This year I have spent some time going through the work I did with Father Anthony Cekada, in part in preparation for the next volume of The Anti-Modernist Reader, due out later this year, and in part in nostalgia for all the projects we had worked on.
One of those projects was an interview I did with Bishop Daniel Dolan in 2008. For those who primarily know True Restoration through our radio apostolate, Restoration Radio, the idea of long-form audio interviews that I then transcribed might seem unusual, but it was part of the early iterations of what I was trying to do with True Restoration: get to the bottom of the story of how we had come to where we were since 1958. This project begin in 2006 and led to interviews with Bishops Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Donald Sanborn. In 2008 I had just come to sedevacantism and was still an opinionist (I was cured of that by 2010), and for various reasons didn't end up publishing this interview.
As I recently looked over all the edits that Fr. Cekada had made to the text (correcting dates, names, adding things that the Bishop had forgotten about) I realized that even though the interview itself is thirteen years old now, the important information it contains (which I take for granted) is still not widely known, particularly among a new generation of Recognize and Resist laypeople (and clergy!). Bishop Dolan and I hardly knew each other when I did this interview so many years ago. Yet while he and I have changed in some of our ways and gotten to know each much better (and done a lot of work together), what he has to say on all the topics we covered in this wide-ranging interview hasn't changed and is important for anyone willing to learn the truths about the last 40 years.
It's over 10,000 words and 20+ pages if you print it out to read. Have a seat and prepare to learn more about Traditional Catholicism, Archbishop Lefebvre, and the SSPX, from one who was there from almost the beginning. Where I thought it would be helpful, I have inserted links to Restoration Radio episodes, TraditionalMass.org articles, and Youtube videos that cover related topics.
Stephen Heiner: Your Excellency, this year (2008 - SH) is the 33rd anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood at the hands of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. What is your perspective on the split in 1983, in the light of all these years gone by?
(For added information: a Restoration Radio episode on this topic featuring Bishops Dolan and Sanborn and Fr. Cekada -SH)
Bishop Dolan: Well, of course we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our expulsion — auto-expulsion I think they said at the time — with some champagne. I am profoundly grateful that it happened. I remember at the time, however, being worried about scandal. Whenever there is anything like this, as when the Society of St. Pius V priests went one way and we went the other, I am worried about scandal, because I know that people can only take so much, and that they are doing their best. And honestly, some things seem very technical to them. So, that troubled me and it still does trouble me.
A.N. Wilson has a very interesting quote about how when one gets into a religious controversy it becomes very difficult to explain it to anyone from the outside. Controversies do indeed seem to become arcane, and take on lives of their own. That is a negative, and perhaps the only negative to be seen in all of this. It was time for a parting of the ways because Archbishop Lefebvre had parted from the way. I think the Holy Ghost did inspire him from time to time in his life since the end of Vatican II. One of those times was the resisting of Paul VI, the ordination of my class — the 12 priests — that led to his suspension, and some of the good, strong, clear, logical statements he made in the few months after that. That was a very good thing. But aside from that, when he gave into the side of diplomacy, and the side of the sycophants who surrounded him, trying to please people — men rather than God — it was time simply for a parting of the ways. I mean, how could you possibly compromise the sanctity and validity of the sacraments? We had to leave, and thank God that we did.
You know, another thought: when we were speaking earlier you spoke about the accusation that sedevacantism is sterile. Well another consideration is that when you band together in some kind of fairly tight organization to create a parallel church of your very own, you have a lot of advantages on the human level. You can move your troops around, you can form them, and you can discipline them…I mean, how many times have people told me over the years — the attraction of the Society of St. Pius is that it’s everywhere, they have a whole system, etc. There’s a group of lay sedevacantists who are just in awe of the Society, partly because of that. They see this as just really solid, good fruit. I don’t see that at all. I see it as a very understandable, human phenomenon. But I tell you that what comes on the other side of that, what we see with the Society, I sometimes think, “My goodness, they are awfully cultish, cult-like.”
When I was in France, in July (the interview was in August -SH), they asked me what I thought of the latest proposed “deal” between the Society and Ratzinger — with the “ultimatum” and the letter. I replied, “In any case, they’re very sectaire, they have a cult-like spirit.” (this word has a connotation in France that doesn't translate well into the American idiom -SH) A woman standing nearby interjected that she thought that statement was a bit strong. But I think that’s true, it’s absolutely true. That’s the other side of it. Any big organization really exists to exist. That’s a fact of life. That’s a large explanation of the horrible scandals of the clergy in the Conciliar Church, and that’s an explanation of a lot of what goes on in the Society. There’s this whole idea in the SSPX seminary system of forming worker ants, young men who are really trained not to think. They are not given Catholic principles from which to act, they are given the Society principles.
To be away from the Society and that kind of big organization is a good thing. Frankly, you have to ask yourself, “Does God want that today? Does he want this kind of parallel church?” The Society has certainly become this — Rome talks about it, they acknowledge it. They claim — well, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais does anyway, that what they call the "Conciliar Church" is the parallel church. I mean, the Novus Ordo sect is certainly a false religion, but so is the Society, for that matter. No, I think a good explanation is that the Church is really being eclipsed in our day and Cardinal’s Pie’s prophecy is very near to coming true: “The day will come when the Church will be reduced to domestic proportions.” I don’t think that sort of big, worldwide, powerful organization at this time is of God, and this over and above the doctrinal considerations or the considerations of the validity of the sacraments.
But in illo tempore, you were part of that big, global organization, you were the American branch of that organization…and it must have been hard…this was the man who gave you your priesthood, you were younger…what did it feel like to sit across the table from him and realize it was ending, and that you knew it was ending…was it troubling for you?
(For added information: a Restoration Radio episode on remembrances of Archbishop Lefebvre himself, from two priests he ordained. -SH)
Well, it was a resolution. I always had a troubling relationship with Archbishop Lefebvre. It was never a comfortable one. Part of the difficulty that Bishop Tissier refers to in his book (a biography of the Archbishop -SH) was this totally different mentality that we Americans had — that Frs. Kelly, Sanborn, Cekada, myself had — that we brought to Econe with us. I never felt at home with him. I acknowledge him as, and I benefited from him, being truly fatherly in one sense, but on the other hand, we were never on the same page. Part of it was an American cultural kind of thing, what Tissier marvels at — this sort of blending of a very relaxed, casual American approach to life — things that would bother the French terribly much — along with this very strict, uncompromising, dogmatic approach to doctrine and the liturgy. Part of the problem that we had at Econe was the tension we had with Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers from the get-go was the fact that we were in a “bad position,” We knew the Catholic Church before Econe. Bishop Williamson, you see, was in a perfect position. He knew nothing except what Econe would give him. That’s what made all the difference in the world.
