Bernard Fellay

His Excellency, the Most Reverend
Bernard Fellay
Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X

Bishop Fellay at a priestly ordination in 2009
Elected July 1994
Predecessor Franz Schmidberger
Ordination 29 June 1982
by Marcel Lefebvre
Consecration 30 June 1988
by Marcel Lefebvre
Personal details
Born (1958-04-12) 12 April 1958
Sierre, Switzerland
Nationality Swiss
Denomination Roman Catholic
Alma mater The International Seminary of Saint Pius X
Motto Spes nostra
Coat of arms

Bernard Fellay SSPX (born 12 April 1958) is a Swiss bishop and superior general of the Traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X. In 1988, Pope John Paul II announced that Fellay and three other bishops were automatically excommunicated for being consecrated bishop by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, an act that the Holy See described as "unlawful" and "schismatic".[1] Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishop who co-consecrated these four bishops were also excommunicated.

In January 2009, at Fellay's request,[2] the Congregation for Bishops, on instructions from Pope Benedict XVI, rescinded the excommunication.[3] Pope Benedict followed up this gesture by stressing that the Society of Pope Pius X has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.[4]

Early life and ministry

Fellay was born in Sierre, Switzerland in 1958. In October 1977, at the age of nineteen, Fellay began studies for the priesthood at the International Seminary of Saint Pius X at Écône, Switzerland. On 29 June 1982 he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. After his ordination, he was named Bursar General of the SSPX and was stationed at Rickenbach, the headquarters of the SSPX in Switzerland. He continued in that position for the next ten years.

Consecration and excommunication

Coat of Arms of Mgr. Fellay
Main article: Ecône consecrations

In June 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate Fellay and three other priests as bishops. Lefebvre did not have a pontifical mandate for these consecrations (i.e. permission from the pope), normally required by Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. On 17 June 1988 Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent Fellay a formal canonical warning that he would automatically incur the penalty of excommunication if he were ordained by Lefebvre without papal permission.

On 30 June 1988 Fellay and the three other priests were consecrated bishop by Archbishop Lefebvre. On 1 July 1988 Cardinal Gantin issued a declaration stating that Lefebvre, Fellay, and the three other newly-ordained bishops "have incurred ipso facto the excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See".

On 2 July 1988, Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, in which he reaffirmed the excommunication, and described the consecration as an act of "disobedience to the Roman pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church", and that "such disobedience — which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy — constitutes a schismatic act".[5] Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, head of the commission responsible for implementing Ecclesia Dei, has said this resulted in a "situation of separation, even if it was not a formal schism".[6]

Fellay and his supporters denied the validity of the excommunication, saying that the consecrations were necessary due to a moral and theological crisis in the Catholic Church.[7][8][9]

SSPX Superior General

In July 1994 the General Chapter of the SSPX met at Écône and elected Fellay Superior General in succession to Father Franz Schmidberger. On 12 July 2006, he was re-elected for another term of 12 years, which expires in 2018. Some opponents of the SSPX, most notably the French ultra-traditionalist web sites Virgo-Maria, Resistance-Catholique, and the TRADITIO Network, have criticized the terms as too long, noting that other religious orders have terms of only 4 years.

On 29 August 2005, Fellay was received in audience by Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.[10] The audience was also attended by Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos and Father Schmidberger. They discussed the present state of the Church and of the SSPX, the Society's concerns about Modernism in the Church, the restoration of the Tridentine Mass, and the possible recognition of the SSPX by the Holy See.

By a decree of 21 January 2009 (Protocol Number 126/2009), which was issued in response to a renewed request that Bishop Fellay made on behalf of all four bishops whom Lefebvre had consecrated on 30 June 1988, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, by the power expressly granted to him by Pope Benedict XVI, remitted the automatic excommunication that they had thereby incurred, and expressed the wish that this would be followed speedily by full communion of the whole of the Society of Saint Pius X with the Church, thus bearing witness, by the proof of visible unity, to true loyalty and true recognition of the Pope's Magisterium and authority.[3] The canonical situation of the four bishops thus became the same as that of the other clergy of the Society, who are suspended a divinis.[11]

The remissions have not been unanimously welcomed by all members of the SSPX. Fr. Florian Abrahamowicz, a SSPX's dean of Northeastern Italy, called the action "insulting," since it claimed to remit an excommunication of these four bishops that the Society had officially maintained since 1988 did not exist.[12] Abrahamowicz was very soon expelled by the Italian chapter of the Society of Saint Pius X for that comment or his Holocaust-related remarks.[13]

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has reported Fellay as declaring that if Archbishop Lefebvre had seen how Mass is celebrated in an abbey near Florence in strict accordance with the 1970 Missal, he would not have taken the step that he did take.[14]

