Interview with the Very Reverend Father Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, first published in Nouvelles de Chrétienté [News about Christendom] Issue 173.
Father General, you are succeeding a bishop who headed the Society of Saint Pius X for twenty-four years and who, moreover, ordained you a priest. What are your feelings about succeeding him?
Someone already asked me a similar question when I was appointed rector of the seminary in La Reja, where two bishops had preceded me in that responsibility. Let’s say that this time it is a bit more complicated! Bishop Fellay is an important personage in the history of the Society, since he supervised it for half of the time in which it has existed. During that long period there was no lack of trials, and nevertheless the Society is still here, holding high the standard of Tradition. I think that this fidelity of the Society to its mission is in a certain way the reflection of my predecessor’s fidelity to his. I wish to thank him for that on behalf of everyone.
Some have nevertheless attempted to see your personality as being very different from that of your predecessor. Is there some point about which you really feel different?
I must admit—cum grano salis [with a grain of salt]—that I irreparably detest all electronic media without exception and with no chance of changing my opinion, while Bishop Fellay is an expert on that subject....
How do you regard the Society of Saint Pius X which you will have to supervise for twelve years?
The Society holds a treasure in its hands. Some have emphasized repeatedly that this treasure belongs to the Church, but I think that we can say that it belongs to us also by full right. It belongs to us, and this is why the Society is perfectly a work of the Church. Even now!
Tradition is a treasure, but in order to preserve it faithfully we must be aware that we are vessels of clay. The key to our future is found here: in the awareness of our weakness and of the need to watch over ourselves vigilantly. It is not enough to profess the faith in its entirety, if our lives do not express this integral faith regularly and concretely. To live Tradition means to defend it, to struggle for it, to fight so that it triumphs first in ourselves and in our families, so that then it can triumph throughout the whole Church.
Our fondest wish is that the official Church will stop considering Tradition as a burden or a set of outmoded old things, but rather as the only possible way to regenerate herself. However, major doctrinal discussions will not be enough to bring this work to completion: first we have to have souls ready for all sorts of sacrifices. This is true both for consecrated persons and for the lay faithful.
We ourselves must always renew our view of Tradition, not in a purely theoretical way, but in a truly supernatural manner, in light of the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. This will protect us from two contrasting dangers that often reinforce each other, namely: a pessimistic or defeatist lethargy and a kind of arid intellectualism.
I am convinced that we have here the key with which to confront the various difficulties that we may encounter.
Including the major problem of the crisis in the Church?
What are the important topics today? Vocations, the sanctification of priests, the care of souls. The tragic situation in the Church must not have such a great psychological impact on our minds that we are no longer capable of performing our duties. Our clear-sightedness must not paralyze us; if it does, it turns into darkness. Considering the crisis in the light of the Cross allows us to keep our serenity and to stand back, since serenity and objectivity are both indispensable if we are to have a sure judgment.
The present situation of the Church is a state of tragic decline: a sharp decrease in vocations, in the number of priests, in the practice of the faith, the disappearance of Christian customs, of the most elementary sense of God, which are manifested today—alas!— in the destruction of natural morality....
Now the Society has all the necessary means to lead the movement of the return to Tradition. More precisely, we have to confront two demands:
- on the one hand, to preserve our identity by recalling the truth and denouncing error: “Praedica verbum: insta opportune, importune: argue, obsecra, increpa.” “Preach the word: be instant [persistent] in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim 4:2);
- on the other hand: “in omni patientia, et doctrina,” “in all patience and doctrine” (ibid.): attract to Tradition those who are walking in that direction, encourage them, introduce them little by little to the battle and to an increasingly courageous attitude. There still are authentically Catholic souls who thirst for the truth, and we have no right to refuse them the cup of cold water that is the Gospel by an indifferent or haughty attitude. These souls often end up encouraging us by their own courage and determination.
