Address of Pope John Paul II to the Fraternity of St. Peter: 1998

November 1, 1998

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Why must so-called Traditional Catholics take their stand against today's Rome? Why, when traditionalists with their "strong faith" have "so much to offer the Church", do they insist on "cutting themselves off"? Why can they not, like conservative Catholics, make the best of both worlds by using Rome's 1984 Indult allowing (within strict limits) the Tridentine Mass?

The answer to these questions emerges yet again, clearly, from an address of Pope John Paul II to a leading group of conservative Catholics who were down in Rome last week-end because they believe in co-operating with Rome.

The occasion was the gathering in the Eternal City from Friday Oct. 23 to Monday Oct. 26 of members of the Fraternity of St. Peter to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their Congregation, founded in 1988 by priests leaving the Society of St. Pius X in protest against Archbishop Lefebvre's consecrating four bishops that summer without Rome's permission. It will be remembered that the Archbishop said at that time that the Catholic Church's leaders had shown themselves by, for instance, the Assisi event of October 1986, to be incapable of defending the true Faith, so Tradition had to be given interim bishops of its own. On the contrary, said the handful of his priests who broke away to form St. Peter's Fraternity, the Church's present leaders are good Catholics under whom the Traditional Faith can perfectly well be continued. So these conservative priests put themselves back under the direct control of Rome through the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission, named after the document of July 1988 in which Rome condemned the consecration of the four "Traditional" bishops.

To avoid the accusation of making unfair omissions, the following text of the Pope's address to members of St. Peter's Fraternity in Rome on October 26, 1998, is given in full. His words are in italics, commentary is in normal print.

"I bid you cordially welcome, dear pilgrims wishing to be in Rome for the 10th anniversary of the Motu Proprio `Ecclesia Dei', to strengthen and renew your faith In Christ and your fidelity to the Church. Dear friends, your being in the presence of `the successor of Peter who more than anyone else has to watch over the unity of the Church' (Vatican I, `Pastor Aeternus) is particularly significant"

From the outset, the Pope emphasizes unity, and himself as the center of Catholic unity. For 17 years, the only answer of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II to Archbishop Lefebvre's accusations based on truth was this argument of unity...

"To safeguard the treasure entrusted to the Church by Jesus while remaining steadfastly turned towards the future, the Church must be constantly reflecting on her link with Tradition coming to us from the Lord through the Apostles, such as it has been established down the centuries".

The Pope does now evoke the Deposit of faith (as a "treasure") and Tradition, but neither as being absolute truth, rather he hints they are caught up in time ("towards the future", "down the centuries"). Does truth move with the times?

"According to the spirit of conversion in the Apostolic Letter 'Tertio Millennio Adveniente' (# 14, 32, 34, 50), I encourage all Catholics to take steps towards unity and to renew their attachment to the Church so that all legitimate differences and varying sensibilities worthy of respect may not be separated from each other, but may be an incentive to proclaim the Gospel together; thus, under the impulse of the Spirit uniting the various charisms, all will be able to glorify the Lord, and salvation will be proclaimed to all nations".

Conservatives must admit that John Paul II is here treating their attachment to the Tridentine Mass, etc., as no more than a legitimate "sensibility' varying from the -- one must suppose - equally legitimate, actually much more legitimate, sensibility of modernists to the Mass of Paul VI. Traditionalists on the contrary say that the Paul VI Mass is a betrayal of the Catholic Faith, undermining the Real Presence, the Present Sacrifice, the Sacrificing Priesthood. Do conservatives agree with John Paul II in reducing these dogmas to a matter of "sensibility'?

"I wish all members of the Church to remain heirs of the faith received from the Apostles, worthily and faithfully celebrated in the holy mysteries, with fervour and beauty, so that they may receive ever more grace (cf Trent s. VII, Decree on Sacraments) and live in a relation of close intimacy with the Holy Trinity".

The sentiments are impeccable, but can John Paul II not see that the humanism intrinsic to the man-centered Mass of Paul VI necessarily militates against "worthy and faithful celebration"? No, in truth, he cannot see it (partly, no doubt, because his own priesthood began and grew up with the Tridentine Mass, which is no longer the case for young priests now).

"While confirming that the liturgical reform desired by Vatican II and carried out by Paul VI was justified, the Church does also give a sign of comprehension for people 'attached to certain previous liturgical and disciplinary forms' (Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei' #5). This is the standpoint from which the Motu Proprio `Ecclesia Dei' is to be understood and applied; I wish it all to be lived in the spirit of Vatican II, in full harmony with Tradition, aiming at unity in charity and fidelity to the Truth".

