Thursday, March 23, 2006

Interview With Fr. Gabet, Msgr. Schmitz

(From the March 23 edition of The Wanderer)

by Brian Mershon

In light of reported activities at the highest levels of the Church to possibly find a canonical solution and regularization for the bishops and priests of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), The Wanderer decided to interview the U.S. and North American superiors for the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest (ICKSP), and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). (Two related articles will follow this one.)

Providentially, the interview with Fr. George Gabet, FSSP, took place on the Feast of the Station of St. Peter, the heart, soul and source of unity for all Christians.

Msgr. Michael Schmitz of the ICKSP gave a rousing talk to Una Voce leaders in Providence, R.I., in November 2005, on the importance of Tradition to Catholics and the Catholic faith. The Institute of Christ the King was canonically founded in 1990, and its general superior is Msgr. Gilles Wach.

Msgr. Schmitz was ordained by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1982, after completing studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and earning a licentiate in dogmatic theology. Pope John Paul II elevated him to the rank of chaplain of His Holiness in 1998. In 2000 he was incardinated in the Institute of Christ the King and appointed vicar general and provincial superior for the Institute in the United States.

The U.S. headquarters has recently moved from Cashton, Wis. (Diocese of La Crosse), to Chicago, at St. Gelasius Parish. In addition, as Archbishop Burke moved from LaCrosse to St. Louis, like a wishbone with LaCrosse as the northernmost point, the ICKSP has opened up apostolates in St. Louis, as well as its new Chicago headquarters under Cardinal George. Most recently, the order has been invited into the Diocese of Kansas City, Mo.

The ICKSP is a growing international Society of Apostolic Life with 45 priests, about 70 seminarians, 10 brothers, called oblates, and currently about 10 sisters. The motherhouse and seminary are in Florence, Italy, where formation and instruction are given in French.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1988 as a Society of Apostolic Life. Its North American headquarters (including the U.S. and Canada) is in Elmhurst, Pa., in the Diocese of Scranton, with its new Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Bishop Bruskewitz's Lincoln, Neb., Diocese.

The FSSP currently has 180 priests worldwide, with 65 in North America. They have 107 total seminarians, with 60 currently in their seminary in Denton, Neb.

Important Ties

Fr. George Gabet is the district superior of North America, and was ordained in 1997 after studies in Wigratzbad, Germany. The FSSP's European seminary is in Wigratzbad. Both Fr. Gabet and Msgr. Schmitz emphasized how friendly Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, has been to their priestly societies. The German connections with Msgr. Schmitz's Ordination and the FSSP German seminary location are evidence of the importance of these ties.

In light of the Society of St. Pius X's (SSPX) Bishop Bernard Fellay's August 29 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos (president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission), a much-overlooked detail is that another German — Fr. Franz Schmidberger — accompanied Bishop Fellay. The importance of these German ties, most likely, cannot be overemphasized with the traditionalist movement and this pontificate.

In Bishop Fellay's recent talks, recorded at SSPX chapels around the U.S., the bishop revealed that Pope Benedict XVI told him that the SSPX could no longer use "the state of necessity" provided for in the 1983 Code of Canon Law to continue their apostolates outside of formal Church governance because the Pope was attempting to solve the crisis. However, Bishop Fellay also said the Pope later told him that a crisis to justify their situation in France and Germany might actually still be valid.

In the question-and-answer interview below, Msgr. Schmitz sheds some interesting light on this understanding of the faith in Europe and the United States. In fact, anyone who has studied Pope Benedict XVI's writings can discern that he believes the United States is a much more Christian culture and environment than Europe is.

Msgr. Schmitz reiterates this common Roman and European clerical perspective, which would affirm the Pope's comments relayed from Bishop Fellay regarding the same.


Q. During your presentation at the Una Voce conference in Providence, R.I., in November 2005, you said that the culture in the United States was still quite traditional, markedly different from that in Europe. Would you elaborate?

Msgr. Schmitz: When a foreigner from Europe comes to the United States, he will be astonished to see immediately, at least in the Midwest, and also in some other parts of the country, I'm sure, how many values have been preserved that have been lost in Europe for a long time. On a cultural level, that is a positive statement.

And also on the level of Christian culture and lifestyle, America has much to give to Europe. You see it in many family gatherings. You see it at events that are catered by the Church. There is still a lot of good Catholic formality in society in the Midwest of America, but also in other parts.

