Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great, 2014
An anonymous letter from the Catholics at Father.Themann.Answered@gmail.com.
Re: your February 6, 2014 open letter to Fr. Jean of Morgan, about his sermon and accompanying doctrinal text.1
Dear Fr. Stehlin:
We have carefully read your February 6, 2014 open letter to the Capuchin, Fr. Jean of Morgan. In your letter, you comment on five principles. We will examine your comments, because they represent well the SSPX’s new positions.
We agree that the virtue of obedience is a great good, like all of the virtues. But obedience is a lesser good than the theological virtues. That is why you are correct that “if superiors ask of us something … against the Faith, we [must] respect the greater obedience towards God and therefore refuse to obey His human instruments”.
Likewise, we agree when you say that “if superiors ask of us something immoral we [must] respect the greater obedience towards God and therefore refuse to obey His human instruments”.
Fr. Stehlin, you tell Fr. Jean: “my superiors … have never asked of me (nor of anyone I know) anything bad”. But Fr. Stehlin, haven’t your superiors asked – even demanded – at least implicitly, that you remain silent and not condemn their own liberalism, such as in their three statements about Vatican II, immediately below?
This SSPX liberalism is well known to those who have been following developments in the SSPX, so we will not catalogue that liberalism here.2 For purposes of this present letter, we limit ourselves to three quick examples of the SSPX’s current liberalism regarding Vatican II:
More and more, the SSPX has been teaching liberalism and has been punishing those priests who warn the faithful. Do you agree that it is immoral and is against the Faith to teach liberalism? Do you agree that it is wrong for a priest to fail to warn the faithful about the public liberalism of his superiors?
You say that obedience is “the source of all sanctity”6. Do you really mean it is the source, or that it is one of many important sources? Suppose someone says that God the Father is “the” Person in God. Doesn’t that imply there is no other Person in God besides Him? Likewise, when you emphasize obedience to such an extreme that you say it is “the” source of sanctity, doesn’t that imply that obedience is the only source of sanctity?
Surely you know that the theological virtues are of greater importance than obedience and are greater sources of sanctity, don’t you? See, e.g., Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, Q.4, a.7. Surely you haven’t forgotten about the necessity of the other infused moral virtues, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, sanctifying grace, actual grace, the Mass, the Sacraments, and many other crucial sources of sanctity, have you?
Do you focus exclusively on obedience because such focus serves the SSPX’s present goal of stifling those who are uncovering the SSPX’s current liberalism? Some of us who write this letter are old enough to remember well that “obedience” was a singular focus of the conciliar church in the 1960s and 1970s for the same reason: to stifle opposition to liberalism. Then (as is true now in the SSPX), the main problem was not disobedience but that obedience was used as a weapon to stifle opposition against liberalism and against the conciliar erosion of the Faith.
You say to Fr. Jean:
authority … alone can save us from the Protestant free inquiry. All of Tradition holds together through this principle ….
It is true that the root of all Catholic Tradition is authority. But it is the Church’s authority shown first of all, in Her consistent teaching through the ages. Secondly, it is the Church’s authority shown in Her consistent practice, since immemorial times. In other words, the authority which holds Tradition together, is the authority of the Church through the ages.
But you mean something different by “authority”. You tell Fr. Jean:
the duty to refuse the ordinary authority [e.g., of the pope] in order to safeguard the Faith implies the duty to submit to the authority of extraordinary supplied jurisdiction7 ….
By this, you mean the authority of the SSPX leadership because you immediately add:
Tradition has survived because Providence provided this supplied jurisdiction through the founding of the SSPX to which were attached friendly communities.8
We think you are mistaken for two reasons:
Don’t you know that this supplied jurisdiction is the Church supplying the ability to act, to Traditional Catholic bishops and priests who don’t have ordinary jurisdiction? This supplied jurisdiction allows them to confer valid Traditional Sacraments upon Catholics who voluntarily seek those Sacraments from the bishops and priests.9
By contrast, your novel error (quoted immediately above) is that extraordinary supplied jurisdiction somehow requires a person to obey involuntarily a particular bishop’s or priest’s commands. You will find your error ably refuted by Archbishop Lefebvre:
[I]t must be borne in mind that an authority which is supplied does not have the same characteristics as authority which exists ordinarily in the Church. It is exercised case-by-case, and is thus not habitual: in other words the people who benefit from it can always withdraw from it, and the supplied authority has no power to make them return. It is dependent on the need of the faithful, given the state of crisis. To the extent that the faithful need these bishops or priests for the salvation of their souls, the Church creates this link of authority between them.10
Bishop Tissier echoes his founder and refutes you and the SSPX’s new idea11 of authority, in a 1991 article available on SSPX.org, with a forward written by Fr. Peter Scott.12 Bishop Tissier explained to the faithful: “your submission and your dependence with respect to the clergy must be as voluntary as the clergy have less right to demand it.” Id.
