The Fr. Aulagnier Interview revisited

Ches of the Sensible Bond has just written a very touching post explaining his journey back to the heart of the Church from the SSPX. Do take time to read it, and it is one of the best posts I have ever read on the topic (click here).
Ches mentions that he seriously began to reconsider the SSPX’s position vis-a-vis Rome after Fr. Paul Aulagnier’s controversial interview with the Wanderer. I remember that interview well. Father knew going into the interview that he was risking expulsion from the Society; however, he chose to do so anyway, stating that schism was becoming a bigger risk with each passing day.
For those who are not up-to-date on their traditionalist history, the first risk proved real. The SSPX expelled Father when it hit the streets. The event shocked many within the traditionalist world because Fr. Aulagnier had been the true founder of the SSPX (rallying the initial group of SSPX seminarians and coaxing Archbishop Lefebvre out of retirement), the first cleric ordained for the SSPX (and the only one ever ordained licitly for them), and the SSPX cleric closest to the Archbishop.
At the time, Campos had just reconciled and Rome had laid down a serious offer for the SSPX. Fr. Aulagnier felt the time had come for the SSPX to accept Rome’s offer, stating that conditions had improved since 1988 and the Archbishop would have accepted the offer were he alive. More importantly – and boldly given the SSPX tendency to close ranks – Father warned that the SSPX was headed toward what he perceived as a “psychological schism” among traditionalists, who had never experienced the memory of Rome.
Here is the text of the interview, as it appeared in the Wanderer four or five years ago:
Those who know the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) know Fr. Paul Aulagnier: He was among Archbishop Lefebvre’s first class of SSPX seminarians, the first French seminarian to be ordained into the SSPX, and one of the SSPX’s strongest proponents of the episcopal consecrations in 1988. As a former assistant to the superior general, Fr. Aulagnier and Archbishop Lefebvre remained close until the archbishop’s death.
Recently, Fr. Aulagnier has spoken in favor of a SSPX reconciliation with Rome. Luc Gagnon, a correspondent from Quebec, interviewed Fr. Aulagnier for The Wanderer. The Wanderer noted, “While some major differences remain over some of our positions at The Wanderer and those of Fr. Aulagnier, we are nevertheless encouraged by Fr. Aulagnier’s honesty and good faith in seeking a resolution to the current division between the SSPX and Rome. Along with Fr. Aulagnier, we invite our readers to pray for an end to this division.”
Indeed, many pray that the Rome gets serious about indults, and wide, generous access to the holy, timeless, and powerful Tridentine Mass, as SSPX has.
Q. Since you are the first French priest ordained for the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, were you close to Archbishop Lefebvre? How did he inspire you?
A. Yes, I was close to Archbishop Lefebvre. I knew him well and I strongly appreciated him. He was so cordial, pleasant, a great prelate, but humble, simple, thoughtful for those who surrounded him. He had heart. It was difficult to not love him. He had a magnetic personality. I knew him while during my seminary days at Santa Chiara, the French Seminary in Rome. We were in the midst of the Second Vatican Council in 1964. The seminarians followed, as much as they could, this ecclesiastical event.
The seminary professors often invited a particular conciliar father to spend the evening with us. They were of every tendency. It certainly brought some of us joy to hear Archbishop Lefebvre on the two or three occasions he was invited. Differing from the others, he spoke little about the council. Rather he spoke about the priesthood to which we desired Ordination. Like several of my fellow seminarians, I appreciated his presentation of the Catholic priesthood.
In the midst of the council, everything was changing. In a university seminary, minds react quickly, undergo influences, and seek to understand. We participated at the seminary in all the systematic changes of everything – of the common life, of the house rules, of theology, of scholastics. In the midst of this spiritual and intellectual agitation, we needed to be careful, to reflect, to inquire, and to read a lot in order to remain informed.
We painstakingly followed such journals as Nouvelles de Chrétienté, Itinéraires, and La Pensée Catholique to follow the conciliar debates. Without these journals, I do not know if I would be a priest today. Without Archbishop Lefebvre, I certainly would not be. The superiors of the French seminary would not have accepted me. My mind was not open to the proposed novelties.
