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Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Bishop at the Top of the World

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James Bogle, Bishop Fellay, Michael J. Matt (Menzingen) James Bogle, Bishop Fellay, Michael J. Matt (Menzingen)

“Help us make people understand that we are not in schism. The Church is ours. It is our castle. It is our home. We will not leave her. We can never leave her.”
...Bishop Bernard Fellay

Menzingen is a place once visited not soon forgotten. Nestled high in the mountain pastures overlooking Zug, Switzerland, an unseen wall seems to have erected itself around this Catholic Brigadoon, shielding it from the soul-crushing “progress” of the modern world. The fact that it was originally built as a hunting lodge only adds to its mystique. One half expects to see a young Emperor Karl of Austria come cantering up into its tiny courtyard at any moment, a brace of hunting dogs at the heel.


Not much to the place, really—a modest chapel, a formidable statue of St. Pius X, a few outbuildings and the main lodge itself, which houses the offices and living quarters of the Superior General and his assistants. Defended by God’s own snow-capped battlements, it’s the perfect setting for the HQ of the single largest fraternity of traditional Catholic priests in the world.

With the help of a friend who lives in the area, I was able to make contact with Bishop Bernard Fellay’s secretary on short notice just after the Pilgrimage to Chartres this past June. The Bishop was leaving the country the next afternoon but kindly agreed to set aside some time in the morning. Jamie Bogle (President of Una Voce International) joined me in making the short trip up the mountain by taxi, some thirty minutes from our hotel.

A smiling nun in traditional habit greeted us at the gate, and then ushered us into the parlor. Once inside, the old-world charm of the people and the place was so overwhelming that I found myself smiling for no apparent reason, like a child in the candy aisle. The whole place is something about which time seems to have forgotten.

Heavy rugs line the floor, presumably against winter’s chill which must be formidable indeed. Period furniture is tastefully arranged as if still there from a century ago. The tick-tock of an old grandfather clock accompanies rays of sunlight as they dance their way into the pleasant room. It was as if we’d entered a time warp—a sense that would linger, by the way, even long after as the Bishop had entered the room and taken a seat across from us. No TV chatter, no computer’s hum, no noise—just blessed, Catholic peace.

I’ve met Bishop Fellay several times before, and am always struck by his manifest humility. The man seems to have no ego at all, in fact. If a fly on the wall were to tell me that here sits a man of exemplary personal holiness, I’d be in no sense surprised.

Tea was served, and the three of us were left to converse quietly, the two intruders making rather obvious attempts to learn as much as possible about the historic situation in which the Society of St. Pius X now finds itself.

While the Bishop is a prudent man, I didn’t sense he was editing much of what he was saying to the journalist on his right and the head of an international Catholic lobby to his left. He answered our questions without hesitation, refreshingly guileless in fact.

We touched briefly on many topics, and I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I write that Bishop Fellay seems as perplexed by Pope Francis as the rest of us are, though he did note the irony that Francis is less antagonistic toward the Society than foes and friends may realize. Being the true liberal, the Pope is evidently ready to embrace everyone, even the SSPX.

“What can I do to help you in your work, Your Excellency?” I asked, as our meeting drew to a close.

“Help us make people understand that we are not in schism.” The sincerity in his words was palpable. And he continued in an almost pleading tone of voice: “The Church is ours. It is our castle. It is our home. We will not leave her. We can never leave her.”

Clearly, this is a man of faith with a deep and profound love for Holy Mother Church. Those who would make a brash renegade out of Bishop Fellay have clearly never had the pleasure of meeting him.

I suddenly found myself grateful that God has not asked me to sort out the complicated situation now confronting Bishop Fellay. On the one hand, with apostasy and heresy rampant in the Church, it seems positively preposterous to fret over the “irregular canonical status” of the Society of St. Pius X. The letter of the law matters far less in times of universal upheaval than does its spirit—which is first and foremost concerned with the salvation of souls. Why should anyone be in any sense bothered by de facto heretics accusing the SSPX of schism? On its face, the thing is comical.

One need only briefly consider what happened to the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in order to feel justified in pleading with Bishop Fellay: “Don’t have anything to do with these wolves!”

But who am I? A layman with a layman’s point of view. Because on the other hand, what happens if 600 priests and a million traditionalist faithful were to suddenly shake off the false charge of schism and be given official status that could so thoroughly undermine the entire Neo-Catholic façade? A tempting proposition, to be sure.

[This is a slightly adapted version of an article that appeared in a recent print edition of The Remnant. We're posting it here in light of recent developments with the SSPX. To see what else you've missed, please subscribe to our E-edition today]

What would I do? What would you do? All that matters is what Bishop Fellay will do if and when the time comes. The Latin Mass is back in nearly every city of the world. The Fraternity of St. Peter is thriving. And thanks to the bizarre pontificate of Pope Francis, even neo-Catholics are waking up to the myriad problems with the Church of Vatican II. If the SSPX were regularized tomorrow think of what that might mean as so much of the Catholic world is finally ready to hear the arguments raised so long ago by Archbishop Lefebvre.

