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Interpellation to Bishop B. Fellay on Independent Priests

Why Did You Condemn Us,
When You Are in a Similar Situation?

TIA has received this Interpellation from Fr. Paul Sretenovic to be posted on our website. We believe that his courageous initiative should be known by our readers. The title and subtitles are ours. The Editor

People Commenting
Your Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay,

As we prepare ourselves to enter into Lent, the most sorrowful period in the Church's calendar, I want to express to you my own sorrow after hearing your sermon from the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady this past February the 2nd.

My problem stems from what you began to say from the 24th minute on with reference to "independent priests." My first reaction was surprise, followed by indignation. Since then, I have prayerfully been able to take a step back and give you at least some benefit of the doubt because it is quite possible that your intention was not to attack priests who have been unjustly suspended from their diocese or religious orders and who have since functioned in an at least relatively individual context. Your primary purpose, it would seem, was to present a state of the negotiations with Rome addressed in the context of Church teaching to the seminarians in Winona as well as to their families. Your scope, therefore, given how little you elaborated on the points in question, could be said to be the status of the Society of St. Pius X, and not so much anyone else.

What makes what you said all the more serious, however, is that the sermon is also available online on the official SSPX website. Therefore, what you have said, regardless of intention, has been heard by many, a number of whom could easily have had the same impression that I did. Even assuming no other ulterior motives, what was said was I believe at best misleading. This is as much because of what you did not say and not simply because of what in fact was stated.

So then, you said in your sermon that an independent priest, vagus, automatically loses all right to any Sacramental ministry. Of course, in normal times, this is correct. But then, without making any qualifications for a “state of emergency” and “supplied jurisdiction,” after one or two other points, you stated that the SSPX is not an independent group and never has been. Does it not seem most natural to infer from this that you were immediately separating the Society of St. Pius X priests from any such stigma that would otherwise justly leave them without any right to Sacramental ministry, even in these times?

Bishop Fellay uses two weights and two measures

Bishop Bernard Fellay

Fellay, arrogant with traditionalists,
subservient with progressivists
The last time I checked, however, the SSPX itself has no ordinary jurisdiction in the Church and, as His Excellency Bishop Tissier so aptly defended over 10 years ago in an article for, I believe, Si Si No No, the SSPX does indeed work upon the principle of "supplied jurisdiction." According to this principle, as you know, when there is just cause, the laity can approach any Catholic priest for the Sacraments. So then, why did you raise the need of incardination for independent priests when given the crisis in the Church they also are based on the principles of “state of emergency” and “supplied jurisdiction”? Why such inconsistency that only adds to the general confusion in which we live?

If one were to follow your reasoning, then it is perfectly fine for a layman to approach an SSPX priest, who is part of what cannot even canonically speaking be referred to as a religious order, but it is not licit for that person to come to a priest such as myself, or to any of the other unjustly suspended independent priests trying to keep their heads and the heads of those who come to them above water during this universal crisis in the Church. Is this what you are telling us? Maybe not, but it surely sounded like it.

Granted, you may have other issues with such situations like mine in Garden Grove, CA, which is fine. Neither we nor other independent priests are above just criticism. However, just as one example among many others that could be cited, I believe that our situation does fit the requirements for “supplied jurisdiction.”

Simplistic presentation on Lefebvre - independent priests

And, in fact, it was Fr. Frederick Schell the priest who AT THE REQUEST of some members of the laity in southern California in the 1970s established the Mass centers that would later become Our Lady Help of Christians. He was also the sub-deacon at the first [SSPX] Mass at St. Joseph's in Colton, CA, in the early 1980s, as you may recall. I believe, if I am not mistaken, that Archbishop Lefebvre himself offered that very Mass.

Speaking of the Archbishop, you made reference to him in your sermon, immediately following your point about independent priests, stating in so many words that he would not ordain a priest to function independently. While that may be true, I do not believe that such a statement answers the question really. In fact, if anything, it strengthens my interpretation of what you said because if the Archbishop was against ordaining such a man, then surely it was for the reason of the need of being incardinated, right? You suggested as much in your sermon.

