SSPX Bp. Fellay on Francis and “peripheries”

Sandro Magister has a long piece (in Italian) about the remarks made recently by SSPX Bishop and Superior Bernard Fellay.  HERE  The SSPX website has posted a video interview with Fellay, arranged according to some bullet point questions.  HERE

One of the things that Fellay touches on is the seeming benevolent interest that Pope Francis seems to have in regard to the SSPX.  After all, Francis, for the Year of Mercy, allows that the faithful can have recourse to SSPX priests for the Sacrament of Penance.  We might have thought that Pope Benedict was the one who could reconcile the SSPX but, paradoxically, Francis might be the better candidate.

“Paradox” comes up in the Fellay interview.

I have wondered for a long time now if Francis isn’t interested in the SSPX because he sees them as a “periphery” which requires attention.

I don’t think that the SSPX wants to be thought of as a “periphery”, but that might be the key to figuring out Francis.

Back in 2014 I wrote:

For Francis, the “periphery” brings back to the core something that is vital, necessary.  The problem is, how to preserve at the core the best that the core has always possessed while at the same time reaching outward to the “peripheries”?  The danger is that the core will be forgotten, that a hole or vacuum will open up at the core and we will abandon and forget vast swathes of our identity and identity shaping patrimony.

The SSPX is simultaneously the doughnut hole and the doughnut.  They are at the same time the core, preserving tradition and patrimony, and they have become a “periphery”.  They are in danger of becoming irrelevant to the rest of the Church, and therefore they have to put their best foot forward, too, to make what they have to offer attractively useful.

My view has shifted a bit in this regard, but I still think there is something to this “periphery” idea for Francis.  Fellay touches on this also.

One of the explanations is Pope Francis’ regard for everything that is put on the margins, what is called the “existential peripheries”.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he considered us one of these peripheries to which he openly gives his preference.  In this perspective, he uses the expression “take a journey” (‘compiere un percorso’) with the people on the periphery, hoping that one could come to an improvement of things.  So it isn’t a firm desire to resolve (things) quickly: the journey goes where it goes, but in the end it’s calm enough, tranquil, without knowing too much what might happen.  Probably, this is one of the deeper reasons.

Fellay’s point about time frame of the “percorso” is probably right.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Benedict Joseph says:

    Color me cynical, but my take on Pope Francis and SSPX is that as the curtain is lifted slowly on the new, improved kasperian katholic kirche, those miscreants who cling to “old ways” will need a corral to inhabit. Still on the ranch, but anesthetized with their own quaint concerns while slowly dying out, they won’t be so antagonistic and bitter toward the new stock on the rest of the spread. Everyone smiling, cash flow still running, less complaining, and maintaining the vital statistics for a while so everyone thinks things are OK, at least by the numbers. And somebody looks ever so open minded and merciful.
    Two birds, one stone.

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    Some additional reporting in English:

    One of Pope Francis’ strongest critics offers a surprising note of hope, by John-Henry Westen, for LifeSiteNews.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    very interesting and hopeful, imho

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    I know so little about this but it seems easier to control an entity when it is under your umbrella. If there is a group that has some legitimate claim to be closer to the original order of things, and if that group can also claim a significant number of followers, wouldn’t that group be too dangerous to let go? Isn’t this what schisms are made of? Better to keep them in a place where you have some ultimate authority.
    I didn’t come into the world this cynical, what happened to me!

  5. Eonwe says:

    After watching this interview it seems to me that Bishop Fellay is a very insightful man and an honest one. I know people who are for the SSPX and think that he will “sell out the SSPX”. That is a sad and un-Catholic idea I think because they don’t think he should be talking to Rome at all (as it is now). His explanations of the talks with Rome should make good sense to anyone who recognizes that Rome and the Pope are the leaders of our Church and that union with them is pretty important (to put it lightly). While I disagree with his resolve to not come back into a communion with Rome unless on the SSPX’s terms, I can’t but help respect him. We could use more Bishops with his fidelity to the truth and sincerity.

