Newsletter of the District
Letter of Bishop Bernard Fellay
on a recent event in Rome
Symposium was held at Rome at the beginning of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, to discuss the question of the
“Primacy of the Sovereign Pontiff” in the spirit of the line indicated
by John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (no. 95).
do not yet know the results of this assembly’s work. It is said
that Cardinal Ratzinger took charge of this initiative “to prevent
the worst”. In effect, those who truly initiated the project were
the professor of the Lateran university who deny the historicity
of the institution of the Primacy (Mt. 16:18).
Pope wrote Cardinal Ratzinger a letter for the opening of this Symposium,
which letter was published by the L’Osservatore Romano.
This letter continues to bother us and it seems to us that the newspaper
headlines which describe the event do not go much further than the
text itself, e.g. “The Pope is ready to question his Primacy”, by
seeking new ways to exercise his Primacy.
It must be remembered that this questioning of the Primacy, which
appears today as a conclusion drawn by the Pope himself, already
existed in germ in the texts of the Second Vatican Council. It
is now apparent that the warning cries which surrounded the discussion
on Lumen gentium were very longsighted indeed, and what the
liberals wanted at the time, as a rigorously logical conclusion,
is now being accomplished.
the Church has been ridiculously attired with a double supreme power,
that of the Pope on one hand, and that of the “episcopal college”
on the other, the poor bishop of Rome finds himself with the role
of a head, indeed, but of a head bound by the body and dependent
on it. Otherwise said, the sum of the particular powers of the
bishops has come to constitute a supreme power. However, the sum
of the particular power has never been able to constitute more than....the
sum of the particular powers. For there is a qualitative
difference between the whole and its parts.
is for this reason that the power attributed by Tradition and by
the Faith to the Successor of Peter inexorably tends to become the
authority of a president. Likewise this Primacy of jurisdiction,
which was so carefully defended and defined by the First Vatican
Council, tends to be diluted into a primacy of honor or at the most
a primacy of direction (as that of a president over an assembly).
The message of the Pope to “the Church which is in China in full
communion with the episcopal college, presided by the successor
of Peter” testifies to this.
it is not surprising to find, in the above mentioned letter, the
affirmation that the Primacy is “a gift bestowed, within the very
interior of the College of Bishops, to the Apostle Peter”. It is
difficult to understand how its statement can be reconciled with
the following Canon of the First Vatican Council: “If anyone
thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection
or direction....or that he possesses only the more important parts,
but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power....let him be
anathema” (Pastor Aeternus Cap. 3, Denz. S 3064)
A second point to be noted is that, in the mind of the Pope,
the Primacy is an obstacle to Ecumenism.
remarks first of all that the Church “is aware of having conserved,
in fidelity to apostolic Tradition and the Faith of the Fathers,
the ministry of the successor of Peter” and that this ministry is
“in the service of unity”, and is “an instrument for evangelization”.
One would expect to find here the echo of the apologist and theologians,
who do not hesitate to speak of the mark of being founded on Peter
as one which enables us, just like the four others, to recognize
the true Church.
the Pope adds that this conviction of Catholics that they possess
apostolic Tradition in the Primacy “constitutes a difficulty for
the greater part of other Christians.”
conclusion is to be drawn from this? Simple that the Primacy is
to give way, and that we must “find a new way, which is open to
a new situation, to exercise this Primacy.”
does not the scholastic saying affirm that “agere sequitur esse”?
If the agere changes, does not this signify that the esse itself
will have changed? Will we not than be confronted with a substantial
mutation in the Faith?
In order to reassure us, the text then exhorts the participants
in the symposium to remember that which, in the doctrine of pontifical
Primacy, falls under the seal of infallibility, distinguishing it
from that which is legitimately disputed or which is in some way
not definitely binding.
is certain that this discernment belongs to the Chair of Peter.
However, the seeking of minimalist positions, as the modernists
have done since Vatican II, inevitably leads to a tainting of the
Faith itself. This is all the more likely as this discernment is
regarded as “a condition which is necessary for ecumenical dialogue”.
The conciliar attitude is always present: theology is henceforth
centered not on the truth itself, but on the necessities of a dialogue
which is more and more imaginary.
This is why we need to bear in mind the following traditional
doctrine on Primacy of the Pope:
The Primacy is a prerogative of the Catholic Church, which reposes
on it as on a foundation and a principle: “That the episcopacy itself
might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the
faithful through priests closely connected with one another might
be preserved in the unity of Faith and communion, placing the blessed
Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual
principle and visible foundation of both unities.”
This Primacy is the efficient cause of the unity of the Church.
“When the divine Founder decreed that the Church should be one in
Faith, in government and in communion, He chose Peter and his successors
as the principle and center, as it were, of this unity.”
This Primacy was established by Christ Himself in the person of
Blessed Peter: “If anyone then says that the blessed Apostle
Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all
the apostles, and the visible head so the whole militant Church...let
him be anathema.”
It consists of a primacy of true and proper jurisdiction.
The Roman Pontiff, or the bishop of Rome, is the successor of Peter
in this Primacy: “If anyone then says that it is not from the
institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by divine right that
the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the
universal church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor
of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema.”
This Primacy, which belongs to the very constitution of the Church,
is unchangeable in itself and in all its properties, and it is not
subject to evolution. The immediate consequence of this is that
a new “way to exercise” this primacy seems to be a direct attack
on this holy constitution (of the Church). We ought to make note
here of the proposition condemned by St. Pius X: “The organic
constitution of the Church is not immutable. Like human society,
Christian society is subject to a perpetual evolution.”
The Primacy consists in the plenitude of the supreme power. Consequently,
it is not possible to envisage dividing or diminishing it.
It must finally be remembered that this power is ordinary, truly
episcopal, universal and immediate. These are the properties carefully
described by Vatican Council I.
Papal millenarism, which seems to believe more in the influence
of the year 2,000 than in that of grace, leads us to witness a progressive
abandonment of all which could embarrass “the other Christian communities”.
How far will this go? This remains the mystery of God. May this
mystery of iniquity invite us to immerse ourselves in the mystery
of the newborn Child and see in Him the God of God, Light born of
Light, King of kings and Lord of lords and to render Him our poor
adoration in the hope that it might be accepted in reparation for
bless you all for the coming year,
the Vigil of Christmas, 1996