This is why it seems to us necessary to reaffirm the truth received from Christ (1) about the role of the pope and the bishops and (2) about marriage and the family. We are doing this in the same spirit that prompted us to send to Pope Francis a petition before the second session of this Synod.
1. The Role of the Pope and the Bishops
As sons of the Catholic Church, we believe that the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, is the Vicar of Christ, and at the same time that he is the head of the whole Church. His power is a jurisdiction in the proper sense. With regard to this power, the pastors, as well as the faithful of the particular Churches, separately or all together, even in a Council, in a Synod, or in episcopal conferences, are obliged by a duty of hierarchical subordination and genuine obedience.
God has arranged things in such a way that, by maintaining unity of communion with the Bishop of Rome and by professing the same faith, the Church of Christ might be one flock under one Shepherd. God’s Holy Church is divinely constituted as a hierarchical society, in which the authority that governs the faithful comes from God, through the pope and the bishops who are subject to him.
When the supreme papal Magisterium has issued the authentic expression of revealed truth, in dogmatic matters as well as in disciplinary matters, it is not within the province of ecclesiastical organs vested with a lesser degree of authority—such as bishops’ conferences—to introduce modifications to it.
The meaning of the sacred dogmas that must be preserved perpetually is the one that the Magisterium of the pope and the bishops has taught once and for all, and it is never lawful to deviate from it. Hence the Church’s pastoral ministry, when it practices mercy, must begin by remedying the poverty of ignorance, by giving souls the expression of the truth that will save them.
In the hierarchy thus instituted by God, in matters of faith and magisterial teaching, revealed truths were entrusted as a Sacred Deposit to the apostles and to their successors, the pope and the bishops, so that they might guard it faithfully and teach it authoritatively. The sources that contain this Deposit are the books of Sacred Scripture and the non-written traditions which, after being received by the apostles from Christ Himself or handed on by the apostles under the dictation of the Holy Ghost, have come down to us.
When the teaching Church declares the meaning of these truths contained in Scripture and Tradition, she imposes it with authority on the faithful, so that they might believe it as being revealed by God. It is false to say that the job of the pope and the bishops is to ratify what the sensus fidei or the common experience of the ‘People of God’ suggests to them.
As we already wrote in our Petition to the Holy Father: “Our uneasiness is caused by something that Saint Pius X condemned in his Encyclical Pascendi: an alignment of dogma with supposed contemporary demands. Pius X and you, Holy Father, received the fullness of the authority to teach, sanctify and govern in obedience to Christ, who is the Head and the Shepherd of the flock in every age and in every place, whose faithful vicar the pope should be on this earth. The object of a dogmatic condemnation could not possibly become, with the passage of time, an authorized pastoral practice.”
This is what prompted Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to write in his Declaration dated November 21, 1974: “No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. ‘But though we,’ says St. Paul, ‘or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.’”
2. Marriage and the Catholic Family
As for marriage, God provided for the increase of the human race by instituting marriage, which is the stable and perpetual union of a man and a woman. The marriage of baptized persons is a sacrament, since Christ elevated it to that dignity; marriage and the family are therefore institutions that are both divine and natural.
The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, which no human intention should prevent by performing acts contrary to it. The secondary end of marriage is the mutual assistance that the spouses offer to each other as well as the remedy to concupiscence.
Christ established that the unity of marriage would be definitive, both for Christians and for all mankind. This unity possesses an indissoluble character, such that the conjugal bond can never be broken, neither by the will of the two parties nor by any human authority: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” In the case of the sacramental marriage of baptized persons, this unity and indissolubility are further explained by the fact that it is the sign of Christ’s union with His Bride.
Anything that human beings may decree or do against the unity or indissolubility of marriage is not in keeping with the requirements of nature or with the good of human society. Moreover, faithful Catholics have the serious duty not to join together solely by the bond of a civil marriage, without taking into account the religious marriage prescribed by the Church.
The reception of the Eucharist (or sacramental Communion) requires the state of sanctifying grace and union with Christ through charity; it increases this charity and at the same time signifies Christ’s love for the Church, which is united with Him as His only Spouse. Consequently, those who deliberately cohabit or even live together in an adulterous union, contrary to the laws God and of the Church, cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion because they are giving the bad example of a serious lack of justice and charity, and they are considered public sinners: “He that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.”
In order to receive absolution for one’s sins within the framework of the Sacrament of Penance, it is necessary to have the firm resolution to sin no more, and consequently those who refuse to put an end to their irregular situation cannot receive valid absolution.
In keeping with the natural law, man has a right to exercise his sexuality only within lawful marriage, while respecting the limits set by morality. This is why homosexuality contradicts natural and divine law. Unions entered into apart from marriage (cohabitation, adulterous, or even homosexual unions) are a disorder contrary to the requirements of the natural divine law and are therefore a sin; it is impossible to acknowledge therein any moral good whatsoever, even diminished.
Given current errors and civil legislation against the sanctity of marriage and the purity of morals, the natural law allows no exceptions, because God in His infinite wisdom, when He gave His law, foresaw all cases and all circumstances, unlike human legislators. Therefore so-called situation ethics, whereby some propose to adapt the rules of conduct dictated by the natural law to the variable circumstances of different cultures, is inadmissible. The solution to problems of a moral order must not be decided solely by the consciences of the spouses of or their pastors, and the natural law is imposed on conscience as a rule of action.
The Good Samaritan’s care for the sinner is manifested by a kind of mercy that does not compromise with his sin, just as the physician who wants to help a sick person recover his health effectively does not compromise with his sickness but helps him to get rid of it. One cannot emancipate oneself from Gospel teaching in the name of a subjectivist pastoral approach which, while recalling it in general, would abolish in on a case-by-case basis. One cannot grant to the bishops the faculty of suspending the law of the indissolubility of marriage ad casum, without running the risk of weakening the teaching of the Gospel and of fragmenting the authority of the Church. For, in this erroneous view, what is affirmed doctrinally could be denied pastorally, and what is forbidden de jure could be authorized de facto.
In this utter confusion it is now up to the pope—in keeping with his responsibility, and within the limits set on him by Christ—to restate clearly and firmly the Catholic truth quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, and to keep this universal truth from being contradicted in practice locally.
Following Christ’s counsel: vigilate et orate, we pray for the pope: oremus pro pontifice nostro Francisco, and we remain vigilant: non tradat eum in manus inimicorum ejus, so that God may not deliver him over to the power of his enemies. We implore Mary, Mother of the Church, to obtain for him the graces that will enable him to be the faithful steward of the treasures of her Divine Son.
Menzingen, October 27, 2015
+ Bernard FELLAY
Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X