  6. joan ellen says:

    1. Getting a frame of reference from Francis Cardinal George, God rest his soul, one day, as head of the USCCB said to those assembled: (paraphrase) “Oh, I got it. Some of us are to the left of Rome & some of us are to the right of Rome. Have I got that right?”; Of course implying Rome was right down the middle;
    2. Getting, & still letting it sink in, that the Western Church (Rome, Latin) has many churches & rites & the Eastern Church (Orhodox, Greek) has many churches & rites, & until 1054 it was all one Church;
    3. Understanding that family, friends, associates who are Christian…not Catholic…enjoy the same Creed…with the exception of 2 or 3 words, the same moral order…but not necessarily the same rigors in examination of conscience, the same prayer…the Our Father…though not all others. Example: The Western Church prays the Rosary, the Eastern Church prays the Jesus Prayer on a Prayer Rope. Both, the East & the West, hold the Blessed Mother, Theotokos, in high honor. Our Christian differences seem primarily to be about the Sacraments (7), & especially the Eucharist, the Source & Summit of Catholicism, & the liturgy…& their are many variations in the valid & licit liturgies…in full communion with the Church…
    4. Peripheries could be applied to Protestants on the left & really to the right ‘rad trads’ etc. on the right who do not, yet, enjoy full communion…with all of the patrimonies available.
    5. Sorry, Fr…this is my understanding of peripheries. I may be off base.

  7. William Tighe says:

    “the Eastern Church (Orhodox, Greek) has many churches & rites”

    Incorrect. The (Eastern) Orthodox Church has many “jurisdictions” (or “churches”), all in communion with one another, but all follow the Byzantine Rite (with some minor local variations), although in recent years a couple of Orthodox churches, notably the Antiochene Orthodox, have allowed for “Western Rite” parishes, some of which follow the 1570 Roman Rite (sometimes in Latin, sometimes in the vernacular) and some of which follow a Romanized (and sometimes Byzantinized) version of Anglican liturgy.

    Other “Eastern rites” are used by other Eastern Churches (such as those five churches which are termed “Oriental Orthodox,” or by the “Assyrian Church of the East”), but those Eastern churches are not in communion with either the Orthodox or (speaking of the “Orientals” and the “Assyrians”) with one another.

  8. LeeF says:

    @joan ellen,

    The SSPX is FAR closer to Rome than the Orthodox Churches. People often focus just on papal primacy and the procession of the Holy Spirit, but they have a different understanding of original sin, with a collateral effect on (not believing) in the Immaculate Conception, and their understanding of indissolubility of marriage is very different as well. There are very real differences in doctrine there which do not exist with the SSPX. And while under Benedict and Francis there may be more good will toward Rome than previously, it is still lacking to a great degree.


    I agree with you about Bishop Fellay. As a NO church-goer, I have always been fairly negative about the SSPX, but every time I listen to his excellency, primarily through videos Father Z links to here, I have come away more impressed with him, and consequently with a better view of the SSPX. He has a very tough row to hoe in keeping all the members of his society in union among themselves and is determined not to cause another split by moving too fast.

    The real difficulty to “full” communion is canonical in my opinion. Namely, how they can avoid having existing chapels being banished by unfriendly bishops under any structure. Religious orders, ordinariates, prelatures, etc., serve in any diocese (as far as running parishes or chapels) at the pleasure of the ordinary, both corporately and as to individual members. They can be expelled at will. Only the Eastern rites have a parallel structure that is immune to control by Latin Rite bishops. Since the SSPX is clearly Latin Rite, I don’t see a good canonical solution that doesn’t involve over-reliance on (possibly lacking) good will of local ordinaries. And it is difficult to see how the SSPX could be given greater freedom of control from those ordinaries than is (not) enjoyed by the FSSP and ICKSP.

    And finally, despite Bishop Fellay’s desire to move slow, time is of the essence in one respect, namely when they feel they need another bishop. It is hard to see how the Holy Father could name them another one if they were willing to nominate a ternus to him, when that bishop would immediately be suspended, and if they ordain one themselves then another round of excommunications would seem to ensue.

    Nonetheless, with enough good will on both sides, hopefully there will be a way forward.

  9. Sword40 says:

    I cannot envision an early reconciliation with Rome. The example of the Franciscans of the Immaculate does not promote trust with traditional Catholics. If the SSPX needs another Bishop, as they will fairly soon, then they will consecrate one. They have survived the last episode. And they have grown in size. They are roughly double the size of the FSSP, a group I am assisting at Mass with.

    I know many SSPX goers and only a few of them are what I would call “fringe elements”. I will continue to pray for a reconciliation.

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