These two demands are complementary: we cannot separate one from the other, by focusing exclusively either on the denunciation of the errors resulting from Vatican II, or on the assistance that we owe to those who are becoming aware of the crisis and need to be enlightened. This twofold demand is profoundly one, since it is the manifestation of the sole charity of truth.
How does this aid to souls thirsting for the truth take concrete form?
I think that we must not set limits on Providence, which will give us on a case-by-case basis the means suited to the different situations. Each soul is a world in herself, she has a personal journey behind her, and it is necessary to know the soul individually so as to be in a position to come to her aid effectively. This is all about a fundamental attitude that we must cultivate in ourselves, a prior disposition to come to the aid of others, and not about an illusory concern with establishing the universal user’s manual that would apply to everyone.
To give some concrete examples, our seminaries presently are welcoming several priests from outside of the Society—three in Zaitzkofen and two in La Reja—who want to see clearly in the situation of the Church and who above all wish to live out their priesthood in its entirety.
The influence of the priesthood is the sole means by which the Church will be brought back to Tradition. We categorically must revive this conviction. The Society of Saint Pius X will soon be forty-eight years old. By God’s grace, it has experienced a prodigious expansion throughout the whole world; it has works that are growing everywhere, numerous priests, districts, priories, schools.... The downside of this expansion is that the spirit of initial conquest has inevitably weakened. Without meaning to be, we are increasingly absorbed by the management of everyday problems resulting from this development; the apostolic spirit can pale as a result; the risk is that the great ideals will fade away. We are in the third generation of priests since the foundation of the Society in 1970.... It is necessary to rediscover the missionary fervor that our founder inspired in us.
In this crisis, which causes many believers who are devoted to Tradition to suffer, how should we think about the relations between Rome and the Society?
Here, too, we must strive to maintain a supernatural view and to avoid letting this question turn into an obsession, for every obsession subjectively besieges the mind and prevents it from reaching the objective truth, which is its goal.
More particularly today, we must avoid haste in our judgments, which is often fostered by the modern means of communication; we must not launch into the “definitive” commentary on a Roman document or on a sensitive topic: seven minutes to improvise it and one minute to put it online.... To have a “scoop” and to create a “buzz” are the new demands of the social media, but the information that they present in this way is very superficial and—what is worse—in the long run they make all serious, deep reflection impossible. The readers, the listeners, the spectators fret and worry.... This anxiety affects the way in which they receive information. The Society has suffered too much from this unhealthy and—in the final analysis—worldly tendency, which we all must urgently try to correct. The less connected we are to the Internet, the more we will rediscover peace of mind and serenity of judgment. The fewer screens we have, the better we will be able to make an objective evaluation of the real facts and of their exact import.
On Our Relations with Rome
Concerning our relations with Rome, what are the real facts?
Ever since the doctrinal discussions with the Roman theologians, you can say that we are confronted with two sources of communication, two types of relations that are established on levels that must be carefully distinguished:
- one public, official, clear source, which still imposes on us statements with essentially the same doctrinal contents;
- the other one that emanates from one or another member of the Curia, with interesting private exchanges containing new elements about the relative value of the Council, about this or that point of doctrine.... These are new and interesting discussions, which certainly should be pursued, yet nevertheless remain informal, unofficial, private discussions, whereas on the official level—despite a certain evolution of language—the same demands are always repeated.
Certainly we carefully note what is said positively in private, but here it is not really Rome speaking; these are well-meaning, timid Nicodemuses, and they are not the official hierarchy. Therefore it is necessary to stick strictly to the official documents, and to explain why we cannot accept them.