You were ordained in ’76…
Yes, ’76, correct. A good number of the French students in that class (and Fr. Cekada’s class in 1977) were sent to Econe by their fathers. They thought this would be a good place for their sons to get an education —maybe they have vocations to the priesthood. For me, being over there was a real education — I really learned about La France — this whole different world, and attitude and all the rest. But, nobody knew an awful lot about the Church and nobody cared. That was one part of the conflict.
Another very important point of conflict was this whole crazy Jansenistic attitude that they had not only towards a normal life (such as the creature comforts of life: bathing, using deodorant, things like that, which they would spurn as worldly) but also there was this whole unresolved angst about the glories of Catholicism. I don’t think that many of those Frenchmen — not Archbishop Lefebvre — but many of those Frenchmen are not comfortable in their own skin. They really have some problems there, so there was this desire to be disembodied and they viewed that as their spirituality. Looking back on it now I laugh to a certain degree. Most of the English-speakers, especially the older ones who knew the old Church, wanted to have all the glories of the ecclesiastical state — the frippery and millinery, and the fringes, and the buttons and the capes, and the Roman hats, and buckles — because we thought it was glorious. It was all part of the “triumphalist” Church, the Church we knew and remembered…
Do you attribute this to perhaps the Revolution stamping out Catholicism in France and wanting to make everything secular — a needing to blend in maybe?
(For added information: episodes that Bp. Dolan and I recorded on the French Revolution, Parts One and Two and a talk I gave to Restoration Radio Annual Members on the timeline of the Revolution. -SH)
No, because they insisted on wearing the cassock everywhere they went, which we found weird, as well. The war was certainly lost in France and a sectarian mentality was sort of a legacy for the Catholics that were left over who had not gone to the left. An old traditionalist abbé told Bishop Sanborn and me that the war was lost in France between the World Wars, and that’s when the left gained the ascendancy in France, so the Catholics were a minority party from the very beginning of the conflict. There was a spirit of bleakness about the way the French Ecôners viewed the altar and the Mass and all the glories of Catholicism — ceremony, ritual, rubrics, everything. They spurned it. Theirs was going to be a pure, spiritual, disembodied, type of Catholicism. We would call it Jansenistic. This created enormous tension and enormous discomfort. Then came the Vatican’s canonical visitation of the Society and the suppression of the Society — and then the dogmatic issues came up. We had already gotten into the liturgical issues. I remember…let me give you an example of why leaving the Society was a happy resolution.
I remember my first night in Econe and thinking, “Well here I am finally, and this is going to be it. This is the real McCoy and how nice —after making all those compromises in a Novus Ordo conservative monastery which still had most of the liturgy in Latin — how nice to have ‘the real thing’ again…” But I remembered how bleak the service of Compline was, just in comparison with the Cistercian monastery I had just left. And the next day I thought that maybe the Office wasn’t done so well, but after all you’ll finally get to go to a real Tridentine Mass every morning. I was deçu — deceived. There was a horrible mishmash of the Mass, and that lackadaisical attitude — because they really didn’t care…it was a bit like something they “had to do.” It was this sort of anti-liturgical spirit which stamps the Society to this very day and hour. This whole compromise with Modernism, the crazy way they said Mass — there was no Judica Me, there were two lecterns for the readings set up facing the people. It was like the Novus Ordo. The priest would go up and kiss the altar, then he would do the first part of the Mass from the sedilla, and then he would travel over to one lectern and read the Epistle, and then say the Munda Cor at the altar step, and then go over to another lectern to say the Gospel. That’s how Mass was done during the entire time of my seminary. It was ridiculous.
So this was four years…
Four years of that, yes.
But you must have complained?
We learned to keep our mouths shut. We didn’t want to be expelled.
Who was in charge of the liturgy at Econe?
Archbishop Lefebvre and Chanoine Berthod, who was the Rector of the Seminary during most of the time I was there. The rules that they followed — you see the same attitude with the Society regarding canon law — were the rules that they wanted to follow. I remember Emmanuel du Chalard telling us, “Well this is how it was done in the cathedrals of France.” He was very proud of the fact that he was from Chartres. He was an MC there growing up. The Ecône liturgy was a combination of “how we did it in France” and the last liturgical changes before the Novus Ordo. That was their world. Perhaps it took them some time to evolve out of it, but they were so nasty about it, so close-minded. They were contemptuous about the liturgy.
Father Cekada has a story about meeting Fr. Williamson when he came over to be our supervisor in 1982, just before our expulsion. Fr. Cekada arrived at the Staten Island chapel when Fr. Williamson was saying Mass, and he was saying it so quickly and so irreverently and so carelessly, disregarding the rubrics, that Fr. Cekada got disgusted and went out to wait in the car. This is the man that Lefebvre was going to impose on us. That’s a real part of the Society nobody ever talks about. Nobody ever acknowledges it. That’s our history. That was the spirit that created this huge spirit of tension, before we would even begin to talk about whether or not there was a Pope on the Seat of Peter.
I’ve alluded to earlier that you’ve been called thieves and disobedient and proud and sterile. Where do these charges stem from? How would you contextualize that? Are you proud? Are you thieves?
(For added information: Father Cekada answered the long-simmering charges of "theft" in this article. It has never been answered. -SH)
Thieves, no. But I think you can say we’re all proud. For us in the traditional movement, our strengths are our weaknesses. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end, if we live to see a restoration, God willing, that we would all be packed off to a monastery to do penance for the rest of our days. And we would be well served by it and we would probably deserve it. Our strengths are our weaknesses. The only reason we have what we have today is because we are all very independent-minded, self-assured, characters. Characters — strong personalities. The other ones, they are the ones who became the good foot soldiers at Econe. They survived all the purges, and are no doubt still bearing their spears for their Great Leader even as we speak. But we thought. We studied. We remembered how it was done in the old days. We didn’t get our Catholicism from Lefebvre or Econe; we had it already. We thought he was going to help us maintain it, but he started to water it down in essential matters — we are talking about doctrine, the sacraments and the liturgy. Everything else was sort of secondary — it’s this sort of pietistic sop they produce at Econe, this velvet glove they use, to cover up everything, all these pious-sounding phrases like “we’re so humble, and we’re so fruitful, etc.” That’s just a way for them to cover the iron fist of the small oligarchy and whatever they’ve determined to be the policy of the day.
