It was with a bit of chagrin that I witnessed Jim Vogel, editor of the Angelus, conduct a sham interview (the first of 3 parts - the other 2, as of today, are not yet released) with Fr. Arnaud Rostand, District Superior of the SSPX. The production value was generally superb (apart from a bit of mic trouble). They shot in HD, with music in the background and all the relevant voice-overs over action shots, and like many of my viewers have encouraged me to do over the years, did a two-camera interview, with cuts between Father and Jim. I certainly aspire to that production quality in my own work, but alas, I do not have access to the deep pockets of the US District. I also don't buy the nature of the in-house "interviews" that SSPX.org, DICI, and now, Jim Vogel, have been doing. When is a leader of any organization ever interviewed by one of his own staff? When they don't want any hard questions asked and want to control the questions and answers. In real life, in real journalism, the interviewer doesn't have a financial tie to the interviewee.
It was so odd to me. Jim is a melancholic by nature, and doesn't like to get involved in public disputes, ever, and given the nature of his job - working for the Society of St. Pius X - he has to be diplomatic, to an extent, in order to keep his job. I get that, he has a family. But for so many years he's remained silent. When a friend of his was publicly defamed, he worked behind the scenes to defend him, but never said anything publicly. When Bishop Williamson was slandered by Fr. Pfluger and Bp. Fellay, Jim said nothing publicly. But the day that Jim Vogel decides to insert himself into public discourse above and beyond his role as Editor of the Angelus? It's to help "put down the rebellion in the colonies." Only in the United States District, probably the most financially beneficial to the SSPX and the one that is arguably the staunchest, did there have to be a slick series unbelievably called, "Against the Rumors."
It was jaw-dropping. If by "Against the Rumors" Mr. Vogel means "Confirming ALL the Rumors," then certainly, this series is aptly named. Pivot after pivot after pivot has happened. And now we have always been at war with Eastasia! Let's review, shall we?
1. March 22nd: Fr. Schmidberger mandates that a communique be read from the pulpit in all SSPX churches in Germany. It softly, gently, begins to prepare people for a "deal."
3. April 20th: DICI issues a press-release condemning the "rumors". For those unfamiliar with PR tactics, a very quick lesson can be gleaned from the SSPX press machine: Deny everything, and label those discussing the issues unreliable "rumor-mongers." Most famously in the past, Bishop Fellay himself publicized a "rumor" in which he put forth that Benedict XVI celebrates the Traditional Mass privately. The Vatican put this down quickly and Bishop Fellay re-learned the trick of discrediting something by calling it a rumor. Of course, you'll never see a mea culpa for the misdirection in this press release, but how comically this reads almost two months later. Again, I repeat, this is from the SSPX's own official press machine (the whole piece deserves to be read, just for the sheer comic value, but the first three paragraphs will suffice to be quoted here):
For lack of reliable information about authenticated facts, the press is devising hypotheses about an imminent canonical recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X. Journalists are attempting to specify a time-frame and are striving to discern the reasons that Benedict XVI might have to grant a canonical status to the Society, despite the doctrinal differences recognized by both parties.The German magazine Der Spiegel, in its online edition dated April 15, 2012, claims that the pope’s decision will be communicated after his birthday (April 16): “In the Vatican’s Secretariat of State—the source of several documents that were leaked in recent months in the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ scandal—has classified the SSPX letter as secret, and the issue is being handled with the utmost discretion. It is only to be made public following the pope’s birthday celebrations.”Earlier that week, on April 13, the French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on a response received by a Roman source: “Officially, the Vatican awaits the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the Lefebvrists. As soon as it is received in Rome—‘It is a matter of days, and no longer of weeks,’ someone at the Vatican said—it will be examined ‘immediately’. If it conforms to expectations, the Holy See will very quickly announce a historic agreement….”
Notice that the entire tone frames the question as something external to the SSPX. Journalists are "devising hypotheses." There's nothing to see here, folks. All of this was dismissed. It was later revealed to all be true.