Our little group of traditional seminarians quickly saw ourselves becoming the object of criticism. When many of us were refused tonsure in 1968, we turned to Archbishop Lefebvre. Having resigned as superior general of the Spiritans, Archbishop Lefebvre was now free to found a seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland. I remember when he approached Bishop Charriere of Fribourg about this project. The bishop accepted it and even encouraged him. The archbishop saw the finger of God.
I became part of the first class of nine seminarians. My diocesan bishop at the time authorized the transfer. Being the most experienced seminarian – I already had four years of seminary under my belt – gave me the opportunity to become close to Archbishop Lefebvre. During walks, he would gladly converse with us. He even confided in us spontaneously, spoke of his projects, of his priestly ideal, of his hesitations. He often shared his African memories, his memories of the council, his decision to publish his essay, “To Remain Catholic, Must We Become Protestant?”
This essay explains the whole of Archbishop Lefebvre. He hated the modern world’s revolutionary spirit that refused subjection, submission, subordination to a created order, to a divine order. Archbishop Lefebvre had been formed by the thinking of Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XII. These were his masters. He remained faithful to them all his life. For Archbishop Lefebvre, God as Trinity is everything.
Q. What functions did you have in the heart of the SSPX before coming to Quebec?
A. My “ecclesiastical career” is simple. I served three years as a professor and the sub-director of our seminary in Econe, and 18 years as district superior in France. Along with my confreres, I built the French district from two houses in 1976, when Archbishop Lefebvre entrusted me with this district. My brother priests and I worked hard over the next 18 years to found priories, churches, chapels, schools, journals, and retreat houses.
When my mandate expired in 1994, I needed a break and went to England. I was always a rebel. In 1995, I asked to be installed in Normandy. I loved the Normands. I left Normandy after founding DICI, an information agency. It was a new form of apostolate for me and I had a passion for it.
In 2001, I was made superior of an autonomous house in Brussels. Then, “no longer in the good books” with the SSPX’s leadership, I spent another sabbatical year in Quebec. As I became more and more vocal about my differences with the direction taken by the SSPX leadership, I resigned as assistant to the superior general. I had held this office since Archbishop Lefebvre founded the SSPX. He had first appointed me to this office on November 1, 1969.
Q. Why were you strongly in favor of the consecrations of 1988?
A. I personally saw in it the wisdom of Archbishop Lefebvre. I knew he loved the Church, that he wanted to serve the Church. He did it all his life. He did it in Africa, for many years as apostolic delegate for francophone Africa. He knew the Church better than most. He had numerous contacts with Pius XII, with Roman congregations. He was appreciated by all, by many. He had the opportunity in his life to choose and prepare numerous bishops, to organize numerous episcopal conferences in Africa. As superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, he was in contact with all the great religious and political leaders of the world.
All this gave him experience and wisdom. He knew the Church in its internal structure. I trusted in him more than others. The consecrations were not an easy decision for him. I myself favored them. I could not see how Catholic Tradition, the Catholic priesthood, the Catholic Mass would survive without any assured episcopal succession. It is the bishop who ordains the priest. It is the priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross. This Sacrifice of the Cross is at the heart of the Church, as it is at the heart of the thinking of our Lord, at the heart of the divine plan of salvation. The Mass is essential to the Church, to the world, to any city.
With Archbishop Lefebvre gone, no bishop at that time possessed the courage to continue his work. One must never forget that. Our battle was always centered on the Mass. Thus, if Archbishop Lefebvre had not consecrated in 1988, his priestly work would have been finished. How can you maintain a seminary if you cannot ordain seminarians? How could you perpetuate the sacrifice of the Mass if there were no longer any priests? These are the simple reasons that allowed me to support the perspective of the consecrations by Archbishop Lefebvre.
Q. Do you think that the same reasons would be valuable today? Or are there any dangers in waiting for a reconciliation?
A. Today, the conditions would not allow for what was done in June of 1988. Several of my confreres will, perhaps, hit the roof when they become aware of this interview. It does not matter. I am free to state my judgment and I never liked yes men.