The latest official documents—for example, the letter from Cardinal Müller dated June 2017—always express the same demand: the Council must be accepted as a precondition, and after that it will be possible to keep discussing what is not clear to the Society; in doing so, they reduce our objections to a subjective difficulty in reading and comprehension, and they promise to help us to understand correctly what the Council really meant. The Roman authorities turn this prior acceptance into a question of faith and of principle; they say this explicitly. Their demands today are the same as they were thirty years ago. The Second Vatican Council must be accepted in the continuity of ecclesial Tradition, as a part to be integrated into that Tradition. They concede our point that there may be reservations on the part of the Society that deserve explanations, but in no case a rejection of the teachings of the Council as such: [for them] this is purely and simply Magisterial teaching!
Now the problem is right here, always at the same place, and we cannot shift it to somewhere else: what is the dogmatic authority of a Council that intended to be pastoral? What is the value of these new principles taught by the Council, which have been applied systematically, consistently and in perfect continuity with what had been taught by the hierarchy that was responsible both for the Council and for the post-conciliar period? This real Council is the Council of religious liberty, or collegiality, of ecumenism, of the “living tradition”..., and unfortunately it is not the result of a wrong interpretation. The proof of this is that this real Council has never been rectified or corrected by the competent authority. It conveys a spirit, a teaching, a way of thinking about the Church which are an obstacle to the sanctification of souls, and its tragic results are right before the eyes of all intellectually honest men, of all people of good will. This real Council corresponds at the same time to a doctrinal teaching and a lived-out practice that have been imposed on the “People of God”; we refuse to accept this as just another council like the others. This is why we discuss its authority, but always in a spirit of charity, for we want nothing but the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Our discussion is not a mere theological joust and, in fact, it has bearing on subjects that are not “debatable”: the life of the Church is at stake here, indubitably. And that is what God will judge us on.
This, then, is the perspective in which we stick to the official documents from Rome, with respect but also with realism; it is not about being on the right or the left, hard-line or lax: it is simply about being realistic.
What should be done while waiting?
I can answer only by mentioning a few priorities. First, trust in Providence, which cannot abandon us and which has always given us signs of its protection and its benevolence. To doubt, to hesitate, to ask for other guarantees from Providence would constitute a serious lack of gratitude. Our stability and strength depend on our trust in God: I think that all of us ought to examine our conscience on their subject.
Moreover, it is necessary to rediscover each day the treasure that we hold in our hands, to remember that this treasure comes to us from Our Lord Himself and that it cost Him His Blood. By regularly placing ourselves again in the presence of these sublime realities in all their grandeur, our souls will habitually remain in adoration and will be strengthened as needed for the day of trial.
We must also have a growing concern for the education of children. It is necessary to keep clearly in mind the goal that we wish to achieve and not be afraid to speak to them about the Cross, about the passion of Our Lord, about His love for the little ones, about sacrifice. It is absolutely necessary for the souls of children to be captured already at a very tender age by the love of Our Lord, before the spirit of the world can seduce and ravish them. This question absolutely has priority, and if we do not manage to transmit what we have received, that is the sign that we are not sufficiently convinced of it.
Finally, we must struggle against a certain intellectual laziness: doctrine indeed is what gives our battle for the Church and for souls its reason for being. It is necessary to make an effort to update our analysis of major current events, in the light of the perennial doctrine, without being content with the lazy “copy-and-paste” which the Internet—again—unfortunately promotes. Wisdom sets and resets things in order, at every moment, and each thing finds its exact place.
The Mass Crusade Archbishop Lefebvre
What can the faithful do, more particularly?
At Mass, the faithful discover the echo of the ephpheta, “be opened”, pronounced by the priest at Baptism. Their soul is opened once more to the grace of the Holy Sacrifice. Even when they are very little, children who attend Mass are sensitive to the sacred meaning that the Traditional liturgy expresses. Above all, attending Mass makes fruitful the life of married couples, with all its trials, and gives it a profoundly supernatural meaning, for the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony flow from Our Lord’s sacrifice. Attending Mass is what reminds them that God wants to make use of them as cooperators in the most beautiful of His works: sanctifying and protecting the souls of their children.
