A recent interview of the District Superior of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Germany, Fr. Bernhard Gerstle, FSSP, is getting a good bit of well-deserved attention in traditional circles thanks mainly to his comments concerning the SSPX, the Second Vatican Council and the sacred liturgy.
(An English translation of the German original is available HERE.)
When asked in what ways the FSSP differs from the Society of St. Pius X, Fr. Gerstle said that one must first distinguish between “the moderates and the hardliners” within the SSPX.
“There exists a larger number of moderate priests, especially within the German-speaking region, who want to avoid a permanent break with Rome and are interested in an agreement.”
OK, let’s stop here…
The truth is, no one in the Society (starting with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) ever desired “a permanent break with Rome” properly speaking.
Rather, what has always been the desire is for “Rome” (understood to mean the Captains of Newchurch, up to and including the pope) to return to Eternal Rome – the same from which the SSPX never departed.
There exists a larger number of moderate priests, especially within the German-speaking region…
Let’s be honest – a “moderate” in Germany is a Protestant everywhere else. Just sayin’…
How, or to what extent, this might shed light on Fr. Gerstle’s perspective, I do not know.
In any case, while I don’t doubt that Fr. Gerstle has some personal relationships with Society priests in his country, I wouldn’t take his insights on the internal affairs of the SSPX very seriously; especially in light of what follows.
“Then there are the hardliners [in the SSPX] who largely reject the Second Vatican Council – for example, freedom of religion or ecumenism – and of these, there are some who even doubt the validity of the new liturgy.”
While surely there are some SSPX priests that doubt the validity of the new liturgy, the suggestion that those who reject the Council’s treatment of religious liberty and ecumenism are “hardliners” that occupy some fringe within the Society is absurd.
In other words, Fr. Gerstle’s credibility is about nil when it comes to his observations concerning the state of the Society.
Where he may have credibility, however, is with respect to the state of the FSSP.
On this note, he said:
“The Fraternity of St. Peter, on the other hand, agreed to undertake an impartial study of the documents of the Council and has come to believe that there is no break with earlier magisterial teaching.”
No break with earlier magisterial teaching?
He can’t be serious.
Fr. Gerstle goes on:
“Nonetheless, some documents are formulated in such a way as to give rise to misunderstandings.”
Ah, yes… It’s just a big misunderstanding; one that has continued for more than 50 years on the watch of several popes!
If you listen closely to Fr. Gerstle you’ll hear the Benedictine refrain echoing in the background:
Hermeneutic of continuity… Hermeneutic of continuity… Hermeneutic of continuity…
“Since then, however, Rome has issued relevant clarifications, which the Society of St. Pius X should recognize.”
Exactly what clarifications Fr. Gerstle has in mind isn’t clear. Be that as it may, it makes no difference whatsoever what he thinks the Society “should” recognize.
Archbishop Guido Pozzo, speaking on behalf of Ecclesia Dei, has gone on record as confirming what so-called “traditionalists” have always known; the Council’s documents on religious liberty, ecumenism and relations with non-Christian religions bind no one.
Commenting further on the distinction between the SSPX and the FSSP, Fr. Gerstle said:
“Our apostolate always operates with the consent of local bishops and priests, and we work to maintain good relations. Almost everywhere we are active, our priests have a good relationship to the local ordinaries.”
A good relationship with local ordinaries?
Well I should think so given his endorsement of the Almighty Council!
I mean, seriously, one can almost imagine him sitting on Cardinal Marx’s lap as the interview was being conducted.
Fr. Gerstle went on:
“We do not want to polarize or divide; on the contrary, we attempt to convey an ecclesial attitude to the faithful in the communities we serve. Those grievances and abuses which undeniably take place in the Church must be addressed, but this must be done in a differentiated and moderate manner.”
“Ecclesial attitude” my asperges. What he’s describing is the conciliar attitude; one that places the highest possible priority on dialogue and religious diplomacy – quite unlike the attitude of that polarizing Jesus figure.
Fr. Gerstle went on to reject the “traditionalist” label saying that while the FSSP treasures tradition, “we [do not] completely block ourselves off from organic adaptations and changes.”
I suppose he means such “organic changes” as those concerning the Church’s view of the Jews in our time who are pleased to reject Christ yet are now considered to be one with us in the Cross (NA 4), or the heretic communities that we now understand as being used by Christ as means of salvation (UR 3), or maybe the newly discovered right that man has to practice whatever religion he chooses both publicly and privately – a right that comes from man’s own dignity, no less (DH 2).
Then again, maybe Fr. Gerstle was referring to the “organic changes” that brought about the Novus Ordo Missae…
On the topic of liturgy, Fr. Gerstle left little room for doubt about the nature of his attitude; dutifully referring to the Traditional Roman Rite numerous times as the “Extraordinary Form,” and even going so far as to suggest that “both forms of the Rite should enrich each other mutually.”
“I am convinced that certain elements of the old liturgy could improve the new, and also that elements of the new liturgy could enrich the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.”
If all that has been said thus far isn’t troubling enough, get this:
“Concern for salvation of souls, as Pope Francis is fond of stressing, must remain our central concern.”
Pope Francis is fond of stressing the salvation of souls?
This tells us everything we need to know about Fr. Gerstle; the man is either a fool, a fraud, or some unfortunate combination thereof.
What we don’t know is whether the views expressed in this interview represent the opinions of just one German cleric and perhaps some of the priests in his charge, or if they can be taken as the official position of the FSSP as a whole.
For the sake of the faithful in their care worldwide, let’s hope that it’s the former.
My sense is that most Fraternity parishioners (at least here in the U.S.) would say that many of Fr. Gerstle’s comments do not accurately reflect the views of their sacred pastors.
In the end, however, I’m not sure that it really matters very much since the one thing we know for certain is that Fr. Gerstle, in spite of (or perhaps because of) his decidedly conciliar attitude, has risen to prominence within the FSSP.
That makes him dangerous, and the FSSP suspect.
Lastly, there are some who will, with the possible “regularization” of the SSPX in mind, point to Fr. Gerstle as an example of what happens to those who enter into agreements with Rome.
I, for one, don’t believe that one necessarily follows the other; no more than I believe that keeping company with drunkards necessarily leads to alcoholism.
If Fr. Gerstle is an example of anything it is what happens when men lose their fervor for the truth; nothing more, nothing less.