As Bishop Tissier also explained, particular priests “cannot demand to exercise [authority over particular laymen as] a strict right”. Id. This is because “the clergy cannot, strictly speaking, require this dependence since it [i.e., the clergy] has no ordinary jurisdiction over the faithful.” Id.
Bishop Tissier told the faithful:
It is you who have to appeal to this supplied jurisdiction [of traditional priests and bishops]. I therefore say that the sense of the Church, the sensus fidei, must persuade faithful laymen and laywomen to willingly submit their apostolic activities to the traditional clergy. Id. (Emphasis added.)
Thus, Fr. Stehlin, you are wrong to suggest that somehow Bishop Fellay or any other SSPX leader can exercise authority over any faithful except to the extent that such persons voluntarily accept such direction, and voluntarily decide to follow such authority, and for as long as they voluntarily accept that direction, or authority.
So, e.g., there is no shadow of disobedience or failure to submit to required authority, if the Capuchins decide to cease being guided by Bishop Fellay and instead obtain direction from Bishop Williamson and avail themselves of his Episcopal power. In light of your founder’s and Bishop Tissier’s explanations, your error is clear, when you tell the Capuchins that they are somehow “refusing legitimate authority” which would somehow “destroy [their] own authority.”
Likewise, there is no shadow of disobedience if Catholic laymen decide to cease being guided by SSPX priests and instead seek the Sacraments and all other spiritual helps from priests who resist the SSPX liberalism.
You unfairly say that the Resistance priests “reject this authority” because they publicly resist the SSPX liberalism. You then point to what you say are “terrible consequences”. You say that “after less than two years” the Resistance has “no principle of unity except that of fighting against the SSPX”. You talk as if there were some bad fruit proving a bad tree.
We think you are wrong and unfair for three reasons:
Next you try to smear the priests resisting your liberalism, by suggesting a link to sedevacantism. You say: “Among them there are already a good number of formal sedevacantists”. We are saddened that you resort to attempting to discredit the Resistance priests by using “guilt by [supposed] association”. This is the same tactic used against our Lord, e.g., when His enemies tried to unjustly discredit him by saying This Man eats with sinners.
To the extent that you think the Resistance priests are sedevacantists, we are saddened that you did not bother to check your false assumptions before writing your open letter. Bishop Williamson has periodically throughout the years, repeated publicly that he is not sedevacantist. For example, in his May 7, 2011 Eleison Comments, he wrote: “I for one believe the Conciliar Popes are valid Popes.” In fact, during the weeks immediately before your attempt to connect the Resistance to sedevacantism, Bishop Williamson was finishing a public presentation of the error of sedevacantism.14
We take just one more Resistance leader’s anti-sedevacantist statement. Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer recently declared publicly and plainly: “Pope Francis is Pope. … We pray for Pope Francis in each of our Masses.”15 If you seek the truth on the Resistance priests’ anti-sedevacantist position, please contact us at Father.Themann.Answered@gmail.com and we will be happy to supply many more proofs that you slander the Resistance by attempting to connect it with sedevacantism.
Perhaps it is true though, that there are one or more priests or laymen somewhere, claiming to be part of the Resistance and also professing the sedevacantist error. But to unfairly hold the Resistance responsible for this is just like unfairly holding traditional Catholics responsible if a compromising and liberal Catholic priest calls himself traditional Catholic.
Fr. Stehlin, you say to Fr. Jean:
Look at your sermon and your tract: it is your interpretation, it is your point of view, and you have no way of giving any other credit to your text besides the arguments you offer.
Strangely, you seem to think that arguments are unworthy of acceptance unless accompanied by authority. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s greatest Doctor, rejects your position. You would see this from even a cursory spot-checking of his many learned works. St. Thomas often gives arguments of reason, without citing authority.
Further, you imply that Fr. Jean’s sermon and tract rely on no authorities, although Fr. Jean gives dozens and dozens of citations to authorities. Also, when your letter to Fr. Jean is compared to his sermon and tract, one sees the irony that Fr. Jean supports his position with far more authorities than you do. This is true both if you count the number of authorities per page, as well as if you count the total number of authorities on which each of you rely.