About piety I wanted to mention too — I thought it was so strange at Econe that they had this weird system — they had Fr. Barielle, who had been a very good priest and who was a pious man, this kind of sweet person. He was the one on the faculty who was in charge of being pious. And all the rest of the professors were not especially pious, not at all. Nobody, with few exceptions — Archbishop Lefebvre and one or two of the professors — ever showed any kindness. They were not a kind group of people. They were French, and the French do tend to be a bit ruthless sometimes. Lefebvre was not that way, he was a very kind man. There was a Benedictine on the faculty — Dom Edouard Guillou — and when we got word a few years ago that he had died, Fr. Cekada said, “Oh, he was the only one who was ever kind to me at Econe.” And that’s sad, isn’t it? They weren’t kind, they weren’t fatherly. There was one man who was more or less in charge of being pious, and the rest went about their business in a ruthless sort of way.
They were supposed to be a fraternity, after all. They were supposed to be a fraternity of priests and they talk all the time about two things: the Mass and their spirituality of the Mass — show me their spirituality of the Mass! By the dirty linens they use, by the irreverent, quick, sloppy way they said Mass, with a contempt for the rubrics? Show me their spirituality of the Mass! And the other thing was that they were supposed to be a fraternity of priests who would help and assist each other. The Society of St. Pius X, like many French institutions, is run by the way of denunciation. It’s in their blood. Everybody denounces everybody else, and nobody is too sure in his own boots. When the Society got rid of us they were going to make awfully sure of that.
I remember going to the local Pius X chapel when Archbishop Lefebvre died to pay my respects, and one of their priests was saying Mass. I had never seen a young Society priest in action before and I was appalled at the way he preached. He had no confidence at all in his words. And the whole time he kept looking over his shoulders — Bishop Williamson had a similar tic. It was almost as though this young priest expected Williamson or someone else to be behind him. He would have to weigh each word otherwise he might get into trouble for what he said. I think the Society forms and trains priests that way, I really do. There is very little that we ever saw in the way of a genuine, fraternal spirit. There was very little in the way of charity. Archbishop Lefebvre overflowed with it, but he was never successful in communicating that to any of his priests. Those are two other reasons for being well rid of the Society. For all of my human faults, I freely admit to them. God does use our faults, however, and as I said, our strengths are our weaknesses.
Let me go back to the pastiche Mass you talked about? What Missal was being used?
It was technically the John XXIII missal, but they were actually using the Missal, mostly, of Paul VI.
So, the 1967?
So, no prayers at the Foot?
No, they would say them…
So they inserted them?
Yes, see that’s the point, we didn’t follow a Missal. They used to drive us crazy. That was my complaint to the Archbishop in April 1983. He said that something would be from John XXIII, and some from Pius X, and some from Paul VI, and some from nobody — in other words there would be no set of rubrics or regulations to follow. I said to him “Well, who gave you the right to determine the liturgy of the Roman Church?” He was shocked that I would be so bold as to say that. But I felt it with all my heart and my soul, and I would say it again to him today.
What did he say to that?
He was too shocked to say anything, and Schmidberger and Williamson went white.
What Holy Week were you using in Econe?
It was mostly Pius XII, with the Paul VI changes in the Mass, but for some reason, because they did it that way in France, they had part of the old Palm Sunday service — the Gloria, Laus, et Honor, and the knocking at the door with the cross, because they liked that. So it was okay to do that because they liked it. There was no sense to it.
(Such practices continue to the present day: the SSPX inserts the door knocking on Palm Sunday from the pre-1955 Holy Week into the effectively Novus Ordo 1962 Holy Week they use. -SH)
So after you were ordained and you came back here, you must have thought, well that’s fine for them over there in France but here in America we are going to do it right.
Well, amongst ourselves we certainly agreed that we were going to follow the Pius X Missal, Breviary, etc. No question.
So the Society seminarians here in America never knew anything different?
No they didn’t. And, interesting to point out — until liturgy became a vehicle of reconciliation with the One World Church under Wojtyla, liturgy was not really important. Archbishop Lefebvre and the rest all agreed when we had a sort of Society “proto-chapter” in 1976 that each nationality would follow its own customs, and so for England and the United States, we would use the old rubrics. And Archbishop Lefebvre told us almost apologetically, “Well, in France, what are you going to do? They have already done all these things, but if we could get everyone to give up the Paul VI and at least go to John XXIII, it would be progress.”
And you agreed, that would be some kind of progress…
Yes, it would have been. The first priest ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre after the Council was a converted Anglican, Fr. Morgan, who had a big influence on me in many respects. He was the one who initiated, at least in the English-speaking world, the idea of the “Society priest” traveling from place to place and having “Mass centers.” And he would use the Pius X liturgy. As a seminarian I looked up to him, because he was a Dickensian character, really. He was right out of one of the novels — he was huge, enjoyed the pleasures of the table, would say lots of funny things, and was a great guy overall. As far as sedevacantism goes, it was Fr. Morgan and Fr. Barbara who were my two biggest influences. What I sought was a way to understand how to reconcile the evil of the changes with the teaching on the Church’s universal ordinary Magisterium and her infallibility. It is impossible that the Church would give us evil, so all of these changes did not come from the Catholic Church; it came from a false religion. When Lefebvre said that, I thought: “Bingo! Now we have an understanding.” It was great because I had been a known non-una cum sedevacantist since Christmas 1973.
(For added information: Fr. Cekada's Grain of Incense article, which was one of the lynchpins for my abandonment of the opinionist position. -SH)
This Fr. Morgan had a position of authority within the Society? And he was a known sedevacantist?
Yes, oh yes. He was the first District Superior of England. He was the first to really develop the sedevacantist world/church view — Mass centers (ignoring the local bishop), preaching sedevacantism. Lefebvre, on the other hand, was still attempting to negotiate settlements for the incardinations of his clerics. Fr. Kelly, for example, was incardinated into the diocese of Siguenza-Guadalajara in Spain, because the archbishop found a sympathetic bishop there.