On the other hand, once regularized could the priests of the SSPX do that with which so many other good priests have struggled—continue principled and public opposition to the regime of Vatican II. Or would the SSPX swap Catholic counterrevolution for mere pro-lifeism with a traditional Latin Mass twist?

Again, I don’t know. I’m just mulling over questions Bishop Fellay must be prayerfully considering each and every day now as revolution in the Church plumbs truly diabolical depths.  

I do not believe the SSPX is in schism. They are inside the Church, and Bishop Fellay is exactly right—it is our Church, our castle. It is our birthright, our home. It is our mother—and we have no intention of running off and letting Modernists have their way with her.

We stay, suffer with her, keep the old faith, and fight until we get "our buildings" back. The SSPX has always followed the lead of St. Athanasius in this regard, which is why they accept Francis as pope, pray for the local bishops at all of their Masses and have never tried to create the  petite Église.

How frustrating it must be for them when little men with little understanding and even less wisdom nevertheless strut about like bantam roosters, crowing about the “schism” of the SSPX and how they’re “outside the Church”, “as bad as Protestants” and “leading souls to hell”.


The Society’s principled case against the new orientation of the Church, the New Mass, and the problematic aspects of Vatican II—the very thing which gave us Summorum Pontificum in the first place—is routinely dismissed by these roosters on the grounds that "the Society is in schism".

Can we blame the SSPX, then, for wanting to crush the go-to argument of the neo-Catholics, so filled with venom and so effective in deceiving thousands of well-meaning Catholics who don’t know any better?

As I sat in his parlor listening to Bishop Fellay, I felt I was in the presence of a man at a crossroads who is wrestling not with his conscience, but with the stark reality of his situation and the plight of Holy Mother Church. What does God want him to do?


I left Menzingen convinced that I had to do all in my power to help people understand that Bishop Fellay, a manifestly holy man, stands largely alone with a monumental decision on his hands—one which will change history one way or the other. Even Michael Davies used to say that though the SSPX did not fall into schism in 1988, it is true that their irregular canonical limbo could not go on forever lest a schismatic mentality should begin to set in with future generations.

Still, the bottom line is this: At this moment the last of the traditionalist holdouts, the SSPX, is being pushed and pulled in every direction and by friends and enemies in powerful places. Bishop Fellay is selling out to no one. There is no conspiracy here. Rather there is a man attempting to discern God’s will so that he can faithfully carry out his duty as a loyal son of the Church. He needs our help, prayers and support—not our rash judgments.

Is now the right time for some sort of official reunification of the SSPX with the Vatican? God help us, I can’t understand how it could be. Francis and modernist friends seem to risk destroying the entire human element of Christ’s Church with their infernal policies.

At the same time, the whole world is about to see that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was right all along, that there is indeed a state of emergency in the Church, and that the salvation of souls is of greater moment than any technical lack of canonical status—a concern which many see as a case of rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic.


Let’s face it, Francis has vindicated Archbishop Lefebvre. When I see clueless neo-Catholics calumniating the legacy of the Archbishop, I see demons in disguise, raging against one of the few who didn’t go along with the madness but instead followed thelumen Christi out of conciliar darkness, guided faithfully by the light of holy Tradition.

A hundred years from now, assuming the world is still here, Catholics will be telling their children the story of St. Marcel, the hero bishop who, like Fisher before him, stood strong against the apostasy of his day and won the heavenly crown.

Is the situation in the Church any better today than it was in 1988? If it is, then Lefebvre himself would counsel Fellay to go to Rome. But if it is not, then how can Bishop Fellay go to Rome without indicting the Archbishop? This is the dilemma that must keep Bishop Fellay awake at night, which is why we need to pray for him, all of us, inside the SSPX and out, every day.


Nothing is clear, everything is in turmoil, and the fate of the Church and the whole world now seems to rest in the hands of a mere handful of faithful bishops in whose number I certainly count Bishop Bernard Fellay. May God be with him and may the Seat of Wisdom watch over this faithful son of our holy Church.


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Read 7709 times Last modified on Thursday, October 15, 2015
Michael J. Matt | Editor

Michael J. Matt has been an editor of The Remnant since 1990. Since 1994, he has been the newspaper's editor. A graduate of Christendom College, Michael Matt has written hundreds of articles on the state of the Church and the modern world. He is the host of The Remnant Underground and Remnant TV's The Remnant Forum. He's been U.S. Coordinator for Notre Dame de Chrétienté in Paris--the organization responsible for the Pentecost Pilgrimage to Chartres, France--since 2000.  Mr. Matt has led the U.S. contingent on the Pilgrimage to Chartres for the last 24 years. He is a lecturer for the Roman Forum's Summer Symposium in Gardone Riviera, Italy. He is the author of Christian Fables, Legends of Christmas and Gods of Wasteland (Fifty Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll) and regularly delivers addresses and conferences to Catholic groups about the Mass, home-schooling, and the culture question. Together with his wife, Carol Lynn and their seven children, Mr. Matt currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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