Fernando Arêas Rifan (born 25 October 1950) is a bishop from Campos, Brazil. He was ordained a priest of that diocese on December 8, 1974. He joined the Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney on August 29, 1981. He is currently the Apostolic Administrator of the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney
An image captured right before Mehmet Ali Agca pulled the trigger on May 13, 1981; his hand, holding the gun, is visible above the crowd at left. Source: (reddit.com)
Special note: A friend, Richard Duplantis, has a website where he sells beautiful liturgical supplies. I urge readers interested in such items to consider him: https://southernliturgicals.com/ — “Where art and beauty embrace the sacred.”
“Difficult Times Will Come”
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied power; Avoid such men as these. –2 Timothy 3:1–5
“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” —Matthew 24:12
Letter #72, 2021, Tuesday, July 27: “I would like to offer a suggestion”
I recently received this letter from a reader:
“I would like to offer a suggestion for an article because it is difficult to follow the Society of St. Pius X controversy without more information on the structure and organization of the Catholic Church. For example, how many “personal prelatures” are there in the Church? How are they set up; what do they do that is different; how do they relate to the regular parish setup, etc.? How would SSPX operate as one of these?… This sort of basic information does not appear to be taught to the lay people of the regular parishes in the United States, but it is important in understanding the relationship between the Vatican and such groups.
I wrote back:
“There is only one Personal Prelature in the Catholic Church. It was established by John Paul in 1982 for Opus Dei….”
I then wondered: “Was there really just one? Maybe I should look it up.”
Then I thought: “No need to bother. I know there is only one. I remember when it was created, and there have been none since…”
Then I looked it up… And there is only one.
I remember when the first (and only) Personal Prelature was created. It was on November 28, 1982.
Pope John Paul II wished to give a certain group a canonical structure that would allow it to operate worldwide, a “Prelature” and not a “diocese.”
All the members of the Prelature would be under a “Prelate” who would be like a bishop — or would be an actual bishop — and everywhere in the world, the members of the Prelature — like the members of a diocese — would be under the authority and leadership of that “Prelate/Bishop.”
It was like…. a global diocese.
Paul VI never liked the idea and always opposed it.
The Founder of the group desired such a Prelature to be established and asked Pope Paul VI to grant him that structure, to allow him to have a global diocese for all the members of his community. But the Founder died in 1975 without receiving the gift from Paul VI.
Then, in 1978, Paul VI died, then John Paul I died after 33 days, and a second Pope was elected, John Paul II — for the first time in centuries, a non-Italian.
That Pope underwent an assassination attempt two and a half years later, on May 13, 1981 — actually, the would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, had promised publicly in 1979, when the Pope traveled to Turkey — that he would assassinate him during the trip to Turkey (the Pope did not cancel the trip, despite the threat, but he did take precautions — he wore a bullet-proof vest under his white cassock while in Turkey).
Then, in 1982, the Banco Ambrosiano of Milan went bankrupt, and it was alleged that the Vatican bank, led by Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (who was my friend; he died in 2006 in Arizona), was responsible, Marcinkus said it was not so, but Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (Marcinkus told me), persuaded Pope John Paul II to settle the matter for a payment of $242 million. The funds for that settlement were, at least in part, provided by members of the community that sought to have a Personal Prelature. A few months later, Pope John Paul established that community as the first, and until now the only, Personal Prelature in the Catholic Church.
“Although similar personal hierarchical structures already existed (such as military vicariates), the juridical figure of the personal prelature is the result of an apostolic desire of the Second Vatican Council that later took form in the present Code of Canon Law. The first to be erected was the prelature of Opus Dei, in the Apostolic Constitution Ut sit of John Paul II, on November 28, 1982.”
But I had forgotten one thing.
There is one other ecclesial structure in the Church similar in some ways to a Personal Prelature.
It is in Brazil.
It is the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney (Latin: Administratio Apostolica Personalis Sancti Ioannis Mariae Vianney), established on January 18, 2002 by Pope John Paul II for traditionalist Catholic clergy and laity within the Diocese of Campos in Brazil.
It is the only personal apostolic administration in existence, and the only Catholic Church jurisdiction devoted exclusively to celebrating the pre-1965 form of the Roman Rite.