The Archbishop went around finding these bishops?
Yes. He was still thinking in terms of finding bishops. We were supposed to teach at the diocesan seminary maybe, or maybe have a religious house there. At one point, he had the attitude that Ratzinger had now with the Motu —we’ll “influence” them.
You’d be a “leaven.”
Right, we’d be a leaven in the loaf. Quite. But while he was doing that, Fr. Morgan was doing the whole nine yards, he was doing everything as it should be done. He was proven right in time because then the suppression came; then the Society priests began doing the same thing he had done when they were out. All the old war horses did the same thing, Pére Vincent, Fr. Barbara. They had a circuit. But they weren’t Society priests. The Society priests didn’t really know what to do. They were kind of waiting for directions and ideas. But Fr. Morgan knew what to do, and that’s what I emulated when I moved to America. I had spent a few months with Fr. Morgan in England and would have very happily stayed, but Fr. Anthony Ward left the Society from Armada and moved with most of his seminarians to Colorado Springs. Fr. Sanborn and Fr. Kelly were otherwise engaged — Fr. Sanborn had to go pick up the pieces of what was left in Detroit and other places. I returned to the United States in 1977. I wanted to follow Fr. Morgan’s ways.
When I was a seminarian, I remember telling my spiritual director, Fr. Urban Snyder, that because I had only recently left the contemplative monastic life (I had, like him, been a Cistercian), I didn’t really like traveling around, and that I didn’t think that was a good idea. He thought that staying in one place was a good idea, as did I. Imagine my surprise, I ended up traveling all over the country. But I was never conscious of claiming the territory for “the Society.” It wasn’t under the Society’s banner; I wasn’t giving the Society’s explanations. Everyone knew and revered Lefebvre of course, and we tried to interpret a Catholic side of Lefebvre to our people, but this wasn’t a “Society” movement. That's been the problem to this day. This was supposed to be a Catholic movement. We wanted to be Catholic and help as many souls as we could in this horrible crisis in the Church to save their souls. That’s all. We weren’t interested in promoting the Society, establishing “beachheads” for the Society —with its constant changes in position and all of that. No! We wanted to be Catholic. And when we could no longer be Catholic with the Society, I guess we had to be Catholic without the Society. So there was never really a strong identification with the Society. But the Society was evolving in how it viewed itself.
You said that your strengths are your weaknesses, Your Excellency. Some would say that something that speaks against you is the fact that over the years the original “Nine” have splintered themselves into different groups. Why has there always been all this trouble with the SSPV and you?
That speaks a little to the dynamic of what you see in the St. Pius X Society and what you see in many of the small traditionalist splinter groups — Fr. Anthony Ward is a good example of that — I call them “the peas in the pod.” These are peas which, if you get them under your mattress, don’t really let you sleep well at night. Personalities, politics, power, and sometimes, psychoses.
If you want to know why there are divisions in the traditional movement today, over and above the clear delineation of doctrine — remember, for example, that the Society of St. Pius V has never really evolved from its early “opinionist” stance. They are “opinionist” in the same way that the SSPX is anti-liturgical. That is to say, there is a certain contempt for clear doctrine on these questions, because for them what’s really important is following the Leader, Bp. Kelly — Chairman Kelly, the Genius of the Catskills, as Fr. Cekada calls him. It’s become a personality cult. It was moving in that direction for a long time…the foundation of his nuns, the Daughters of Mary, was an important part of that. Fr. Kelly’s nuns were trained to have this untrammeled devotion to the Founder. It’s either a contempt for, or a dismissal of, doctrine.
Going back to the SSPX, I remember being troubled by the dog-and-pony show of the General Chapter. I was the last one in the door — I was there because of seniority — there had to be a certain number. I remember thinking, as certain issues were brought up, why doesn’t somebody study these things? Why don’t we look it up? No one was interested in looking it up or studying anything. The standard-issue French intellectual might say “let us do an étude” — a study — but these French were not interested in doing an étude. What they were interested in doing an étude about was Monsigneur — Archbishop Lefebvre. How did he feel? What was his position — today? What were the politics in Rome? What were the internal politics in our own Society? That was all that mattered. No one ever wanted to study this stuff until Frs. Sanborn and Cekada came on the scene, to a large measure self-educated men, who had the discipline, the intellectual curiosity, and the faith, to open the books. What do the authors say?
That was always our attitude about things. We wanted to follow the rubrics. We wanted to follow a pure Catholic liturgy: let’s look things up. The real Ecôners weren’t interested in that, we were. How should we view the papacy, how should we view these new doctrines? Well, let’s look it up. What about marriage annulments, what about the changes in the forms of the sacraments? Well, let’s look it up. Ecôners weren’t interested in doing that. Theirs was a purely existential politic of the moment. We need to do this, because of that. Constant crisis management — that’s the Society.
Bp. Kelly, a little bit the same way. He surrounds himself with a far more open personality cult. So, because they have a personality cult, there’s an unspoken understanding that, for the rest, you can’t ask too much of people. So, on many points, they would come across as somewhat lax in comparison to St. Gertrude’s — our praxis — like the dress code, things like that. Also the question of the Pope. The St. Pius V Society does that on the one hand, because to them those are not important issues. The important issue is to follow the Leader, and condemn us, the whole Thuc business. Over the years they’ve written next to nothing on the big issues in the Church, but on their website, they’ve posted a whole book against Thuc. But the other reason they are lax on some things is the same reason you have a recreation period in a seminary. You can’t maintain the pressure all the time — you must let go of the bow or you will never shoot the arrow straight. So they relax a lot of things because of the one, essential thing — the unum necessarium — following the Leader. There’s an internal conflict now between Bp. Kelly and Fr. Jenkins and they use us as a common enemy and distraction to make others not see the internal incoherence, divisions and weirdness. The force of having a common enemy is really strong and binding.
The whole idea of “We want a Pope, but our own version of the Pope.”
A Pope in our own image and likeness…
Yes, that’s right. So it’s a success formula. There’s a received wisdom of the average Joe in the Pew for “traditionalism.” Pius X Society has always aimed its arrows at just such a Joe, and they get them successfully. Once they get them, they try, à la Williamson, to form them to follow the Society. We don’t “get” people that way because we don’t set out to play to the common prejudice. What makes us different and has caused us enormous grief over the years is that we were all taught by the nuns in the old days to “look it up” and we still do.
