roman authorities; to this end it was important for him to move them to understanding and conversion. He continued these efforts even after the episcopal consecration, although being realistic he had little hope for success. Employing an argumentum ad hominem, he asked to be allowed to make “the experiment of Tradition”. He also fully recognized the fact that the Society is in an extraordinary situation, not at all through its own fault, but through the fault of its opponents. The situation remained the same until the year 2000. Since then Rome has made efforts to clean up this situation, sometimes cunningly, sometimes with honest intentions, depending on who was dealing with the problem from the Roman side.
V. The further dramatic decline of the Church since then and the simultaneously steady development of the Society have brought one or another cardinal or bishop to a partial or general understanding—one that he could not admit publicly, however, without further ado. For its part, Rome has dialed back its demands little by little, and in the latest proposals there was no more talk about recognizing Vatican II or the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo Missae. So it seems that the moment has come to normalize the situation of the Society, for various reasons:
- Every abnormal situation inherently tends toward normalization. This is due to the nature of the matter.
- Let us not lose sight of the danger that the faithful and certain confreres may get used to the abnormal situation and regard it as normal. The criticism here and there against any participation in the Holy Year, and also the complete disregard for the conferral by Pope Francis of ordinary jurisdiction for Confession (we have always cited the emergency situation and have quite rightly made use of extraordinary jurisdiction for Confession) are cause for concern. If the faithful or some confreres feel comfortable in this situation of freedom relating to independence from the hierarchy, then this indicates a creeping loss of the sensus Ecclesiae. We must never argue: “We have sound teaching, the true Holy Mass, our seminaries and priories and above all bishops. So we don’t need anything.”
- We very likely have sympathizers and friends also among the bishops and cardinals. One or another of them would gladly call on us for help and give us a parish church or even entrust a seminary to us, but in the present situation this is impossible for them. These Nicodemuses are waiting impatiently for a solution that would also strengthen their backbone personally. A lot of barriers and inhibitions among orthodox but anxious Catholics would come down. That would put an end to the talk heard in the mass media and elsewhere about the “schismatic” or “rebellious” Society separated from the Church.
- In the coming years we urgently need new bishops. To consecrate them without a papal mandate is certainly possible in an extreme emergency. But if bishops can be consecrated with Rome’s permission, we must ask for that permission [today]. [Translator’s note: the last word of the sentence is a handwritten addition.]
- Modernists, liberals, and other enemies of the Church are very upset about steps toward a canonical solution for the Society. Doesn’t the discernment of spirits make it clear that this is the right way and good?
- How can the Church overcome its crisis at all? In the current state of affairs, we see not even a glimmer of hope. On the other hand, the official act of recognizing the Society would unleash a beneficial unrest within the Church. The good would be encouraged and the evildoers would suffer a defeat.
- Why would anyone want to be recognized by Pope Francis?
Answer: We have already pointed out the necessary distinction between office and officeholder. No doubt the current Pope has the God-given task of showing everyone plainly what the Council really was and what its ultimate consequences are doing to the Church: confusion, the dictatorship of relativism, setting pastoral concerns above doctrine, friendship with the enemies of God and the opponents of Christianity. But precisely because of this, people here and there are coming to understand the errors of the Council and to infer the cause from the effects. Furthermore, those who relied too much on Benedict XVI personally, instead of putting the papal office first and its holder second, were left out in the rain by the resignation of the Pope emeritus. Let us not make the same mistake again of relying too much on the specific person, instead of on the divine institution! Maybe, too, Pope Francis is precisely the one who, with his unpredictability and improvisation, is capable of taking this step. The mass media may forgive him for this expedient, whereas they would never ever have forgiven Benedict XVI. In his authoritarian, not to mention tyrannical style of governance, he would probably be capable of carrying out such a measure even against opposition.
- But what will the people of the “Resistance” say?
Answer: We cannot perform our actions to please people who quite obviously have lost their sense of the Church and love of the Church in her concrete form. Besides, by now they have become completely divided among themselves.
- From now on you will have to remain silent about all the present-day errors.
Answer: We are not letting ourselves be muzzled; instead we are calling errors by their names, before any normalization just as we will after a normalization. Thus we intend to return from “exile” just as we are today.
- Pope Francis has such a bad reputation among Catholics that recognition on his initiative would more likely harm the Society than help it.
Answer: At the outset we already made the distinction between office and person. If Francis is Pope—and he is—then he also has the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church, whether he otherwise is helping the Church or harming it. Let us walk the path that helps the Church; let us not seek human favor by our actions, and then God will bless us.
- But this integration into the conciliar system will cost the Society its distinctive character, and maybe even its identity.
Answer: It all depends on how steadfast we ourselves are, and who converts whom. If we go to work vigorously, relying on God’s grace, then our new situation will become a blessing for the whole Church. Where else is there a community that here and now can undertake such a work of conversion? Admittedly, we cannot count on our own abilities and strength, but on God’s help. Think of the battle between David and Goliath. An analogy to that: As Christians we are put into an utterly godless, corrupt world and have to prove ourselves in it. The danger of contagion is great, yet we can and must escape it with the grace of God. One thing is clear: a new situation in and of itself will not make our efforts any easier, but rather harder, yet it will make them all the more fruitful.
- All the communities that submitted to Rome have conformed to the conciliar system or have even gone under.
Answer: The starting point is not the same: in our case, Rome is the one that is eager for a solution and has come to us; in the other cases, those communities went to Rome as supplicants, often with a guilty conscience. Not one of them has bishops now, except for the Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney in the Diocese of Campos in Brazil, where Bishop Rifan is willing to make any compromise. Of course we need solid protection through an appropriate ecclesial structure. But this seems to be guaranteed by a personal prelature. Until now such a structure has been offered to no other community. Finally, the objection raised is only partly relevant: the Fraternity of St. Peter has already been in existence for more than twenty-seven years, and, at least in German-speaking countries, it has remained true to the Traditional Mass, with few exceptions. Indeed, having the Society of St. Pius X in the background was their life insurance.
If God wants to come to the aid of His Church, which is bleeding from a thousand wounds, He has a thousand opportunities to do so. Among them is the official recognition of the Society by the Roman authorities. Is the Society not consecrated to the Most Blessed Virgin, who will protect and guide her work in a new situation? Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata—da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos. Make me worthy to praise you, Blessed Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.
Zaitzkofen, February 19, 2016
Fr. Franz Schmidberger
[This translation was prepared by Richard Chonak and revised by Michael J. Miller.]