You tell Fr. Jean:
You quote the bishops of the Society, criticizing them for each having a different point of view on the situation.
Your statement is false. If you read Fr. Jean’s sermon and tract, you will see that he ably proves just the opposite – he proves16 that Archbishop Lefebvre and the other four bishops all used to have the very same position Bishop Williamson now has, viz., that it would be suicide to make a canonical agreement with modernist Rome, i.e., until Rome returns to Catholic Tradition.
You appear to mock Bishop Williamson as some type of “end times” kook, by saying he is like unnamed false, Lutheran “prophets of the 19th century”. To support your position, you cite the opinion of unnamed Lutherans.
Here is what you say:
At this point I would like to draw your attention to Bishop Williamson. You know well that we have been trying for years to prepare the conversion of a good number of Protestant pastors. Well, their testimony is interesting. They say that in reading Bishop Williamson’s Kyrie Eleison [sic], they are strangely reminded of the “prophets of the 19th century” in the Lutheran church, who shared their apocalyptic interpretations, always with the conclusion that the world is going to end and it is all over.
Fr. Stehlin, prophecy is a Catholic matter. Why would you consider heretics to have a valuable opinion on the accuracy of a Catholic bishop’s analysis of Catholic prophecy? Bishop Williamson is interested in this matter and carefully follows Catholic authorities on this matter. For example, he did a three-part series recently, on end-time prophesy, quoting and following the great Cardinal Billot, who was made a Cardinal by St. Pius X.17
Further, Bishop Williamson’s occasional reflections on end times are reminiscent of what St. Pius X said in his great encyclical, E Supremi. Here are your patron’s words:
We were terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? … When all this is considered there is good reason to fear lest this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days; and that there may be already in the world the “Son of Perdition” of whom the Apostle speaks (II. Thess. ii., 3).18
Do the heretics you cite as authority on this Catholic matter, think Pope St. Pius X is like kooky Lutheran “prophets of the 19th century”? Do you judge St. Pius X as harshly as you judge Bishop Williamson?
You accuse the Resistance of “constant[ly]” using “the worst of all bad means” of “spread[ing] ‘half-truths”. You especially condemn the Resistance for making accusations which their readers “have no way to check the truth of what they are told.” Fr. Stehlin, after making this statement, the very next thing you say is:
I personally know the real story of about half of those who signed, the real reasons for their criticism and departure [from the SSPX]. I do not know a single one of whom I can sincerely say: it is only in order to safeguard the whole Faith.
Fr. Stehlin, do you see any irony in your words? You say the Resistance gives readers “no way to check the truth of what they are told” and then immediately you assert the bad secret motives (which you say you know) of Resistance priests, without giving your readers a shred of proof!
Further, your unfair attack on an unnamed half of the Resistance priests, serves to effectively harm the reputation of all of them. Suppose someone were to assert that half of the SSPX priests in Poland committed some grievous sin, don’t you see that this scurrilous accusation would unfairly harm the reputation of all of such priests?
Moreover, when you say that the Resistance gives its readers “no way to check the truth of what they are told”, let’s see if what you say is true. Look at one recent 41-page analysis of the liberalism in the SSPX, which is contained in the Open Letter to Fr. Themann. We challenge you to find even a single unsupported statement or anything for which the reader is not given the citation to the evidence.19 The truth is that, when proving the SSPX’s current liberalism, one need only read what the SSPX itself publishes. That is why the Open Letter to Fr. Themann uses almost entirely SSPX-published documents.
You say that the Resistance has “distorted” the truth when it calls the text of Bishop Fellay’s 4-15-12 doctrinal text, a “declaration”. Here is what you say:
It is always the same thing as in the text of the declaration: tendentious or distorted presentations (e.g., calling the confidential text drawn up for discussion on April 15, 2012, a “declaration” ...).
Fr. Stehlin, do you see the irony of your criticizing the Resistance for calling the 4-15-12 declaration, a “declaration”, when you also call it a “declaration”? Further, do you really think it is unreasonable to call Bishop Fellay’s text a “declaration:”, when he repeatedly states in it that “we declare …”?
You next tell Fr. Jean that the Resistance distorts the truth by:
presenting [Bishop Fellay’s 4-15-12] text as the actual position of the superiors of the Society of St. Pius X”….