For some of them you have the impression — Bp. Kelly does this for example — that on any disputed issue, you start with your conclusion, look in the index of a book (English only), choose one citation that you tailor to your conclusion, and as for the rest, there is no use for them. The idea of a real, classic education, and a systematic approach, the Society and Bp. Kelly’s group don’t use such a thing, because they aren’t interested in it.
Pius X and Pius V Societies are not societies for thinkers. They are for followers of the popular party line. You have to play to two or three base prejudices and keep them happy, give them what they want, and you got ‘em. That’s the story of their success.
I do think that their time has passed. They will get more than a run for their money because of the Motu Mass and the Motu mentality. Ratzinger is very smart, he’s even smarter than Wojtyla. He can appeal to the common prejudice far more effectively than the Lefebvrists of today. The only thing that stands in Ratzinger’s way is the old Stalinist hardliners in the hierarchy of France and the United States today. They just despise the Mass and anything that savors of Catholicism. They will use every means at their disposal to purge anyone with even a vague lingering sense of Catholicism. But, the wave of the future is the Motu Mass and mentality within the One World Church. Get everyone in and it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you get to worship the way you want to worship. Good feelings from nice worship, but no dogma allowed. Consumer religion. Brilliant. They will eventually win the day, the SSPX will eventually shrivel into a small but respectable petite eglise, I feel.
This is because the average Joe that they aimed for is now going to be in someone else’s pew. They can go down to see young Fr. Jim, who is nice and kind and really likes to say the old Latin Mass and he’s got all the old devotions going again. The SSPX has never given them any doctrinal formation — unto this very day and hour. If you follow the Society line to its logical conclusion, of course you’d end up in the Motu pew.
You talked about the Ps…but psychosis?
There are and always have been men and women in leadership positions, laypeople too, in the churches, the convents, the seminaries, who are emotionally unbalanced. Sometimes one can for a number of reasons and in a number of ways, mask those emotional problems and function pretty well. Sometimes you might say, adapting that sign you sometimes see in offices, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a member of this group, but it helps.”
In my experience these sorts of people who have been prominent leaders in the Traditional movement have been bipolar. Being bipolar in the Traditional movement is, in some worldly sense, a terrific advantage. When you’re up you’re up, you can do anything, you can walk on water, there’s nothing you can’t do. You give yourself 130% to your people and your projects. But when you’re down, then you’re really down — Father’s got to go away for a rest, or Sister has to get on meds. A lot of the problems, as in any human society, are simply human problems. Someone might have an anger issue, someone might be very immature, or someone’s bipolar. That causes a lot of grief and suffering. I’ve seen a lot of that over the years.
The Pius X Society was supposed to be a fraternity of priests. There was a classmate of mine who was ordained with me. I still have his holy card in my breviary. His name was Christian Chenevier… he had mental problems and soon after his ordination he came to the United States and worked with Fr. Kelly and myself. He then went back to France — to Dijon — and he finally had a full-blown breakdown and ended up at a clinic somewhere in France. And because he couldn’t report to the Fraternity priory where they wanted him to go, because he was still in a bad way emotionally — the Society refused to pay his medical expenses. So his poor widow mother had to sue Lefebvre and the Society for the bill to be paid. I think they settled right before it came to court. I was profoundly scandalized by that. That’s another side of Lefebvre — the institutional…
What was the reason given for not paying the medical expenses?
Because he wouldn’t report to the priory that they told him to report to. But he was their priest, and they wouldn’t take responsibility for him! They did the same classic thing that the Conciliar gentlemen do. They would give a young priest just enough rope to hang himself with. If he had personal problems, they would transfer him from one place to another. Where’s the prudence, where’s the common sense, where’s the charity? You’d send him someplace where he could get some help or you would provide some kind of a context for him to get better and for him to be watched. And/or you would tell him he’s not meant to be a priest, depending on each case, of course. And you would make a decent, just (according to canon law) provision for his living — that would be your duty. You ordained him. Lefebvre never had any sense of that. We had all the duty on our side to obey him.
He and the Society ran an organization unlike any organization that the Catholic Church has ever known. The members have no rights, only obligations. The leadership has no obligations, only rights. It is a perverse twisting of the proper relationship. And it is profoundly unjust and uncharitable. And there are many, many, many priests who have run afoul of the Society and have left, just along those lines. So it is not charitable. They don’t help out sick priests. They don’t help out priests in any difficulty. They are profoundly uncharitable. They are Stalinist. I suppose that’s a pretty good comparison. Lefebvre had a Stalinist side. I’ve seen that in action too.
(the SSPX has never denied that almost 50% of the priests they have ever ordained have left or been expelled -SH)
Now, I want to retrace our steps a bit, and I don’t want to delve too deeply here, but one of the things that bothers me as a Catholic, when defending the Faith against ad hominem attacks — is this issue of sexual abuse. We don’t even get to talk about issues of the Faith because they are concerned about this epidemic of pedophiles. I say that I think it was a bad policy and badly managed and all that, but I wonder myself, was the policy in place for a long time? And because we, as Catholics, were in power, no one ever found out about it? Two, three hundred years ago, did we tell people they couldn’t come to Communion on Sunday if they took the Church to court? Is this a long-standing disease that is not tied to Vatican II, but stretches back much longer?
It only got worse after Vatican II, because after the era of the Revolution, you could hear the shackles falling off everybody in ’68. It was this horrible movement of the flesh, that’s how I would describe it. Join that with a lack of genuine spirituality or love of Our Lady or the Blessed Sacrament, innocent souls were swept away in an instant. That’s a large measure of what happened. The bishops were mostly businessmen and time-servers. You could make a comparison between how the diocesan structures operated before Vatican II and how the SSPX operates. Remember that the main purpose of an organization is to maintain the organization. That’s what motivated them all the way through and there were lots of little people who always got crushed.
