SSPX Head Apologizes

Bishop Bernard Fellay
Bishop Bernard Fellay (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, has apologized to Pope Benedict XVI for the controversial Holocaust-denying remarks of another SSPX bishop.

Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four SSPX bishops to have their excommunications lifted last week by the Pope, made the comments in an interview aired in mid-January on Swedish TV.

Here is the text of Bishop Fellay’s Jan. 27 statement, as translated from Italian by the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, Jr.:

“We have become aware of an interview released by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Fraternity of St. Pius X, to Swedish television. In this interview, he expressed himself on historical questions, and in particular on the question of the genocide against the Jews carried out by the Nazis.

“It’s clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on questions that regard faith and morals. Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, expressed in the dogmas of the faith. It’s for this reason that we are known, accepted and respected in the entire world.

“It’s with great sadness that we recognize the extent to which the violation of this mandate has done damage to our mission. The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity. For this reason I have prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions.

“We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission.

“This is something we cannot accept, and we declare that we will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to administer the sacraments of grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

At his general audience today at the Vatican, the Pope said he lifted the SSPX excommunications in hopes of fostering unity with the Society of St. Pius X, which opposes the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical reforms and some other aspects of the Council.

“I undertook this act of paternal mercy because these prelates had repeatedly manifested to me their deep pain at the situation in which they had come to find themselves,” the Holy Father said. “I hope my gesture is followed by the hoped-for commitment on their part to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council.”