Why would the consecrations not be reasonable today? Because many Romans have changed and now acknowledge the very difficult situation in which the Church finds herself. Cardinal Castrillon’s Mass of May 24, 2003 is not burning straw. This is the fruit of a long evolution which began, it seems, around 1992, with the publication of a series of books of Cardinal Ratzinger and a series of conferences, homilies, and an interview with Cardinal Stickler. At St. Mary-Major, Cardinal Castrillon spoke for the Church by recalling the “right of citizenship” of the Mass of St. Pius V.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit is also very important. Additionally, I think that there is a danger in seeing this conflict last for ages. The Church is a visible and hierarchical society. If one lives too long in an autarchy, one ends up losing the meaning of what a hierarchy is. We are thus in danger, the time passing and the opposition remaining, of forgetting Rome and organizing ourselves more and more outside of Rome. This needs to be acknowledged.
This is why we must always remain in contact with Rome, not only for them to progress in the right direction, but unceasingly to remind ourselves of their good memory. We are of the flock. If we remain satisfied with our situation, then there is a danger of “psychological schism.” The young people are of my opinion. I call it as it is. The SSPX leadership thinks I exaggerate, but our younger generations have never known a normal ecclesiastical situation. Thus I have accepted “this Canadian exile” for my ideas.
Q. Why do you believe that the reconciliation of Bishop Rifan and his priests is a positive step not only for the traditionalists of Campos, but for every traditional Catholic?
A. One reason is the danger of schism which I just expressed. Secondly, my friendship with these heroic priests has led me to experience their traditional parishes and their numerous works. I have especially seen even here the problem of the Mass. The attitude of Rome is new. Rome gave the Mass to our friends, the priests of Campos. And this freely and without condition. Rome recognizes their right, their facultas to celebrate the Traditional Mass in all the churches of their apostolic administration. I studied their statutes at length. So, for me, these things are going in the right direction in favor of the Mass.
The Campos agreement did not require the compromises made by the Ecclesia Dei institutes in 1988. Campos received a frank recognition of the right to the Tridentine Mass without having to recognize that the new Mass is “legitimate and orthodox.” They were simply asked to recognize the validity of the new Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre always recognized and taught that the new Mass was valid. There is a great difference between “validity,” “legitimacy,” and “orthodoxy.” Something can be valid without being legitimate and orthodox.
Q. Many priests of your Society, including Bishop Fellay, have praised the new encyclical of the Holy Father Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Do you consider the new encyclical to be a positive sign on the doctrinal and liturgical level?
A. Yes and greatly so. This encyclical is truly a positive sign on the doctrinal and liturgical level. One sees here an authority that is newly aware of the drama which affects the Church and her liturgy. The liturgical reform, such as it was conceived and applied after the council, has denatured the liturgy by not respecting its end. The liturgy is essentially worship rendered to God. The priest offers, in the name of the people, “for the living and the dead,” for the people who are united to this action, the sacrifice of Christ which renders to God “all honor and all glory.”
The Catholic liturgy has a transcendent dimension. It orients us toward God. It subjects us to God. There is a similarity between the Roman liturgy and the heavenly liturgy. Read the Book of the Apocalypse of St. John and you will see that heavenly worship is directed toward the Father and the Lamb of God, the paschal Lamb to whom the angels and the elect sing and magnify the power, the divinity, the glory, the sanctity of God. The Sanctus of our Mass is a divine praise. All this is, for many, lost, so much so.
The Catholic hierarchy is finally aware of it. It is never too late in order to do good. It wants to correct the “shadows.” How can one not rejoice at this? This is yet another reason why I favor our superiors legalizing our situation in the Church. It is necessary today to be inside with a recognized right of the Mass of St. Pius V on the altars of Christianity. One must have the sense of what is possible. To ask too much is to ask for nothing. The Holy Father has spoken. We must help and participate in the liturgical restoration in the Church.
Q. At the time of the Mass of May 24, 2003, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos said during his homily: “The old Roman rite thus conserves in the Church its right of citizenship in the heart of the multiformity of Catholic rites whether Latin or Eastern. What unites this diversity of rites is the same faith in the eucharistic mystery, thus its profession has always assured the unity of the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Do you believe that this affirmation is correct or not?