There’s a profound shame one feels as a Catholic to hear such things…
Yes, I know. Why would you do that? If you think the guy can be salvaged and fixed, fine, but you have to take responsibility for him. But usually, these men need to not be priests — but still, even then, you have to provide for them. You ordained this fellow — maybe you looked the other way when something was going on…
Turning to another topic, my experience has been with a lot of the old guard of SSPX, and of course, Bishop Williamson, you know that I’ve published books of his…
(For added information: Fr. Cekada's article on Bishop Williamson's mentevacantist theory. It has never been answered and Bishop Williamson personally told me that he was not able to answer it. -SH)
Oh, well, yes, those are some who have managed to survive.
Well, they have been exiled…
Well, that’s true, but Williamson still has his voice. Not so much the others. Had another Williamson entered 10-15 years ago, he would have never made it. He would have been expelled. The Society has no room for men like him — men with their own character. They want boys whom they can form who will not question…but the danger with that system is more often than not, it does not take. That’s why they lose so many.
What doesn’t take?
Formation. Spirituality. Whatever they get is purely on the surface, it doesn’t penetrate to the soul, I don’t think. They don’t form characters, they form young men who are still boys and are afraid.
Your Excellency, let's talk about your formation. You have united within yourself, two lines of episcopacy — Archbishop Lefebvre and Archbishop Thuc. We’ve talked a lot about Archbishop Lefebvre, let's talk about Archbishop Thuc — doubts, fears, your and Fr. Cekada’s investigation…describe your thought process, describe how we got to your consecration.
Well it is incredible to me that to this day, we are criticized by sedevacantists because we changed our position. But that’s the point. Of course you change your position — to grow is to change — but that’s not liberal, that’s normal, that’s human, and that’s Catholic. In other words, we came up in our priesthood with certain common prejudices — there were rumors and other secondhand stories and the rest of it and at some point we decided to look it up! We went to talk to the people who were really involved in this and to investigate what the Church had to say about it. And it was a totally different story from what we had heard. Of course we changed our position.
But it was a convenient change of position, no?
Whether or not it was convenient, it was correct. That may be facile, but it’s non ad rem. Was it true or not? That we went from error to truth? That should be the question. Honestly, Stephen, you have to have a predisposition to say you were wrong. And a lot of priests, maybe, feel extremely threatened by that. But we believe in the forgiveness of sins in our Church and we are always trying to move from error to truth. The question is to discover the truth and to follow it. Catholic Truth. Look it up. So you find out what the Church’s attitude towards all this stuff was, as Fr. Cekada was endeavoring to do, and then you find out what’s really going on with the men involved.
But, back to our previous point. From a personal point of view, I feel unworthy to be a spiritual descendant of these two great Archbishops. Each man was very holy, if not heroically holy, in his own right. And to me, personally, severely edifying. I can look back at some things, and I do often, on some things I saw Archbishop Lefebvre do, or heard him say, or that I knew about Archbishop Thuc and his life, and for me it's an edification and a reproach. I think I should be more like that. I could meditate on many of their spiritual qualities and be highly edified — and I do! I hold them both, from a personal point of view, in high esteem — for their sanctity.
For example, I would see the Archbishop spend all night in prayer, or when we were away on vacation he would wash the dishes, like it was no big deal, like he was like anyone else. He would always go out of his way to say something kind to put someone at his ease. He was truly fatherly, he would be forgiving and not hold a grudge. He would try to see what the common good would be and give someone a second chance. Those are just some of his qualities. His heroic self-discipline...I remember once, October 1976, he came to visit Father Morgan’s chapel in England, and he had arrived very late at night the night before. And it was typical English late Fall weather, very cold and damp in the house. So there he was, first one up in the morning and he had gone to bed very late the night before. He was kneeling in the cold chapel praying. He was a man of genuine sanctity, no doubt about that. For all his faults, I wish I had some of that same sanctity myself.
For Archbishop Thuc, the same thing. How he suffered because he dared to denounce the modern art at Casamari, this Cistercian Abbey where he had taken refuge after the assassination of his brother. I admire him for his devotion to the confessional, his devotion to his own people, his love for the poor…he was truly a great man. Kind, but at the same time — both of them had this genuine, deep, simple charity. It would cut right to the quick.
One example that comes to mind — Fr. Barbara, who was a real character, at some point took Archbishop Thuc to task for some point or another that he disliked. I’ll never forget the answer that Thuc wrote back: “I hope that God will not judge me as severely as you have.” Wow. That’s like the words of a saint. Beautiful, simple, childlike, and so true. I could see Lefebvre, in some circumstances, acting the same way. These were men who were genuinely holy. They were formed in the old ways.
So there is no cognitive dissonance for you that a demonstrably holy man can be doctrinally or liturgically wrong?
Absolutely not. They say that about the Modernists too.
Fulton Sheen is a good example. Cardinal Schuster, who was recently beatified by the Novus Ordo sect, was a Modernist or was at least suspected of being a Modernist by St. Pius X. He was a man of real piety: there was even a miracle during his lifetime that was attributed to him. This was a man who had great love for the Roman liturgy…
That’s a fallback for many laypeople — he was holy, so he was right…
See, and that’s not true. And that goes back to the conscious SSPX position of promoting an Old Testament ecclesiology. Lefebvre as the Prophet. You’d have the Conciliar hierarchy over here and Lefebvre over there and you would say that God would speak to the Prophet because he is holy — he’s not going to speak to the others because they are unworthy. He’s going to speak to the Prophet.
So is there a new Prophet-Designate in Bishop Fellay?
He’s a wannabe. All of the SSPX bishops are baby Lefebvres in some way or another, and they all vie to be like him. And that’s too bad, isn’t it? It would just be better for them to be themselves. Williamson should just be Williamson — well, he’s probably the one most true to himself among them — but Tissier or de Galarreta or Fellay too, none of them are Lefebvre…remember Lloyd Bentsen’s quote with Dan Quayle?
I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re no Jack Kennedy…
I would say, “Your Excellencies, I knew Lefebvre, and you are no Lefebvres.” None of them could pull off the Prophet role.
Well they are the last generation — whoever takes over after them will never have seen the Archbishop in person.
No. And in that sense it makes even more sense and becomes more important to have a cult and cultus. The dead Prophet’s words and deeds would be recited. And there’s something of that in any religious order — devotion to the Founder.
Well a lot of the time that makes sense, because they are mostly saints. And if they were alive they would never have allowed any of it. You speak glowingly of these men — what were the negatives?