Of course, there is a difference between saying that the Archbishop was against ordaining men for an independent scenario versus saying that the Archbishop opposed all independent priests by the very fact that they were independent. In fact, I was informed a while back by those "in the know" that the Archbishop did not believe that it was necessary for such priests to join the Society or somehow find some other tangible link to the Church above and beyond what was unjustly taken away. And even if he did, that would prove nothing except that this is what the Archbishop believed.

So then, if you are going to criticize the independent situation for the sake of teaching your seminarians or warning the faithful, even indirectly, would it not be better to deal with real issues? If I have assumed too much, I apologize, and you can correct me, but the way you addressed the issue of the vagus priest leaves little room for a more benign interpretation. It is perfectly fine for us to disagree, even about many things, but the times are tough enough without having to make more issues with friends. All other considerations aside, again, from the principle of “supplied jurisdiction,” I have every bit as much of a right to sacramental ministry as you do.

In fact, technically speaking, given that I am still a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, regardless of any unjust sanctions otherwise imposed, I have more of a right to offer the Sacraments because a diocese is a higher ranking canonical entity than what you presently have in the Society of St. Pius X.

SSPX uses independent priests, but criticizes them behind their backs

And then, if I have read correctly, and an independent priest has no right to Sacramental ministry, then why do you work with such priests? It is common knowledge that there are a number of priests who otherwise have no present official canonical status in the Church who offer Mass at your chapels. Do they acquire some such right simply by offering Mass and hearing Confessions within the boundaries of your properties?

Fr. Paul Sretenovic

Fr. Paul Sretenovic
Even if what you said in your sermon was correct, still, such priests would be no different than I or other independent priests, and you would, in effect, be working with vagabonds. Is that what you are to have us believe?

If so, then this is especially disappointing because, among independent priests, you will be hard-pressed to find priests who have supported the SSPX as much as we have at Our Lady Help of Christians. In fact, you may recall meeting Father, now Monsignor, Patrick Perez at the historic Conference for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Society of St. Pius X. No mention, then, of Fr. Perez being a danger, even a scandal, to himself or to souls. We send our people on the SSPX retreats to both Los Gatos and Phoenix under the direction of two of the finest priests I have ever met, Fr. Jacques Emily and Fr. Trevor Burfitt. We also have tried to send our men interested in pursuing a vocation to the priesthood to Winona, only to have such men return and inform us that the seminarians, including deacons, spoke ill of us. I know better than to take such things personally, but it is still disheartening. Of course, after listening to your sermon, it is no wonder they say such things!

I hope that this is just a misunderstanding. If not, then, those of us from the outside of the SSPX have to ask ourselves if this, in fact, is part of the preparation for a merger that we keep being told is not going to happen, and yet the negotiations with Rome never seem to end.

One further example. I remember very distinctly in the year 2003, while still residing in New Jersey, receiving a book in the mail called, Priest, Where Is Thy Mass? Mass, Where Is Thy Priest, put out by the SSPX, which included the stories of first 16 priests - later a 17th priest was added - who are not members of the Society and who offered the Latin Mass exclusively. Most, if not all of them, fell under the category of "independent;" a few said Masses at SSPX chapels.

If what I have gathered from your sermon is true, Your Excellency, then each of these priests was or is a vagus with no right to any Sacramental ministry. That would mean that these priests were good enough in 2003 to be witnesses before the world, which means to stand for Tradition and against compromise with Progressivism, but, as of 2012, they are no longer in a position to even administer the Sacraments to those who ask, outside of danger of death.

Is this what you are telling us, Bishop Fellay? I cannot imagine that it is, and yet, what you have said and how you have said it may have given the impression to many that this is exactly what you are saying. I know that it has to me.

I pray that these words make an impression upon you and help you to either change your public stance on independent priests, or at least to be more clear when dealing with such a delicate issue, especially in the United States, where the independent priest situation is so prevalent, and has in fact existed from a time before the Society of St. Pius X itself was founded.

In Mary Immaculate,

Fr. Paul Sretenovic
Our Lady Help of Christians
Garden Grove, CA
Posted February 16, 2012

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