A. Yes, I have greatly appreciated the words of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos on May 24, 2003. They were not pronounced lightly. They were weighed by the cardinal. He knew their importance, their repercussions in the Church, their effects and consequences. He paid attention, believe me, to what he was saying. He recognized the right of the Tridentine Mass in the Church. He stated the law for good: The Mass of St. Pius V has never been abolished canonically by any authority in the Church, and certainly not by Pope Paul VI. This was, in 1986, the answer given by the Commission of Cardinals appointed by John Paul II. This commission, at the time, stated the law. This did not please the modernist wavelength. One had, out of weakness, hushed up the affair. It was necessary to wait until 1995 for an ecclesiastical authority, Cardinal Stickler, to dare reveal the thing and state the law publicly: “The Mass has not been abolished.”
Today, everyone says this. All the cardinals who thought over the question are saying this. Cardinal Medina says this, after having said quite the opposite in 1999. Cardinal Arinze as well. He is the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship. He is the authority on this subject. As for Cardinal Stickler, he is a canonist whose authority is recognized. Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the workhorse of liturgical restoration in the Church, says it in all his recent books. He also assisted Pope John Paul II in the editing of the Holy Father’s latest encyclical we have mentioned. This new honesty is extraordinary. Almost 40 years have gone by where everyone said quite the contrary.
Additionally, the return of the Mass of St. Pius V will not be done in one day. It takes its time, little by little. Regarding liturgical plurality on which Cardinal Castrillon is rooted, I am, of course, in favor to the degree where the “reform of the reform” will allow the rite of the parishes to come closer, little by little, to the Traditional rite. In herself, the Church has always respected liturgical diversity. Take note of the attitude of Pope St. Pius V! Here, there was a matter of a rite which will re-traditionalize. The only condition required is that the rite in question expresses the Catholic faith.
Q. In the context of these positive stages, is the reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome possible in the near future?
A. One Mass does not establish a custom. Thus I will speak about restoration of normal relations between Catholics of goodwill. This restoration is more than desirable. It is necessary. In a month? In three years? I do not know. Yet the more that time passes, the more the restoration becomes urgent. But again, minds must be prepared.
Q. Do you think that the recent transfer of Bishop Williamson to Latin America has a link with the eventual reconciliation of the SSPX and Rome?
A. I believe it was simply routine. One should not imagine conflicts or hidden reasons where none exist. Granted, Bishop Williamson is one of the most firm opponents to a reconciliation with Rome. But that has nothing to do with his transfer to Argentina. He will likely remain opposed in La Reja. He is suspicious in nature. And suspicion leads to error. He thinks that “the Romans,” as he likes to say, have not changed. It is his opinion. This opinion is dominant with Bishop Fellay today, but will it be tomorrow?
Q. Considering your friendship and close proximity with Archbishop Lefebvre, do you think that he would have accepted the offer of reconciliation that Rome had recently presented to the SSPX in the line of the accords of Campos?
A. I sincerely believe that today Archbishop Lefebvre would have accepted an accord with Rome. He would have been, perhaps, more cautious and demanding on certain points than Bishop Rangel, but the archbishop would have gone to the end this time. The requirements Rome demanded of the Campos traditionalists are these: the recognition of Pope John Paul II as the legitimate Successor of Peter, the recognition of the Second Vatican Council interpreted in the light of Tradition, the recognition of the validity of the Novus Ordo Missae, and a free discussion of the council that avoided dialectic and polemic. Archbishop Lefebvre had already accepted this in 1988. One should not be afraid to say this, and I wish someone would tell me why they should not be accepted today.
With regard to the obligation of the Campos priests to study the council, I would like someone to show me the harmfulness of such a thing. One can reasonably criticize what one knows. How did the SSPX have symposiums, form its position except by studying the council? Our position is certainly not that of the Roman hierarchy. Thus today a free discussion of the council is indispensable. Yesterday, it was impossible. And for this, it is very important to know the council. It is amusing that, with us, there are taboos. One needs to set these aside. Archbishop Lefebvre would have asked some precise questions concerning the council.
Additionally, through an apostolic administration, we would have better protection today than in 1988. Our bishops, recognized by Rome, would have this role of protector that Archbishop Lefebvre desired in the Roman commission he proposed. And a personal apostolic administration would change nothing of what we do and of what we are. It is the ideal situation. It would basically espouse the reality that we live and that we are familiar with. It is organizational pragmatism that would establish “legally” in the eyes of all what we do, which is fundamentally legal and legitimate.
Q. In closing, we wish to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share some of your thoughts with us, and we would also invite our readers to visit your web site at: