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FSSP Priest Interview Reveals Divisions within Fraternity April 25, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Basics, foolishness, General Catholic, huh?, Latin Mass, priests, Restoration, Revolution, sadness, Society, SSPX, the struggle for the Church, Tradition.

I got sent a link to the following post this morning by reader TT.  It’s an interview of the rather small German province of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the organization of priests dedicated to the traditional Mass that was founded by some who “broke away” from the SSPX at the time of the illicit consecrations of 4 bishops in 1988.

This interview is already being picked up as fodder for the endless (and tiresome) SSPX/FSSP debates that have been raging for almost 30 years.  For those who already feel the FSSP is hopelessly compromised, the interview is being taken as proof of the correctness of that view.  For those with internal knowledge of the Fraternity, as it is typically called, however, this interview only reiterates the divisions already well known within this society of priests.

I’ll add comments to the post I copy below, because I think there are some important things to clarify/note, but I’d like to make one point clear at the outset: every grouping of more than a few individuals is going to have disparity of belief.  Once you get into the hundreds, like the FSSP, there is going to be a whole range of belief.  Given that, generally speaking, both acceptance of a more stridently traditional outlook (or a certain, sometimes severe, hostility to Vatican II) and friendliness/sympathy for the SSPX varies inversely with the age of the priest and their closeness to the original point of division in 1988.  That is to say, older priests in the Fraternity, especially those who were present in 1988 and made the decision to leave the SSPX, generally tend to be more accommodating towards the post-conciliar ethos and hostile towards the SSPX.  Younger priests are generally more hardcore “traditional” and more friendly towards the Society.

This is not a universal rule and there is infinite nuance, even within individual priests!, but that’s probably the broad norm.  I would also add that there is, as I understand it, a certain division of belief between priests of the Fraternity in the Americas, and those in Europe, with those again in Europe tending towards being the less ardently traditional, or the more accommodating.  Having said that, I concur with a commenter at 1Peter5 that this is far from an inspiring interview.  While I think the interview is being presented in a fairly negative light by Maike Hickson at 1Peter5, I think I can also say these are some of the most unhelpful comments I’ve seen from an FSSP priest in print, perhaps less for what they say (esp. on reflection) but for the sense they seem to convey of accommodation, of being (to quote some commentary I’ve seen) “modernist lap dogs who will do anything so long as they can continue to offer the ‘old Mass'”.  Then again, I find myself defending the priest quite consistently below – I think that while he exhibits an attitude far different from what I’d like to see expressed, it’s not entirely surprising given his past.

So keep that in mind as you read the below, which many of you perhaps already have:

The usually cautious and reserved Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) has now given its current opinion concerning the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and on its possible formal re-integration into the structures of the Catholic Church. Father Bernhard Gerstle – the head of the German district of the FSSP – just gave a 24 April interview to the German Bishops’ official website Katholisch.dein which he explains many of the positions and opinions of his priestly fraternity. (Father Gerstle is the same priest who, in 2016, made a politely critical statement about the papal document Amoris Laetitia.) [An important note of clarification.  Fr. Gerstle may be the head of the German district of the Fraternity, but I think it a great leap to derive from that that he is speaking for the mind of the entire Fraternity.  Words of Fr. John Berg, former Superior of the entire order, in Latin Mass Magazine from 2015 (which I haven’t to hand) were far different and conveyed a far more traditionally Catholic understanding.]

Father Gerstle explains, first of all, that he himself split off from the SSPX because of the “illicit episcopal consecrations” in 1988 which, in his eyes, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to forestall. (Interestingly, and just in the recent past, there have been voices saying that Cardinal Ratzinger, as pope, later removed the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops because he realized that he had contributed to the intensification of that earlier conflict. Worth noting is that, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who has served as an official Vatican liaison to the SSPX, recently called this act of excommunication an “injustice.”) [This little aside causes me to wonder whether the author is not trying to inculcate a bit of doubt, even resentment, towards Fr. Gerstle.  Sure “some voices” may say that, but lots of others say that the excommunications were wholly right and just. Obviously Fr. Gerstle is going to have a bias since he left the SSPX over this matter.  I am curious as to why Hickson chose to introduce this seeming rebuttal right here.] In Gerstle’s eyes, the 1988 breach happened due to a “lack of trust toward Rome.” He also claims that many more priests within the SSPX had disapproved of the episcopal consecrations, “but did not make the final step.” Thus, there were “only a few priests and seminarians who left the Society of St. Pius X at the time [in 1988].” Gerstle explicitly says that the foundation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter happened “essentially due to Cardinal Ratzinger, [who was] then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”  [For those of us who weren’t involved, I don’t think it is easy to comprehend the depth of feeling on both sides involved in the 1988 consecrations.  This was an event so trying and so radicalizing I don’t think many today fully realize the effect these events had on the participants.  As one who was directly involved and experienced that heart-rending time, I don’t find Fr. Gerstle’s comments out of place.  There are many involved who share his views, and of course, many who don’t, but it’s not like he’s breaching some radical new concept no one’s ever said before, even those who are very attached to the traditional practice of the Faith.]

Father Gerstle further distances himself from those smaller groups within the SSPX – whom he calls “hardliners” – who “reject the Second Vatican Council to a large extent, for example with regard to religious freedom or as to the decree on ecumenism.” Some of them, he says, also doubt the validity of the new liturgy. Gerstle makes it clear, moreover, where the Fraternity of St. Peter stands with regard to the Second Vatican Council: [No, he gives his own opinion.  Unless he directly stated he was speaking as the voice of the entire Fraternity as a matter of policy – which if he did, we can be certain Hickson would be trumpeting this from the rooftops – then he’s giving his opinion, which Hickson is taking to mean it is the policy of the Fraternity because of his position, but I can say from direct experience there are many Fraternity priests who do not conform to the views expressed in this para or the one below. As to the divisions within the SSPX, these are well known and I find pointing them out wholly unremarkable.]

The Fraternity of St. Peter, however, has accepted to study without prejudice the conciliar texts and has come to the conclusion that there is no breach with any previous magisterial statements.However, some texts are formulated in such a way that they can give way to misinterpretations. But, in the meantime, Rome has already made here concordant clarifications which the Society of St. Pius X should now also recognize. [Emphasis added] [I would say the situation now remains as it has been, vague, uncertain, and unclear.  Some tradition-friendly individuals in the Curia have made clarifications, they have expressed their opinions, but that is far from saying there has been a wholesale clarification of the problematic aspects of Vatican II. Rome appears willing to say almost anything to get the SSPX regularized.  But whether these stands hold after that occurs is anyone’s guess, but there remains a huge monolith of progressive-modernist opinion in the clergy and hierarchy that VII is perfect, the best expression of the Faith ever conceived, and that the Church was literally re-born in 1965.  That remains an extremely dangerous ideology that has not been washed away by a few conciliatory comments from folks at the Ecclesia Dei commission.]

Additionally, Father Gerstle insists that for the FSSP, the new 1983 Code of Canon Law is the standard. In his eyes, the SSPX has here some more reservations. For the FSSP, explains Gerstle “there is not a pre- and a post-conciliar Church.” “There is only the one Church which goes back to Christ,” he adds. Gerstle also insists that the FSSP does not “wish to polarize or even to promote splits,” but that they wish to instill in their own parishes “an ecclesial attitude.” Certain (unnamed, unspecified) abuses in the Church should only be criticized in a “differentiated and moderate way.” [We are only getting very partial and bifurcated comments.  I don’t read German so I can’t go to the original and Google translate is too unreliable in such fine points.  Having said that, I find these comments disappointing and far too conciliatory towards the post-conciliar construct.  Then again, we do not know what pressures the Fraternity is under right now, but I understand they are considerable and the dangers great from those who would like to do to the ED communities what has been done to the FI’s.]

Father Gerstle also distances himself from the concept “traditionalist” when he says: “This notion I do not like at all to hear. We are not traditionalists, but simply Catholic.” As Catholics, he says, “we appreciate tradition,” but without “completely blocking organic adaptations and changes.” [This one I have no problem with.  Some of the most informed readers of this blog eschew the term traditional, and say that what we practice is simply the Catholic Faith as it has always been believed, understood, and lived.  There is nothing remarkable about “organic changes” either.  VII was wholly inorganic.]

The worthy celebration of the traditional liturgy, together with a loyal teaching of the Catholic Faith, is at the center of the work of the FSSP, according to Gerstle. “Salvation of souls” and “eternal life” are their Fraternity’s own concern. Unfortunately, adds the German priest, “the Four Last Things have been widely neglected in the Church, with the effect of a belittling and attenuation of sin and of a loss of the practice of sacramental confession.” [I would hope this is uncontroversial.  In fact, one could take from this a tacit rebuke of the post-conciliar construct, where the Mass is typically deplorable and the “teaching” counterfeit.]

Father Gerstle sees that “one cannot simply introduce everywhere again the old liturgy and, so to speak, impose it upon people.” “Both rites thus [with the help of the “reform of the reform”] should enrich each other,” explains the priest. Certain elements of the new liturgy could be “enriching for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.” [He’s just parroting PBXVI here, but I am personally extremely leery of any “enrichment” flowing from the NO to the TLM.  I think there is virtually nothing in the NO that would “improve” the TLM.]

Moreover, Father Gerstle also explains that, in the German district, there are growing numbers of faithful who are interested in the traditional Tridentine Mass. Some of the FSSP Masses have “100 to 180 faithful” in attendance. He admits, however, that the FSSP has not too many vocations. “All in all we have a good number of incomers [16 new priests in 2016 and currently some 100 seminarians altogether], but it is not so that we are under pressure due to high numbers of vocations.” [The Fraternity is generally doing better in North America, where there is a certain pressure to grow the seminary.  As for Mass attendance, the local FSSP parish is now attracting 1200+ on a typical Sunday.  That is unusual, but the growth is consistent throughout, and I pray all the other tradition-oriented groups are experiencing the same or better.]

At the end of this interview, Gerstle explains that the SSPX faces a dilemma: either Bishop Fellay chooses unity with Rome and will have a split within his own organization, or he will choose unity within the SSPX and will not have unity with Rome.  The German priest explains, as follows:

I think that the current Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, will have to decide between unity with Rome and unity within the Society of St. Piux X. The realists within the leadership will then hopefully realize that there is no alternative to a reconciliation with Rome.

I find the first part of this analysis to be insightful, but I think anyone who has followed the situation even as casually as I have has reached about the same conclusion.  I also think the second part is right, though I continue to have doubts as to whether now, with Francis in charge, is the right time.  The man has a demonstrated track record of deliberately targeting tradition-embracing groups for destruction.  But may God’s will be done.

As for the interview, this is absolutely not what I would prefer to see from a leading Fraternity priest.  But I’m not sure it confirms the fatal weakness of the Fraternity, either.  Does having a regular canonical status involve some compromise?  Absolutely*.  And folks in the SSPX had better be FULLY cognizant of that fact when they sign their “deal” with Rome.

Well I don’t post for a week then you get a novella.  Lucky you.  Sorry folks, posting is going to be infrequent for the foreseeable future.  I had a very  unusual situation for first 76 months of this blog’s history but that period is definitively order.  I probably would not have posted today if this matter hadn’t hit so close to home.  We’ve had a nightmare bronchitis/pneumonia go through our family that takes weeks to get over.  I’m still fighting it but am back at work but also playing lots of catchup.  Hope to get another post out tomorrow but who knows.