Speaking in relation to the talks with Rome in an interview in July 2009, Fellay said of the significance of the Second Vatican Council, "We will not make any compromise on the Council. I have no intention of making a compromise. The truth does not tolerate compromise. We do not want a compromise, we want clarity regarding the Council." In February 2011, Fellay said that the reconciliation talks with the Vatican would soon be coming to an end, with little change in the views of either side. In addition to disputes over the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council, new problems have been created by plans for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Fellay said the scheduled beatification of Pope John Paul II on 1 May 2011 posed "a serious problem, the problem of a pontificate that caused things to proceed by leaps and bounds in the wrong direction, along 'progressive' lines, toward everything that they call 'the spirit of Vatican II.'"[15] Bishop Williamson, in his weekly message, attacked Fellay for being too open to dialogue between the Society of St. Pius X and the Holy See.[16] However, on 12 October 2013, Fellay declared, "We thank God, we have been preserved from any kind of agreement from last year", saying that the society had withdrawn the compromise text that it presented to Rome on 15 April 2012.[17]

On the same occasion, he spoke of the Third Secret of Fatima as seemingly foretelling "both a material chastisement and a great crisis in the Church" and described Pope Francis as "a genuine Modernist", who, in late July 2013, had begun a series of contacts, regarding which Fellay said: "We may not have the entire picture at this point, we have enough to be scared to death."[17] He expressed a different view about Pope Francis on 11 May 2014, saying that he had read twice a biography of Archbishop Lefebvre and enjoyed it: "With the current pope, as he is a practical man, he looks at people. What a person thinks, what he believes, is at the end a matter of indifference to him. What matters is that this person be sympathetic in his view, that he seems correct to him, one may say it like this./ And therefore he read twice Bp. Tissier de Mallerais' book on Abp. Lefebvre, and this book pleased him; he is against all that we represent, but, as a life, it pleased him." He also described how Pope Francis took a tolerant view of the FSSPX in Argentina, even saying that "I will not condemn them, and I will not stop anyone from visiting them."[18]

On 28 December 2012, in a radio interview aired from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Chapel in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, Bishop Fellay declared, “Who, during that time, was the most opposed that the Church would recognize the Society? The enemies of the Church. The Jews, the Masons, the Modernists.” That was taken by various media entities to be an attack on the Jewish people[19]

The Society of St. Pius X issued the following reply: "The word 'enemies' used here by Bishop Fellay is of course a religious concept and refers to any group or religious sect which opposes the mission of the Catholic Church and her efforts to fulfill it: the salvation of souls.... By referring to the Jews, Bishop Fellay's comment was aimed at the leaders of Jewish organizations, and not the Jewish people, as is being implied by journalists. Accordingly the Society of St. Pius X denounces the repeated false accusations of anti-Semitism or hate speech made in an attempt to silence its message."[20]


  1. Apostolic Letter 'Ecclesia Dei' Archived January 29, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Video on YouTube
  3. 1 2 Decree remitting the excommunication latae sententiae of the Bishops of the Society of St Pius X Archived September 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre
  5. Apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988). Accessed 2008-01-01.
  6. Interview for 30 days (2005). 30giorni. Accessed 2008-01-01.
  7. SSPX FAQ Question 11 (29 June 1987). Accessed 2008-01-01.
  8. The 1988 consecrations: a theological study (July & September 1999). Sì sì no no via Accessed 2008-01-01.
  9. The 1988 consecrations: a canonical study (November 1999). Sì sì no no via Accessed 2008-01-01.
  10. Interview with Bishop Fellay about Papal Audience Archived February 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Letter of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei of 29 September 1995)
  12. Homily on 25 January 2009
  13. "Father Florian Abrahamowicz has for some time been expressing opinions differing from the official views of the Society of St. Pius X. The painful decision to expel him has become necessary in order to avoid having the image of the Society of St. Pius X further distorted with consequent harm to its work at the service of the Church." Lefebvriani, Fraternità San Pio X espelle prete negazionista 5 February 2009
  14. Catholic News Agency: "Cardinal: If Lefebvre had seen proper Mass, he may not have split"
  15. Traditionalist bishop cites lack of progress in talks with Vatican
  16. Bishop Williamson, "Doctrine Undermined", 26 May 2012 Archived May 28, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. 1 2 John Vennari, "Bishop Fellay on Pope Francis 'What we have before us is a genuine Modernist!'" in Catholic Family News, October 2013
  18. SSPX Bp. Fellay on Pope Francis: "He has read the biography of Abp. Lefebvre twice and he liked it." And Some Other Important Revelations, Rorate Caeli, May 2015
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-22. Retrieved 2013-03-18.

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