Indeed, Bishop Fellay was supposed to respond, and the time frame was correct. Even if it was off by a few days, this whole strenuous denial tactic from Menzingen was unbelievable. Those of us who knew better were not fooled. A lot of other naifs barked loudly that this was all speculation. Their barks are very, very quiet now.
4. April 20th: it is reported separately that Benedict XVI will "decide in May." In an astonishing volte-face from the Menzingen communique of a few days earlier, the German District posts a news story on its official website confirming this, even giving a date of May 20th! Against the rumors? Indeed! By confirming them!
5. May: the first pre-emptive strike against those who are "against a deal" is trotted out by one of the old guard, Fr. Michel Simoulin. Known well in Europe and by those who follow the Society closely, his "anti-88" rhetoric is irony worthy of Chaucer. Fr. Simoulin, who wrote so eloquently for the 1988 Episcopal Consecration and AGAINST a deal, is now telling everybody that was all mistaken and so much has changed. His is the first article of support blossoming forth as fruit from seeds planted at the Albano meeting. That article had been written and was waiting for the right time to be published (He would reprise this theme in June).
6. May 9th: Unsurprisingly, in the post-wikileaks world, an exchange of letters between the three other SSPX bishops and the General Council of the SSPX is revealed. Menzingen is quick to condemn the leak, citing "grave sin" but with no basis in moral theology to do so. It is not a sin to reveal a private letter, and the prose in which both of the letters is written is not just fit for bishops' correspondence, but also in the same frame/tone of correspondence of the Archbishop, a great deal of which has been made public. SSPX faithful are bewildered...is it a sin to reveal a letter concerning an exchange of ideas regarding such important things - to say nothing of the fact that the majority of the assets of the SSPX were derived at some point or another, from the contributions of the faithful?
In a tone worthy of Fox News' referring to the American President as the "Commander-in-Chief," the SSPX faithful are told that "this is not a democracy." There are a number of problems with this narrative. For one, the United States President is only the "commander-in-chief" of anyone in the US Military. That title doesn't mean anything in regards to a civilian. But it sure sounds scary! So too, laypeople were told, "this is not a democracy" (as if they are legally or morally under obedience to the Superior General: they are not) in response to the real and valid concerns of three SSPX bishops. Surely the faithful could be bullied into thinking that they were out of the loop and stupid (pay, pray, obey...people forget this movie came out in 1960), but were they now to swallow whole that three bishops were loony, and one bishop was right? That one bishop wasn't even on the Archbishop's original list to be consecrated! He had absolutely no doctrinal chops toe-to-toe with these men (all three had served as Seminary RECTORS, Bishop Fellay was never considered gifted enough to be even a short-term professor). SSPX faithful were told before that Bishop Williamson was a loon, and some bought it, but now, they had to believe that Bishop Tissier was a loon too? It was starting to be much too much for everyone.
Whatever may be the case, time has proven that this public intervention delayed a publication of an official deal by at least one month.
7. May 11th: More rumors confirmed! Fr. Alain Lorans, who has always been in charge of DICI, takes the lead on dealing with press releases. The "devising hypotheses" of the press are indeed true: a decision is expected at the end of May!
8. May 15th: Fr. Arnaud Rostand trots out his own "special letter," repeating some of the nostrums of the Menzingen response. His note, as in the Menzingen communique, fails to acknowledge that the SSPX constitutions do not really have well-planned statutes for the existence of bishops within its ranks, and also (most SSPX faithful don't know this) fails to mention that ordinarily speaking the General Council of the Society of St. Pius X consists of THE THREE OTHER BISHOPS and the Superior General and the two Assistants. Some time ago, of course, Bishop Williamson was not invited to those tea parties anymore, but only a complete ignoramus would believe that the bishops were kept out of major decisions and that things would be solely left to Bishop Fellay and two priests.
9. May 19th: My good friend Nicholas Wansbutter, who happens to be a lawyer, gets fed up with the "rumo(u)rs" trope and publishes a thorough documentation of facts. Nicholas, unlike myself, can give the perspective of an SSPX chapel attendee.