This is the central paragraph of John Paul II's address to the conservative priests of St. Peter's. Notice the firm affirmation that the Paul VI liturgical reform was good, the corresponding reduction to mere "attachment to previous forms" of any protests against that reform, and the serene conclusion that Tradition is nothing that can be out of harmony with "the spirit of Vatican II". Do conservatives accept this understanding of "Tradition" as being perfectly compatible with the "spirit of Vatican II"? So Tradition and Truth do change with the times?

But now comes the practical clincher. Back in 1988, the new St. Peter's Fraternity obtained from Rome the Tridentine Mass and approval by Rome, but they did not obtain the bishop of their own that they had asked for. Since then, they have had to depend on diocesan or Novus Ordo bishops who thus retain essential control of the whole St. Peter's operation. Alas for St. Peter's, reports come from all over the world of how those bishops block their operation. St. Peter's Fraternity is liable to appeal in vain over their heads to the Pope. The Pope habitually refers them back to the same bishops! Now judge whether or not the blocking by those bishops is the will of the Pope:

"Led by 'the activity of the Holy Ghost, whereby the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of Faith' (Vatican II, `Lumen Gentium' # 25), the Successor of Peter and the bishops successors of the Apostles, teach the Christian mystery; in a quite particular way the bishops, gathered together in ecumenical Councils with Peter and beneath Peter, confirm and strengthen the doctrine of the Church, which is the faithful heir of Tradition existing now for nearly 20 centuries as a living and progressing reality, giving new impulse to the whole Church community. The three last ecumenical Councils, Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II, have been particularly concerned to throw light on the mystery of the Faith, and have undertaken reforms necessary for the good of the Church while ensuring continuity with apostolic Tradition, already gathered together by Saint Hyppolitus".

Note in passing the dangerous definition of "Tradition" as "a living and progressing reality, giving new impulse to the whole Church community'. Also the incredible ranking of the anti-dogmatic Vatican II alongside the super-dogmatic Trent and Vatican I. But this paragraph has served mainly to prepare the "coup de grace", or finishing blow:

"So it is the task of the bishops, first and foremost, in communion with the successor of Peter, to lead the flock with firmness and charity, so that the Catholic Faith may be everywhere safeguarded (cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation `Quinque lam Anni'; New Code of Canon Law, can. 386) and worthily celebrated. For indeed, as Saint Ignatius of Antioch stated, `Where the bishop is, there too the Church is' (Letter to the Smyrnians, VIII, 2). I extend also a fraternal invitation to the bishops to show understanding and renewed pastoral concern for Catholics attached to the old rite of Mass, and, on the threshold of the third millennium, to help all Catholics to experience the celebration of the holy mysteries with a devotion truly nourishing their spiritual life and bringing them peace".

In other words, St. Peter's Fraternity need only obey the diocesan bishops in order to be sure of their Faith being safeguarded and of their liturgy being worthily celebrated! Is that their experience? As for the "understanding and renewed pastoral concern" to be shown to Catholics with a St. Peter's Fraternity "sensibility", well, of course, what that means was explained above - the Pope wants it "all to be lived in the spirit of Vatican II". He concludes:

"Entrusting you to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, perfect model for the following of Christ, and Mother of the Church, dear brothers and sisters, I grant you the Apostolic blessing, and to all those dear to you".

According to the "Wanderer" report of the "Ecclesia Dei" week-end, Cardinal Ratzinger assured the conservative Catholics that their problem is the diocesan bishops. In other words, like Pope John Paul II he is convinced that the replacement of the old liturgy is fine, that at most that replacement is being misapplied.

No, Your Holiness. No, Your Eminence. Nice conservatives may let themselves be persuaded that Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass are good texts, just being badly applied, but nasty "Traditionalists" know that they are bad texts. Not just the new practice, but the new principles are wrong. And the greatest service "Traditionalists" can render to both of you, and to conservatives, is to take this stand "against" you until you too see it. Then you will thank us for having "cut ourselves off".

So the Society of St. Pius X goes its way. The solemn blessing of the new Church of EcĂ´ne Seminary in Switzerland on October 10 was a great success. Lovely weather, many people, a beautiful Pontifical High Mass celebrated by the Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay. It recalled the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem amidst the Macchabean Wars (I Macch. IV)...

Pray to and for the Holy Souls in the month of November, and please do not forget the Seminary in your generosity.

Most sincerely yours in the Sacred Heart of Jesus,