I’ve been very critical of Lefebvre and there was a tremendous amount of negative. He has to bear the weight before God and eternity of having messed everything up. What he could have done — read Mountains of Gelboe, which Bishop Sanborn wrote — what he was in a position to do, that he did not do. His courage failed him. He was too much of a diplomat, finally. He listened too much to his own circle. He was ill-served by his entourage, but he allowed that, cultivated that. He allowed them to cultivate him. When you allow someone into your circle like that, it’s a bit like being a cult member under Bishop Kelly. Schmidberger, Williamson, Tissier, would burn the incense before Lefebvre — he also was a man of vanity and pride, and he liked to have the incense burned.
An old clergyman likes to be surrounded by young men. That’s normal. St. Philip Neri had an entourage like that — but he was a saint. He probably handled it a little differently, consequently. Lefebvre’s inner circle positively developed their relationships with him for their own promotion and self-interests. I think Bishop Tissier is a very pious, smart, disciplined, hard-working type — and if there was anyone who was a real son of Archbishop Lefebvre, it was Tissier. But he has nothing of the charismatic nature of the Archbishop. Yet, he doesn’t have the cold, calculating side that Schmidberger and Williamson have — although I’ve known him to be frosty at times, too.
The other side of the coin is this. If, like Lefebvre, you have an inner circle that worships you, whenever you make a decision you have to take your inner circle’s opinion into account. You want to please your coterie. They got in by pleasing you — but in the end, you have to please them.
And that’s the drama of the Society. Had Lefebvre been surrounded by some different priests, he wouldn’t have done so many stupid things. Maybe he would have “saved the Church.” We would have had a nice, powerful, cohesive, worldwide resistance to the Novus Ordo sect. You would explain to people using simple Catholic truth: this is a false religion. This is not the Catholic Church. And this man is no pope, he is a heretic. If you had formed your priests and laity properly, they would have understood. I can’t begin to judge him, and I won’t, but I imagine he must have had a rather uncomfortable judgment for that alone. He and he alone bears the entire responsibility for having messed everything up. He is the reason we are reduced to all these splits and sects and divisions: his vanity, his small circle who still have the power today — powerful men.
What about Archbishop Thuc?
Well, I never knew the man personally the way I knew Lefebvre. I only met him once. I’ve known people who have known him, and it’s a subject of some interest to me. But him too — that’s a characteristic of being an old bishop…
Aren’t all bishops old, Your Excellency?
(Laughter) They should be! I’m very grateful that white hair runs in the Dolan family — the Irish genes — especially in France it gives me a certain amount of credibility. Before my hair turned white, I looked impossibly young. When I arrived to say Mass on Long Island at the VFW Hall in 1976 they really thought I was the altar boy. In France they venerate old age a lot, so imagine, I was ordained by Lefebvre AND I have white hair…
But, it’s a characteristic of old bishops — the Gospel of the Vigil of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul — “When you were young you girded yourself and you went where you wanted to go, when you’re old, someone else will tie you up and pull you where you don’t want to go.” That’s prophetic for any priest or any bishop, that’s for sure.
There must have been shock for Thuc, coming from the highest echelons of power in Vietnam to being reduced to a little tiny apartment, in real poverty. Then people would talk to him and get him excited about something. Old bishops tend to be childlike in a bad sense, and I see that in both men. We aren’t discussing senility here, that’s ridiculous, but childishness, yes. Lefebvre believed people too readily as well. One always thinks Thuc made imprudent ordinations, but Lefebvre had his share too. That’s life, you make mistakes, you allow yourself to be deceived — look what happened to St. Alphonsus Ligouri. It happens.
God uses all of this, somehow, for His greater honor and glory. Unlike Lefebvre’s entourage, Thuc’s was changing all the time. Nothing that Thuc ever did, however, that was imprudent, would begin to compare with the vast imprudence of Lefebvre, who sank the ship. If you wonder why we are in so many different lifeboats today it’s because Lefebvre sank the ship. He didn’t have to, but he did.
Did he not know he was on a ship? Maybe he thought he was on land somewhere? I don’t want to stretch your metaphor too much…
Half the time he did, half the time he didn’t.
When you use the boat analogy, I think of the Church. The Church is the boat…
Yes, the Church is the boat, exactly. But what were they? The boat is the Society. The Society is what is maintaining the real Catholic Church.
Here in Cincinnati you have a unique microcosm of the Church — there's St. Gertrude's, the SSPV, the SSPX, the local diocese Indult crowd, and Feeneyites.
And don’t forget Bishop Vezelis. He’s a Franciscan. His followers are one of those “we’re the only ones left in Christendom, can’t say grace before meals with you” types of people. Down the road from him is an independent, former SSPXer, Fr. Gavin Bitzer. He’s a Feeneyite and former associate of Fr. Wathen. They are still very close with the SSPX. And Fr. Dardis, who is the official SSPX priest here, says Mass at their chapel.
So back to what you said earlier — why all these lifeboats? Can’t you all just get along and work together? Why are all these groups congregated here? Is the water better, or is the weather great, or what?
(For added information: two sermons from Fr. Cekada on why Traditional priests can't "all just get along." -SH)
(Laughter) The weather, the water, and the taxes are all great for growing the Ps. The four Ps, remember what I was telling you about?
Cincinnati is still, in many ways, still a conservative, German, Catholic city. Full of Germans. They like to get up early on Sunday and go to Mass. No nonsense about it. It’s a fertile ground for the traditional movement. There was an old priest, a wonderful German Dominican who said Mass at Old St. Mary’s, Fr. Piepenbrier. He had a group and a following for a number of years under Bernadin, who was the bishop here before moving on to Chicago. He had a Latin Mass group that got shut down.
Do you know about the ORCM, Fr. Francis Fenton’s Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement? They got as large as a dozen to fifteen priests at some point. They were an outgrowth of Fr. Fenton’s work with the John Birchers. In the mid-70s they had a circuit of priests, and there was a Mass in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati. Curiously enough this chapel came into the hands of the SSPX after the 1983 split. In other words, there was a group here in the beginning, and everyone got along, as far as I know. I remember I had a conflict with Bishop McKenna, who was a priest-member of ORCM at the time. It was something to the effect that “the whole Cincinnati area is ours — stay away.” I offered to come in, and some families wanted me to, and that’s how St. Gertrude the Great Mission got started.