10. May 25th: Bishop Fellay gives an interview to CNS (Catholic News Service) in which he states what no self-respecting Traditional Catholic bishop has ever said in history: that the religious liberty of Dignitatis Humanae is "limited." This sticking point had inspired entire books by Michael Davies and the Archbishop and a pamphlet by Fr. Schmidberger. But all of that was to be tossed aside now for a one-minute soundbite. Surely this was madness. And surely people could see the path ahead...continuing to "intellectually" prepare people for a "deal."
11. May: Frs. Chazal and Pfeiffer (the latter reading a sermon written by his priest-brother, Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer), both from the normally well-controlled Asian District run by Fr. Daniel Couture, speak out publicly against a "deal." They are silenced. Fr. Chazal says it best when he says that the SSPX is now "having its own Vatican II."
12. May: Fr. Daniel Couture counters with a letter to the faithful in which he elliptically deals with the sermons of the above-named Fathers.
13. June 8th: Fr. Lorans reveals the ongoing cult of personality on DICI. The piece, in perfect Newspeak, is "The Virtual and the Real." Only what Bishop Fellay thinks and says is real. Everything else is virtual:
His answers, inspired by supernatural prudence, give an analysis of the situation rooted in reality.
How, Fr. Lorans, do we know he is inspired by "supernatural" prudence in this or any other matter? Shall we take your word for it? Surely he has the grace of state but there are no "supernatural guarantees" listed for that job. At least not in the Catechism of the Council of Trent.
14. June: Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais strikes back against a deal and against Bishop Fellay, both in a Trinity Sunday sermon and in an interview with a secular outlet (indeed, the interview confirms "rumors" denied by Menzingen and Fr. Rostand: that new priories can only be set up with the permission of a local diocesan bishop). Menzingen has not been so bold yet as to call him a "rumor-monger" and knows that at this juncture, he will not be silenced. What will he say tomorrow at ordinations in Winona? Be sure it will be reported almost immediately.
15. June: Bishop Williamson, in his Eleison Comments CCLVI, essentially calls for the faithful/clergy to depose Bishop Fellay, as the Archbishop called for people to depose Dom Gerard.
16. June: Bishop Fellay gives a sham interview to DICI, ostensibly to give a final resume of his case to the SSPX faithful before proceeding forward (as a side note, for those of us who have followed the SSPX for almost two decades now, this is all Bishop Fellay knows how to do: give briefings on "Rome." There are literally HUNDREDS of these conferences he has given over the years. It's always the same thing. But now the tone is different on the verge of a deal). Humorously, though, Bishop Fellay says:
No, I have had no information about any calendar whatsoever. There are even some who say that the pope will deal with this matter at Castel Gandolfo in July.
So let me get this straight, Your Excellency. You have no date, then you repeat a rumor. Seriously?
The very same week, James Vogel's Orwellian "Against the Rumors" interview with Fr. Rostand comes out. All of this is ongoing preparation for a deal. Those who howled when I said there would be a deal in April now are in two camps: "What's so bad about a deal?" (intellectually consistent with the Catholic notion of the Papacy: if a man is Pope, you obey, you don't negotiate) and "Ummmm" (deer in headlights, caught off guard because there were never any theological principles underlying their fight for Tradition, so now they are paralyzed).
17. Which brings us to today, June 14th, in which it is finally admitted (Menzingen has been outmaneuvered at every turn by leaks and by the Internet and has finally decided on full and complete disclosure instead of "condemning rumors.") that the framework of a deal, independent of the other three bishops is in his hand, and merely awaits Bishop Fellay's signature/objections. It is also admitted that for the first time ever, Bishop Fellay alone, not even among the SSPX's top ten theologians, is discussing theology with Cardinal Levada. The man who has never penned an article on any major doctrinal issue relating to the Council, "negotiating" with Rome on behalf of 500 priests and tens of thousands of faithful. Madness.
On a personal note, at least it has been revealed to me that James Vogel is willing to stand up for something publicly: his job. It is regretful that his friends have never received the benefit of his public support. Oh, Jim. But for Wales? Against the rumors. Indeed.