Its current Apostolic Administrator is Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan.
From 3 January 1949 to 29 August 1981, the Diocese of Campos was headed by Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, who opposed the use there of Pope Paul VI‘s revision of the Roman Missal and held to the Tridentine Mass.
After his resignation, the then 77-year-old Bishop Castro Mayer continued to lead opposition in the diocese to the revised liturgy and on 30 June 1988 joined with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in consecrating as bishops, against an express prohibition by Pope John Paul II, four priests of the Society of St. Pius X. For this action he was declared to have incurred excommunication.
The priests of Campos who shared his traditionalist Catholic views formed themselves into the Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, also known as the Sacerdotal Society of St. John Marie Vianney (SSJV) and, when Bishop de Castro Mayer died in April 1991, chose as his successor Licínio Rangel, who was given episcopal consecration later that year by three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X.
Reconciliation with the Holy See
Together with the Society of Saint Pius X, the Campos group of priests made a pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee Year 2000 and was welcomed by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, with a lunch and dialogue.
They decided to seek reconciliation with the Holy See and, on 15 August 2001, wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II in which the “whole Union renewed the profession of Catholic faith, declaring full communion with the Chair of Peter, recognizing ‘his Primacy and the government of the universal Church, her pastors and her faithful,’ and likewise declaring: ‘For no reason do we wish to be separated from the Rock (Peter) on which Jesus Christ founded his Church.”
On Christmas Day (25 December), 2001, Pope John Paul II responded with an autograph letter telling the priests that, “warmly consenting to your request to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, we canonically recognize that you belong to her.”
The Pope also removed the excommunication of Bishop Rangel for his illicit episcopal ordination.
When the necessary legislation had been drawn up, the Pope then established for the Campos group, with effect from 18 January 2002, the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, with authority over those Catholics in the Diocese of Campos who wished to use the Roman Rite in the form it had before the revisions following the Second Vatican Council.
On the date of entry into effect of the new arrangement, a ceremony was held in the Cathedral of Campos on Friday 18 January.
The Papal Letter was presented to Bishop Rangel in the course of the celebration, by Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
In his letter of 25 December 2001, Pope John Paul II promised to ensure the episcopal succession of Bishop Licínio Rangel, and when Rangel asked that he be given an auxiliary bishop, recommended him to ask instead for a coadjutor, who would have the automatic right of succession.
The Pope then, on June 28, 2002, appointed to that post Rangel’s vicar general, Fernando Arêas Rifan, who automatically succeeded Rangel as Apostolic Administrator, when the latter died on 16 December 2002.
A group of traditionalist Catholics was thus accommodated fully within the Catholic Church.
They accept the authority of the Pope as Vicar of Christ and Shepherd of the Church, the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and the validity of the Mass approved by Pope Paul VI.
The clergy of the apostolic administration possess the faculty to celebrate in Latin the Mass, the sacraments and all other sacramental rites in the form codified by Pope Pius V and modified by his successors down to Pope John XXIII.
A Letter from 2016, Five Years Ago
Here is a Letter I wrote five years ago (link) which may give further context to the question:
April 29, 2016, Friday — Rumblings in the Underbrush: An Announcement Soon on the Society of St. Pius X?