But yes, there is something about division and power —“This is my group,” etc. — and being protective, which is normal, I guess. But finally ORCM had planted the seeds of its own destruction with internal conflicts, and I didn’t want to walk away from this great group of young families. At Christmas 1977, ORCM told me “You’re not part of our group so you can’t say Mass in our church anymore.” So, there was some conflict about that, and I established St. Gertrude the Great Mission in 1978.
We wanted to buy a church, that was my policy. There was a place east of Cincinnati, and we had put down earnest money: we were going to buy it. When one of our parishioners heard about it, he said that it was too seedy a neighborhood and he helped us to get the church in Sharonville, on the north side of the metropolitan area. It was a Presbyterian church. And we got that in March 1980. The ORCM soon disappeared and we became the traditional Catholic church in town.
Most people who are traditional Catholics in Cincinnati today have spent some time at St. Gertrude's. It was the church that everyone knew. But then they might have disagreed with me, or there was some problem, one thing or another, and they left.
Bishop Williamson and his group organized their own chapel after 1983, but it was several years before that happened. And then there was the Indult before too long, and so you had that option. So wherever your tendency was, you could find a place to go to Mass. The answer is that there was a Mass here for many, many years and we had many people here, and the reason for the division was that everyone had a slightly different idea about things.
The strength of the Society of St. Pius X chapel here, St. Pius X Church, is that it really doesn’t make any difference — pure “Latin Mass-ism,” John XXIII version. St. Pius X (the chapel which is serviced by the Society) is the church people go to if they want to chill. If it gets too hot for someone, and they want to be anonymous, they go to St. Pius X. It has one Mass on Sunday and has a fairly large crowd that you can get lost in. The priest there is very down-to-earth and personable. He gets along really well with people and they like him. It’s perfect for those who think: “We want a Latin Mass, and we are a little doubtful about the new Sacraments — but on the pope, we’ll keep him, just not obey him.”
By the way, you also have people in Indult, Motu or Christ the King Institute groups who really have reservations about the new rite of Ordination. That’s interesting, isn’t it? That was a real strong point for us in the 1980s. People want to have their Pope, but they are really uncomfortable with this new rite of Ordination and possibly invalid priests.
(Along this same line, almost every Indult group now uses the pre-1955 liturgy, not just for Holy Week, but year-round. It seems they have had the time to "look things up" while the SSPX permanently institutionalized their 1962 stand, even at the multimillion dollar cost of a new altar missal. -SH)
The people who go to Mass at St. Pius X would look at us as being too doctrinaire because of the sermons against Ratzinger, assistance at the New Mass, etc. We have a dress code — that was enormously unpopular. We are stricter here, both doctrinally and culturally. And that’s important for us —we have to make people into ladies and gentlemen apart from saving their souls. You can’t stick to the lowest common cultural denominator. You wouldn’t believe how many people we lost over the dress code to the Pius X chapel and to Fr. Jenkins — you really wouldn’t believe the conviction of some people as to their right not to dress up on Sunday if they don’t want to.
The Pope thing is of course, never very popular. The man in the pew wants to have his Pope and eat him too. Geography determines a lot, that’s Bishop’s Sanborn’s theory. Here in Cincinnati — it amazes me — the SSPX has one Mass on Sunday. It’s kind of a long Mass, and with long sermons, it doesn’t have air conditioning…have you been there?
Yes, I have. It’s huge.
It’s a “church” church. You can get lost there, which is nice. And also, hands off any heresy, especially the “homegrown” Feeneyites, whose colony here goes back to Fr. Wathen. He was a man of very strong character and a real father figure for a lot of men that are now fathers of families. He was a real stable image as a traditional Catholic priest for many years; they had a tremendous amount of respect for him, he taught them, and that was that.
Keep in mind, Stephen, any system that allows you to send a whole lot of people to hell is very appealing to a traditional Catholic. That’s part of why that group will never disappear. The theology is almost irresistible.
Well, everyone’s going to hell, and I’m not, right? Aren’t I lucky?
Indeed. And the Pope, for them, he’s probably going to hell too, but he’s the Pope, though. And we don’t have to obey him!
I used to have a tropical fish and as a young priest I was fascinated with sharks. I had all of these sharks once in a tank in my office in the Sharonville church, and it was so interesting to watch them. Each shark had delineated a strip of gravel as his own, and if a fish from someone else’s territory swam over there, it would get attacked. So, I guess here in Cincinnati we are that shark tank.
Are you one of those sharks, Your Excellency?
Probably so. But my territory is not geographical. My territory is doctrinal and moral. Any person is welcome here, of course. But he is not welcome to spread errors. In that sense, I’m not one of the sharks, because I swim all over the tank and I continue to do so. I do get my tail nipped from time to time.
Your Excellency, we’ve talked about Stalin a bit, so I’m going to ask you to perform a self-criticism here. There are some genuine problems that you have identified with the SSPX, and obviously some differences that you had with the Archbishop. Some will say, that’s very easy for Bishop Dolan to say, what about him? If you did an examination of conscience for your episcopate, what would you say? What would Bishop Kelly et al say about you, and would any of it be true?
Well I know what Bishop Williamson would say: [in an English accent] “Dolan, Dolan. Good on the Jews, good on the liturgy, but not good on following the Archbishop.” Something like that.
I would say pride, definitely. Maybe sometimes being too quick to fly the flag, yes possibly so. In the sense that, “I’m right, and this is the way we need to do things.” Certainly that.
I don’t think you can ever be sufficiently humble or diplomatic. I know that I have tried to be both and they are necessary qualities for a bishop, especially. I’ve failed many times in both areas.
That in which I take great comfort is that God has used me in spite of my faults, and almost, I would say, used my failings to bring about good. I’m deeply touched by the sanctity of someone like Archbishop Lefebvre but when I consider the misericordias Domini in my own life, I’m overwhelmed. I feel that God has been incredibly merciful to me. When I look at some of the stupid things I’ve said or done over the years, or my own personal failings, and I see the mercy of God — misericordias domini qui non sumus consumpti. That’s in one of the lamentations of Tenebrae. We haven’t been eaten up, despite our failings.
God’s mercy uses us in spite of ourselves. God is really very good to us.
Your Excellency, thank you for your time and brutal honesty — about yourself and about others.
You’re quite welcome.
Photo is from a 2011 visit I made to St. Gertrude's.