Dear Friends and Benefactors,
After July's letter which discouraged some of you with the reminder that members of the Society of St Pius X are only human (St Phillip Neri used to pray to Our Lord, "Lord,, beware of me, I could turn Turk this afternoon!"), nobody will mind an August letter bringing some good news.
The most important good news is that thanks to your prayers and sacrifices, the Society of St. Pius X has a new Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, elected by the Society's General Chapter in Switzerland on July 11 for a term of 12 years, until the year 2006.
Not that this General Chapter disowned the previous Superior General, Fr. Franz Schmidberger, who served from 1982 to 1994; on the contrary by electing him First Assistant, the General Chapter chose to place him alongside the new Superior General, an unusual move, but certainly proving the desire of the General Chapter for continuity in the guidance of the Society.
Rather, as Bishop Fellay explains in the enclosed (summarized) Press Conference he gave on July 15, the regulations of Mother Church and her practice for congregations like the Society of St Pius X definitely indicate that a superiorate of 24 years — a quarter of a century— is to be the exception rather than the rule, and so the General Chapter, by changing the Superior General, aligned itself on the wisdom of Mother Church.
Some people may object that back in 1988 one reason for Archbishop Lefebvre's not consecrating Fr. Schmidberger as a bishop was that the Archbishop then said that the Society's Superior General should not be a bishop, so why now has the General Chapter elected a bishop?
The answer is that circumstances have changed since 1988. At that time contacts and negotiations with Rome had only recently come to a halt, just before the episcopal consecrations in fact, so if it seemed possible that negotiations might re-start, it also seemed wise not to obstruct them by having them headed up on the Society's side by a bishop that Rome might have felt obliged to punish in the meantime (Sure enough, Rome "excommunicated" the bishops).
However, since 1988, negotiations with Rome have not yet re-opened, because the Society has refused to abandon the old religion, and Rome has refused to abandon the new religion, and no amount of diplomacy or subjective good will on either side can bridge the widening objective gulf between the two religions. In this situation the Society no longer felt obliged to spare the susceptibilities of Rome, so if the best man it had was one of those "excommunicated" in 1988, it felt free to elect him, which is what happened.
But does that mean that by no longer caring what Rome thinks, and by choosing a bishop for leader, the Society is setting up a parallel church after all?
By no means! Re-read the July letter. Aside from and apart from the Catholic Church, the Society of St Pius X is nothing. Therefore what the churchmen in Rome think, is of great importance, but if they insist upon plunging deeper and deeper into apostasy, the Society must take its own steps to defend the Faith, which includes electing the best man it has for Superior General, whether he is "excommunicated" or not.
But does not the choice of a bishop indicate a drift of the Society towards setting up a schismatic church? No, read Bishop Fellay's Press Conference, where he speaks of his authority as bishop and as Superior General. His authority as bishop he describes as being a delicate and unusual authority coming from the Catholic Church, for our special circumstances, but certainly not an authority over a new church. His authority as Superior General he describes as being exactly that of his predecessor, no more, no less, namely an authority confined to directing members of the Society, again, no authority to set up a new church.
So even added together these two authorities do not add up to an intention of schism on the part of the Society or of Bishop Fellay. Back in 1988 the Society was similarly accused of beading for schism, but surely no fair-minded observer can point to anything that has happened in the Society over the last six years to justify that accusation. Why then over the next six years? As Bishop Fellay says, the General Chapter manifested a clear desire on the part of Society leaders for the Society to continue along exactly the lines laid down by Archbishop Lefebvre. In brief, thank you for all your prayers for the General Chapter.
The weather at Ecône for that week was unusually warm, and the warm weather continued at least until the end of July. For the last week in July, I found myself at Fanjeaux in the South of France, giving the annual retreat to the Dominican teaching Sisters at their Mother House. Besides the girl's school in Post Falls, Idaho, these Sisters operate a series of schools all over France, but for the annual retreat they all gather together once a year in Fanjeaux, this year over one hundred of them. They much edified me.
I cannot remember in the United States having seen many fields of sun-flowers, but in that part of the world they are common. In the summer across a whole field these huge flowers quietly stand, all lifting their bright faces in one direction, making a sea of yellow. Now the Dominican Sisters are dressed in black and white, but as one hundred of them sat in front of me with their radiant faces all turned in the same direction, I could not help thinking — as I told them! — of the fields of sun-flowers all around their convent.
Ah, girls, are you wondering what to do in life? If you want to be happy, throw away home, marriage, husband and family for Our Lord's sake, and as He promises in the Gospel, He will give you one hundred-fold in this life and eternal happiness in the next. In Idaho and in France, the Dominican Sisters are doing marvelous work teaching girls how to do God's will in a difficult world. Several American girls have gone to Fanjeaux, and a number are now back in Idaho. They have emptied themselves out, and Our Lord has filled them full — there is the fulfillment that girls look for, alas, in every other direction! 0 Lord, grant us many maidens to try a religious vocation!
How his children need his teaching Sisters! And how his Dominican Sisters in Idaho need help to build the new school for all the girls coming to them! Contributions to Dominican Sisters, 5450 West Riverview Drive, Post Falls, ID 83854. They only need some half a million dollars! God bless them, and you!
Sincerely yours in Christ,