Fr. Stehlin, read Bishop Fellay’s 4-15-12 declaration. There is nothing misleading about treating this text as Bishop Fellay’s position, when he repeatedly says that “we accept …” and “we declare …” the doctrinal statements contained in the text.
Regarding whether the Resistance gives any “half-truths” regarding this 4-15-12 declaration, we challenge you to find even a single “half-truth” in the lengthy analysis of this 4-15-12 declaration, found in the Open Letter to Fr. Themann.20 And we challenge you to find a single part of this analysis which does not give citations enabling the reader to “check the truth of what they are told”.
You tell us that: “this great principle [doing everything for God’s glory] directs my whole missionary life”. Good! We are edified. However, we assume that some members of the conciliar hierarchy can also sincerely say this (although they wrongly accept conciliar errors). We are likewise edified by their sincere belief that they follow “this great principle”, although they err in doctrine. That sincerity will be crucial for you and for them at the Personal Judgment. But most important for the good of the whole Church, is whether the exterior words and actions of a man conformed to God’s objective truth. Let’s focus on that objective truth, as the Resistance does. See, again, a partial catalogue of the SSPX’s objective liberalism in the Open Letter to Fr. Themann.
So it is all the more painful for me that in the name of this principle the Resistance puts all the superiors of the Society on trial ….
Please read the Resistance writings you are talking about. For example, in the 41-page Open Letter to Fr. Themann, you will not find a single example of putting SSPX superiors on trial regarding their subjective culpability. The only thing you will see is an examination of whether the current SSPX teachings are objectively true.
We hope all of the SSPX superiors obtain high places in heaven and somehow (through ignorance or mistake, etc.) are not culpable for their objective liberalism. We also hope this for Pope Francis. But Catholics are bound to fight against Bishop Fellay’s liberalism however much he might not be subjectively culpable for his liberalism. The same is true about fighting Pope Francis’ modernism.
It was as if there were two Churches for me: the traditional Church (our little traditional world) and the conciliar Church, which de facto no longer existed for me.
We think you are wrong in defining the “traditional Church” as “our little traditional world”. Rather, it includes the Church throughout the ages since the time of Christ, continuing into the present. However, we understand why you considered there to be two churches in a way, since the SSPX used to talk this way and this manner of speaking points out an important reality.
For example, Archbishop Lefebvre declared:
Getting inside the church, what does it mean? And first of all, of which Church are we speaking? If this is about the conciliar church should we, who have fought against it for twenty years because we want the Catholic Church, return to the conciliar church supposedly to make it Catholic? This is a total illusion! Inferiors do not change superiors, but it is superiors who change inferiors.
Fideliter, No. 70 July-August 1989.
Here is Archbishop Lefebvre again, in his last book:
It is, therefore, a strict duty for every priest wanting to remain Catholic to separate himself from this Conciliar Church for as long as it does not rediscover the Tradition of the Church and of the Catholic Faith.
Spiritual Journey, ch.3, p.13.
Here is Archbishop Lefebvre again, in 1976:
This Conciliar Church is, therefore, not Catholic. To whatever extent Pope, Bishops, priests, or the faithful adhere to this new church, they separate themselves from the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Lefebvre, Reflections on his suspension a divinis, July 29, 1976.
Echoing their founder, here is how the SSPX leadership used to explain its position in your priests’ newsletter:
It is necessary to distinguish, as Archbishop Lefebvre did in his November 21st 1974 declaration, between the eternal Rome and the modernist Rome. One must avoid any attitude of compromise which could, if only “a little”, diminish the strength and the demands of the faith and the Catholic discipline. The Fraternity of St Peter is giving a lamentable example of this spirit of compromise, typically liberal. Step by step, the Ecclesia Dei has made them give in and is pushing them always further into “the reality of the Church”, the conciliar Church.
Cor Unum, March 2000 (emphasis added).
You are dismissive and seem to scoff at the conviction that priests who come from the conciliar church should be conditionally ordained. You tell Fr. Jean:
At the news of priests coming back to Tradition, a priest close to the Resistance asks if they have been re-ordained sub conditione.
We remember when the SSPX used to recognize the importance and seriousness of this issue.21
Fr. Stehlin, it is clear you are devoted to the SSPX’s new liberalism. Perhaps your liberalizing superiors will reward your dedication by promoting you to District Superior, e.g., of the SSPX Asian District.
In Him Who is Truth and hates liberalism,
You can reach us at: Father.Themann.Answered@gmail.com