I see that the clergy are treated with respect, even in spite of what has happened recently. People still have a sense of the role of the clergy and expect the clergy to fulfill that role.

With the bishops, many people today sometimes have an aggressive attitude. But still, the bishops are treated with great respect. They also show in their public appearances, most of the time, they are representatives of Christ.

In my experience, that is not so clearly visible in the parts of Europe that used to be traditionally Catholic.

Q. So from the perspective of the average European, be he from Germany or France, this is not the case any more?

Msgr. Schmitz: No. This may seem strange for you [Americans] to hear. We [Europeans] have grown up surrounded by monuments of culture and Christian presence. If you come to the formerly Catholic countries like France and others, you are every day confronted with the Church, and her past.

But people [Europeans] live without it, and they do not appreciate it. And even on a public level, this Christian background is even denied [Editor's Note: The European Union refused to acknowledge any role of Christianity in forming Europe].

I do not find that in the United States. Of course, one can find that if one looks for it. But, my more general feeling is that these [traditional] values are still respected.

I believe that it is again, positively intended, the Church in the U.S. is in a situation where the Church in Europe was 40 years ago. I see that many faithful, many priests, and many bishops, understand that. And they are still able in this moment to steer the route of the ship of the Church in a direction where all of these values will be kept.

In Europe, we have to recuperate them. In America, we can still strengthen them because they are still there.

Q. Do the Pope, the Roman Curia, and those in the halls of the Vatican understand this phenomena as you are describing it?

Msgr. Schmitz: Those who know the United States, and especially the Holy Father, and his immediate surrounding [curial members], still appreciate the values America has to offer. And they are very well aware of the fact that Europe is formerly Catholic — not actually Christian [anymore].

Q. In a Latin Mass Magazine interview in 2004, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos said that the Vatican was working on a "juridical guarantee" for the traditional Catholic faithful.

In light of recent developments and reports, what do you think Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos might have in store for the Catholic lay faithful attached to the Latin liturgical tradition and the fullness of ecclesiastical Tradition?

Msgr. Schmitz: I simply have to say that I am not a prophet. There has been so much speculation and so many questions about what we should do — about what the Holy Father should do — about what the cardinals should do. I simply have to say that I leave it to the good Lord.

I am certain it would not be good for the Traditional Roman rite to be in any kind of a ghetto. We are part of the universal Church, and if it would be possible for the bishops simply to grant generously the permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass where it is wished and where it is needed, then I believe that all of the problems would very much decrease.

Whether it is prudent or not to do anything else, and to create any special entities [Editor's Note: I.e., the rumored apostolic administrations or ordinariates, similar to the military chaplaincies] or make some special canonical provisions, I have to say that I leave it to the wisdom of the Holy Father who can judge the needs of the Church much better than I can from my limited perspective.

Those Who Really Know

Fr. Gabet: We have heard a lot of these rumors and rumblings before. I have talked to one of our priests who is studying in Rome, and one of my friends who has said before: "Those who really know, don't say anything; and those who say, don't really know."

And I think that is really true. Rome has to keep some of this stuff under its hat. They don't want to just come out with something, with the rumors, because if it is something good, the Devil is definitely going to fight against it.

Of course, we understand there are talks though, and I do believe there is something coming on down the pike. What that will be, I really don't know.

As far as what might be done, I really can't say. There have been those rumors that perhaps as early as this year that the Society of St. Pius X will be brought back into full [canonical] communion. And we at the Fraternity certainly pray this will happen. That would make the traditional movement a lot bigger. We would certainly benefit from that.

But most importantly, our traditional brothers will be in full communion with Rome and we'd be able to have churches in the different dioceses with all the rites that we would have from the Church herself through that formal connection with Rome.

One of the things I noticed in your talks with Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Corrada [The Wanderer, January 26 and February 9, 2006 editions] were their concerns about a universal indult. You know, a lot of our people were kind of excited about it.

To me, I thought at first I was the only one; that it would not be a good idea unless of course it was handled correctly. There are so many priests that would just do the Latin Mass as a novelty. That is exactly what we don't want.

We would want priests who know their Latin, first of all, and then also that they have been trained in how to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the books of 1962. Pope John Paul II was very clear that he did not want a mixture of the two rites. We don't want to create some monster hybrid between the two rites.