During his jubilee in 1979, Abp. Lefebvre had invited us to a Mass crusade, for God wants to renew the priesthood and, through it, the family, which is attacked today from every side. His vision then was prophetic; nowadays it has become an observation that anyone can make. What he foresaw, we now have before our eyes:
“What is left, then, for us to do, my dear brethren? If we deepen our understanding of the great mystery which is the Mass, I think I can say that we should have a crusade, emphasizing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; emphasizing that invincible rock and that inexhaustible source of grace which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And we see this every day. You are here because you love the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These young seminarians who are studying in Ecône, the United States and Germany, came to our seminaries for the Holy Mass, the Mass of All Time, which is the source of graces, the source of the Holy Ghost, the source of Christian civilization. That is what the priest is. Well, then, we must make a crusade, a crusade that emphasizes this idea of immutability, of sacrifice, in order to recreate Christendom, to re-establish a Christendom such as the Church desired, such as she has always done, with the same principles, the same Sacrifice of the Mass, the same sacraments, the same catechism, the same Sacred Scripture” (Sermon of Abp. Lefebvre on the occasion of his priestly jubilee, September 23, 1979, in Paris, Porte de Versailles).
This Christendom must be remade in everyday life, through the faithful performance of the duties of our state in life, right where the good Lord has placed us. Some rightly deplore the fact that the Church and the Society are not what they ought to be. They forget that they have the means to remedy this defect, in their place, through their personal sanctification. There, everyone is Superior General.... No need for a Chapter in order to be elected; each day it is necessary to sanctify that portion of the Church of which one is the absolute master: his soul!
Abp. Lefebvre continued: “We must recreate this Christendom, and you, my dear brethren, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-14); you are the ones whom Our Lord Jesus Christ addressed when He said to you: ‘Do not waste the spiritual fruit of My Blood, do not abandon My Calvary, do not abandon My Sacrifice.’ And the Virgin Mary who stands beneath the Cross, tells you this as well; She, whose heart is pierced, full of sufferings and sorrows, yet at the same time filled with the joy of uniting herself to the Sacrifice of her Divine Son, tells you this as well: ‘Let us be Christians, let us be Catholics!’ Let us not be carried away by all these worldly ideas, by all these currents of thought in the world which draw us to sin and to hell. If we want to go to Heaven, we must follow Our Lord Jesus Christ; we must carry our cross and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, imitating Him in His Cross, in His suffering, and in His Sacrifice.”
And the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X launched a crusade for young people, for Christian families, for heads of families, for priests. He insisted with an eloquence that moves us today, forty years later, for we see how much this remedy applies to the present evils:
“The inheritance which Jesus Christ gave to us is His sacrifice, it is His Blood, it is His Cross. And that is the leaven of all Christian civilization and of all that is supposed to bring us to Heaven.... Keep this testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Keep the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Keep the Mass of All time! And you will see Christian civilization flourish again.”
Forty years later we cannot shirk the responsibility of this crusade: it requires an even more demanding ardor and an even more enthusiastic service to the Church and to souls. As I said at the beginning of this interview, Tradition is ours, completely, but this honor creates a serious responsibility: we will be judged by our fidelity in transmitting what we have received.
Father General, before concluding, allow us to ask a more personal question. Didn’t the responsibility that fell on your shoulders on July 11 of this year frighten you?
Yes, I must admit that I was somewhat afraid, and I even hesitated in my heart before accepting it. We are all vessels of clay, and that is true also of the man who is elected Superior General: even though it is a somewhat more visible and somewhat larger vessel, it is nonetheless fragile.
The thought of the Most Blessed Virgin is the only thing that enabled me to overcome the fear: I place my trust in her alone, and I do so totally. She is not made of clay because she is of ivory; she is not a fragile vessel because she is an impregnable tower: turris eburnea [as it says in the Litany of Loreto]. She is like an army set in battle array, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata [Canticle of Canticles 6:3], which knows in advance that victory is the only possible outcome of all its battles: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”