Brian Mershon
December 6, 2006
False ecumenism, excessive dialogue...
Fr. Fessio calls it "nonsense" and a "smokescreen"
By Brian Mershon

From the Dec. 7 issue of The Wanderer, the oldest Catholic weekly in the United States

Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., spent a few moments with The Wanderer recently to discuss Pope Benedict's first year and a half in office, and particularly his program of reinterpreting the Second Vatican Council "in light of Tradition." Fr. Fessio chose to concentrate on the Pope's passion and insistence on the importance of the sacred liturgy more than the theology of the Second Vatican Council.

Fr. Fessio referred to Pope Benedict's opening address after becoming Pope, along with his December 22, 2005 message to the Roman Curia as key highlights of his pontificate and of this past year. Fr. Fessio also noted the Pope's 2001 address at a liturgical conference at Fontgombault that he believes provides some keys for the direction the Pope plans to reorient the liturgy, the most visible sign of the Second Vatican Council.

Q. How significant do you believe the Pope's address to the Curia in December 2005 was for the outline of his pontificate that is, "the hermeneutics of reform" or what some call "continuity" versus the "hermeneutics of rupture"?

A. He repeated on December 22 what he said in his original address. His plan is to implement Vatican II in light of 2,000 years of Tradition.

He is obviously aware of the liturgical discontinuity.

At the same time, he knows that rapid changes cause consternation in the pews and in some cases, people even the leave the Church. Therefore, the modifications he might undertake most likely will be measured and well thought out.

Unfortunately for traditionalists, he fears to disturb the sensibilities of people in the pews again even if it is to correct things that were clearly mistakes. He knows that people have left the Church due to these changes before and is cautious out of concern they might do the same thing again. Those who love tradition are at a disadvantage.

However, the papal Masses from day one have been different with more chant, more polyphony, and more Latin.

Archbishop Ranjith is a very important appointment. As the secretary for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he performs more of the day-to-day tasks. I also think that the appointment of a new secretary of state is significant. He can count on Cardinal Bertone.

The Pope has reportedly already written the post-synodal exhortation and has written a motu proprio too. I don't know what is in them. But at the 2001 Fontomgbault Conference, Cardinal Ratzinger said he thought the Holy See should let the Traditional Roman rite coexist with the Novus Ordo to show continuity.

Q. In the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Moreover, I should like to remind theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical sciences that they should feel called upon to answer in the present circumstances. Indeed, the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the council's continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church."

Fr. Fessio, how do you think this applies particularly with ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and religious liberty?

A. To tell you the truth, I really don't even try to keep up with it and I think there has been and continues to be an enormous amount of nonsense in that regard. Of course we should foster dialogue. However, as a Church, we need to categorically restate that there will be no reunion with the Orthodox and other Christians unless there is a mutual acceptance of the primary beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church such as those on Mary, the primacy and authority of the papacy, etc.

How can there be unity with anybody except with those who accept those beliefs?

We can talk about lots of things justification for instance with the Lutherans. But what else? Where has it gotten us? Of course, when dialogue promotes mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration on causes that all Christians should accept such as the defense of the unborn, the integrity of marriage and the family that is valuable.

But there can't be a "reunion of Christians" on anything else than a shared faith; and the fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith are not negotiable. Congregationalists will have to accept priests, Presbyterians bishops, Episcopalians the Pope.

I think the whole thing is a big smokescreen if the intent is the reunion of Christians. We've made absolutely no progress on that front except for maybe the Armenian Christians. Are we closer to the Anglicans now that they've ordained women and practicing homosexuals?

With the Muslims, we need to say what we believe. If it's really going to be religious dialogue, then we have to point out that both religions make truth claims and some are incompatible. Jesus can't be the Son of God and Mohammed His prophet, since Mohammed denies what Jesus claimed to be.

Q. With the public protest by the French bishops and priests against the supposedly imminent document freeing the Traditional Latin Mass, do you personally believe this document will be issued? Do you have any predictions as to when?

A. I know through a person the Holy Father had spoken to that by September 10, he had written it, and it was in its third draft. I hope he recognizes in this resistance a reason for being clear and firm in the motu proprio.

He is a gentleman though, so it might affect him. He should know this is going to be a big issue with some of the bishops, but I hope that is not a deterrent.

The only people who seem to object are feminists and liberal bishops.

I hope the response is gentle firmness, but with no adjustments to the motu proprio.

Q. What do you expect to see from the post-synod document? Any more fixes for the Novus Ordo? Encouraging ad orientem celebrations, more Latin, and maybe Gregorian chant?

A. I am hoping these will be in one or both of the two documents, but I have no knowledge whether or not this is the case.

There is some hope that with the Bertone appointment, who is someone he knows well, will support him with his positions.

A New Label

Please clarify for our readers your personal view on the Traditional Latin Mass. Would you offer it if it is freed up by the Pope for all Latin rite priests?

A. I don't like calling it the "Traditional Latin Mass" because I think the way I celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass is traditional. I've been thinking about trying to introduce a new label: the Vetus [Editor's Note: "old"] Ordo. I have objections to both the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo as they are at present. I think it is normal for there to be gradual, organic change in the Mass. Vatican II called for this, but it was hijacked. The Novus Ordo goes beyond the kind of development both liturgical history and Vatican II sanction.

Because I'm a priest, I don't have the most critical problem facing a layman: uncertainty about how Mass will be celebrated, unless one attends a Vetus Ordo Mass. So I have always preferred the lonely moderate position of celebrating the Novus Ordo in the most traditional manner.

Q. If the Traditional rite is freed, would you offer it publicly and daily/weekly at Ave Maria University?

A. As to what will happen at Ave Maria University, that depends on a number of factors: what the motu proprio permits or encourages; what the university community desires; and what those in charge decide. I'm not the one responsible for the liturgy at Ave Maria University.

© Brian Mershon


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Brian Mershon

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective... (more)


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