And certainly, the Latin Mass can be said just as badly as any Mass. And what a disgrace it is to see something like that.

Unfortunately, the seminaries today are not teaching Latin on a regular basis. They [seminarians] might get one year of Latin. And how can you even read it in one year? There is no way you can know what you are saying.

At the diaconate [for the FSSP], we are supposed to begin practicing the Mass. Most of us will do it piece by piece because it is so important to follow the rubrics. It is very important to have that reverence for the sacred — if you're just running through it, or you're ad-libbing — it's not going to work that way. It will be a monster. And not something worthy of the Holy Sacrifice of our Lord.

I would be very cautious about a universal indult.

Now, as far as an apostolic administrator, it sounds like a very delicate situation. It would have to be the right man. He would have to work with the bishops and with the different groups — the Society of St. Pius X, the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King — just to name a few — to make unity within those groups, and then to apply it to the different dioceses that already exist. It is not going to be easy. It will take a lot of thought and a lot of prayer to get the right solution. But, if it is God's will, it is going to happen.

Full Of Joy

Q. What advice would you give to the lay faithful who are hoping for some measure of relief from the Vatican?

Msgr. Schmitz: First, I would encourage them from my whole heart to pray — to pray for the Holy Father and for the involved cardinals that they find the right decision.

But also, I would suggest they be very respectful in asking their bishops to fulfill their spiritual needs. The number of people who desire the Traditional Latin Mass is growing in all age groups, but especially among the youth. I am sure the bishops will be very willing to fulfill this wish because the Mass that has been celebrated for nearly 2,000 years in the Church is not dangerous. It is, on the contrary, a great gift for those who want to assist at it.

I am sure all of the bishops want to foster the spiritual life of the laity. They use so many means for that, and I would very much recommend to the laity to ask their bishops to also allow the traditional instrument for deep spirituality, which is the Mass that Pope St. Pius X, Blessed John XXIII, and all the fathers of the Second Vatican Council celebrated.

Q. Msgr. Schmitz, you were ordained by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1982. What was your personal reaction to having your spiritual father raised to the Chair of Peter?

Msgr. Schmitz: I was certainly full of joy when I heard of the election of the Holy Father. It is a very special feeling you have when the bishop who ordained you is suddenly elevated to the See of Peter. I had the chance during my studies in Rome to sometimes meet with the Holy Father.

And just a few weeks before his election, he received the prior general [Msgr. Wach] of the Institute of Christ the King and me in a very kind and warm private audience. So I was especially intrigued hearing he was elected and had accepted to become the Successor of Peter.

I also have personal links to some people in his surroundings. I know well how much the Holy Father thinks for the Catholic Church and how deeply also in his speeches and in his whole personality, he is profoundly Catholic in the sense I just explained. This has certainly given me deep satisfaction as a priest.

A Great Friend

Q. Fr. Gabet, the same question for you: What was your and the FSSP priests' reactions when Cardinal Ratzinger was raised to the Chair of St. Peter?

Fr. Gabet: Concerning the present Holy Father, the Fraternity of St. Peter was overjoyed when, of all people, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope in the one of the shortest conclaves in modern times.

He has always been a friend of the Priestly Fraternity. It was actually he who suggested to Pope John Paul II that our founders form a Society of Apostolic Life. He helped us to get started in Wigratzbad, Germany. And he also helped us in the United States by asking some of the bishops to give us a chance to build a reputation and a track record. And then he actually even traveled to our seminary in Wigratzbad to offer the Pontifical High Mass on Easter Sunday of 1990. That was the year before I was there.

I was blessed by getting to see Cardinal Mayer. And we have had seven different cardinals who have done our Ordinations, including Cardinal [Castrillon] Hoyos.

We have a great friend of the Fraternity and to the Traditional Latin Mass movement in Rome on St. Peter's chair.

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective. His trade is in media relations, and his vocation is as a husband to his beloved wife Tracey and father to his six living children. He attempts to assist his family and himself in attaining eternal salvation through frequent attendance at the Traditional Latin rite of Mass, homeschooling, and building Catholic culture in the buckle of the Bible Belt of Greenville, South Carolina.

© Copyright 2006 by Brian Mershon
Original Article: Vatican sees U.S. situation as hopeful, but at crossroads

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