*-but so far, only of a limited and generally unobtrusive (or undamaging) sort.  The “gravitational pull” of an unreconciled SSPX probably plays a role in the limited nature of the compromises forced on the FSSP – which is why I fear regularization for the entire restoration of the Faith.  But ultimately God is in charge and we have to want what is best for the salvation of souls, which everyone (not really, but lots) tells me is regularization.  So it must be it.



1. Richard Malcolm - April 25, 2017

Note that Steve has since included a link to a translation of the full interview, done by Matthew Karmel, aka, the Radical Catholic: http://theradicalcatholic.blogspot.com/2017/04/not-traditionalist-simply-catholic.html

That said: I still would not have expressed myself as Fr Gerstle does here at every point, but Karmel’s translation shows a bit more favorable nuance. Nonetheless, I am confirmed in my impression that, as with the SSPX, the FSSP’s German district is somewhat more moderate on the traditionalist spectrum on average.

2. Richard Malcolm - April 25, 2017

Also, a nit to pick: It might be misleading to characterize the German district as “rather small.” Certainly in the broad scheme of the Church, it is small (as is everything traditional!). But within the FSSP, Germany has the third most members, and the second most Mass locations (68 locations in 13 dioceses in Germany, and 10 in other countries).

3. Richard Malcolm - April 25, 2017

One more thing: “Then again, we do not know what pressures the Fraternity is under right now, but I understand they are considerable and the dangers great from those who would like to do to the ED communities what has been done to the FI’s.”

Reading the combox at the article is an interesting exercise. A couple people from over in Germany weigh in, and underline my impression that Germany is a hard place for the FSSP to operate in – harder than France, even – and the German FSSP seems to be under unusual pressure at the moment. That can’t explain or justify everything Fr Gerstle says, in my mind; but it is worth taking note of.

I do wonder if Fr Berg will feel compelled to comment on this publicly. There are remarks Fr G makes that appear to speak for the entire Fraternity, especially regarding its stance on Vatican II which do not seem accurate to me.

Tantumblogo - April 25, 2017

Yes I wish he had not phrased things as he did. I can see why Maike took him to be speaking for the entire Fraternity, even though I strongly doubt he was given any mandate to do so, but that’s how he seemed to phrase things at times.

Or, perhaps I should say, I am hoping in the extreme that Fr. Gerstle was not given a formal platform from which to speak. And that the sense I get from some Fraternity priests of a noose tightening about the neck is incorrect.

Richard Malcolm - April 26, 2017

Hilary White has indicated that her sources indicate that new apostolates for the FSSP are drying up of late – that bishops now suddenly have no interest in inviting them in – and there are worries about where they will put the 24 new guys being ordained this summer.

I don’t know if that’s true or not. They did open three new apostolates in the US last year, and a few, I believe, in Europe as well. The Institute of Christ the King opened three new oratories around the globe (Detroit, Mauritius, Naples) last fall. Perhaps these were the last in the pipeline; I hope not.

S. Armaticus - April 26, 2017

Richard writes: “Hilary White has indicated that her sources indicate that new apostolates for the FSSP are drying up of late – that bishops now suddenly have no interest in inviting them in – and there are worries about where they will put the 24 new guys being ordained this summer.”

Hey, I have an idea:


I do see a problem though. The FSSP seminary is in Germany, and the BOAT hasn’t been invented yet.

May they can teach them to swim?

Tantumblogo - April 26, 2017

True to a degree. There is some expansion planned this year with this large crop of ordinands but beyond that it is true interest has been greatly reduced. It is the Francis effect, bishops can see which way the wind is blowing and it is definitely not towards Tradition.

Having said that our local parish could use at least one more priest if not two if it is going to continue to grow like crazy. I don’t know how our new Bishop Burns is towards Tradition, I am getting winds while he might be innately somewhat favorable he is being very subtly manipulated against it/us. So I fear the prospects of a badly needed 2nd traditional parish in the Diocese will remain very dim.

And so the plans for our new church, if the money can be found (not much from me, I fear), will include seating for 900 people. That’s larger than a lot of the NO parishes around. Not sure how that comports with a TLM parish but there it is.

Richard Malcolm - April 26, 2017

There’s clearly been a shift in the wind – too much evidence of that.

That said, it’s also true, I think, that the Ecclesia Dei groups have grabbed most of the low-lying fruit in America – taking over pre-existing TLM communities (like in Lancaster, PA last year).

That said, there are other possibilities: there is not a single major East Coast city (unless Richmond counts) which has an Ecclesia Dei group parish of any kind – even though all have quite sizable TLM communities within them. In one such city, in fact, the nonagenarian pastor was just forced to retire finally due to poor health, and the locals are campaigning hard for an ED group to come take over. Previous such pleas have been rejected or ignored, so the question is whether the growing urgency of the local priest shortage will override the growing disinterest in accommodating Summorum Pontificum.

Honestly, I would think the ED societies still make sense for the new regime at this juncture: it’s easier to gather the trads together and isolate tradition that by setting up a TLM personal parish; crack down in the meantime on diocesan priests experimenting with tradition. This is, in fact, just what seems to be happening now in Rockford. But then again, many bishops are control freaks, and even an official ghetto is something less under their control.

Richard Malcolm - April 26, 2017

P.S. I hope you can get the new church built. Every time I’ve been there, the place is ridiculously standing-room-only. You’ve clearly outgrown it, badly.

DM - April 27, 2017

Richard are you by chance talking about St. Al’s on the East Coast? I’ve long been hoping for the ICRSS to get that church, and now sounds like the time when it’s only logical for the powers that be to do it, even if they don’t like it.

If the SSPX regularization happens sooner than we expect, I would even look into seeing if there is interest there for them to set up shop. Once they are canonically regularized there would be no reason for the diocese to decline, and the Society may be in a slightly better financial capacity to take over a large, expensive place like St. Al’s than the Ecclesia Dei groups.

Richard Malcolm - April 27, 2017

Hello DM,

I…won’t say you’re wrong.

The ordinary had been consistent previously about insisting that he’d put his own guy (a young priest who celebrates the TLM) in there. Then he apparently reversed course and extended an invite to a certain priestly society based in Chicago to take over – I’m guessing that the priest shortage is really starting to shift his gears. They declined, for reasons unknown. That raised hopes that an Ecclesia Dei society might get a look-in. I hope the lobbying for that won’t backfire.

I tend to agree that the one you’re speaking of would be a better fit, if that’s what it comes to – they obviously have a track record of restoring beautiful old churches like that, and their more diplomatic touch would likely work better in a major, liberal see like this one.

4. Baseballmomof8 - April 25, 2017

Appreciate the post…. have such fond memories of Fr. Berg… anywho…. been praying daily for you and the family, for a return to health and for Benedict’s medicine to be corrected. Will continue to do so.

Tantumblogo - April 26, 2017

I am afraid my blogging problems extend beyond this illness, though I am still coughing up my lungs. My work is such that blogging is going to be really hard to do for the foreseeable future. In fact, I think blogging will be occasional at best. Stinks but there is nothing I can do about it. That very unusual job situation I had from 2009-2016 that allowed me to write so much is unlikely ever to repeat. I just can’t bring myself to do much at home, where there are frankly many more important things to draw my attention.

Tim - April 26, 2017

I had the same stuff that started in early March and I am now just starting to not cough…..hang in there!!

Baseballmomof8 - April 26, 2017

Absolutely blogging come after family and work… I got stuff out of order many years ago and paid sorely for it. Keep your priorities straight… you will be blessed!

5. Camper - April 26, 2017

Dear Tantum,
Really sorry to hear that blogging will be light from now on. I know you’ll still be here but it has been a very nice time. Thank you very much.


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