“The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in the midst of these confusing times for the Church. It is called to provide a new generation of priests for the Church, to safeguard the true Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to proclaim the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all of society, even in the presence of liberal Popes and princes of the Church who betray the faith. This necessarily led to a conflict…” —Fr. Franz Schmidberger, in a February 19 internal letter to fellow leaders of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X which was leaked recently in its French original and has just been published on the internet today in English
“Archbishop Lefebvre always sought a canonical solution for the Fraternity after its condemnation and did not shy away from dialogue with the Roman authorities; to this end it was important for him to move them to understanding and conversion.” —Fr. Schmidberger, in the same letter
“We very likely have sympathizers and friends also among the bishops and cardinals. One or another of them would gladly call on us for help and give us a parish church or even entrust a seminary to us, but in the present situation this is impossible for them. These Nicodemuses are waiting impatiently for a solution that would also strengthen their backbone personally.” —Fr. Schmidberger, in the same letter
“Modernists, liberals, and other enemies of the Church are very upset about steps toward a canonical solution for the Society. Doesn’t the discernment of spirits make it clear that this is the right way and good?” —Fr. Schmidberger, in the same letter
“If God wants to come to the aid of His Church, which is bleeding from a thousand wounds, He has a thousand opportunities to do so. Among them is the official recognition of the Society by the Roman authorities.” —Fr. Schmidberger, in the same letter
“Pope Francis may soon offer the Society of Saint Pius X regular canonical status within the Catholic Church without requiring acceptance of certain texts of the Second Vatican Council with which they disagree, a prerequisite that heretofore had been seen as a deal-breaker for the traditionalists. It also appears the society may itself be poised to take such a historic step…” —Anian Christoph Wimmer of Catholic News Agency, in an April 26 article, three days ago (link)
There are rumblings of movement regarding the relationship between the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and Rome.
Some are suggesting that the announcement of a reconciliation may be imminent.
This would be remarkable news, given that Pope Francis is regarded by many as a “progressive,” while the SSPX as a “traditionalist” Catholic group. The Society criticizes some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and remains attached to the old rite of the Mass, refusing to celebrate Mass according to the Novus Ordo (New Order) introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
So, just as some Catholics are raising their voices in criticism of aspects of the Pope’s new Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“On the Joy of Love”), even raising the specter of schism, (link) the SSPX leadership is suggesting it may be willing to return to Rome’s embrace…
This is the paradoxical scenario: criticism of Pope Francis from inside the Church, and at the same time movement toward reunion with him and the Church he heads by a group outside of (or in an irregular relationship with) the Church.
So the question is: Is Pope Francis really nearing an agreement with the SSPX (also known as the Lefebvrists, because the group was founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre)?
It is possible. There are signs it could happen…
The Rorate Caeli website has today published a fascinating document written by Father Franz Schmidberger, a leading figure in the Society of St. Pius X. He is the former Superior-General of the SSPX and the current rector of the SSPX seminary in Germany.
According to Rorate Caeli, the letter, composed in French on February 19, was sent to other officials of the Society several weeks ago.
That letter was leaked a few days ago.
It has now been translated into English by Richard Chonak for The New Liturgical Movement (NLM). (link)
Chonak writes: “Under normal circumstances this is a document we would not have published, because NLM has learned that Fr. Schmidberger wrote it as a private communication. He sent it to the SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, and to a small circle of colleagues, including fellow professors at the seminary. He did not authorize anyone to release it on the internet, let alone to claim incorrectly that he had sent it to all members of the Society; but in recent days both of these have taken place without his consent. Now that erroneous translations of the text and untrue stories about the document are doing a disservice to innocent readers, Fr. Schmidberger has approved the publication of this authorized translation in English, in order to clear away the errors.” (link)
In his Considerations on the Church and on the state of the Society of Saint Pius X in it, Fr. Schmidberger argues that the time has come for a normalization of the position of the Society in the Church, under Pope Francis.
Some thoughtful observers are saying this “normalization” could be imminent.
Anian Christoph Wimmer of Catholic News Agency — the same journalist who conducted the interview with Prof. Robert Spaemann sent out yesterday — writes (link): “Pope Francis may soon offer the Society of Saint Pius X regular canonical status within the Catholic Church without requiring acceptance of certain texts of the Second Vatican Council with which they disagree, a prerequisite that heretofore had been seen as a deal-breaker for the traditionalists. It also appears the society may itself be poised to take such a historic step, urging that ‘perhaps only Pope Francis is able to take this step, given his unpredictability and improvisation,’ according to an internal Society of St. Pius X document that was leaked to the press in recent weeks.”
Wimmer adds: “On April 10, Bishop Bernard Fellay, the current superior general of the SSPX, said before some 4,000 pilgrims in the French city of Le Puy-en-Velay that there is a ‘profound change’ in the Society’s relationship with the Vatican, triggered by the ‘dire situation’ of the Church: ‘in the midst of this disorder … comes this whisper: “No, we cannot force you to accept the Council.” They perhaps will not say it so clearly, but they did indeed say it to us after all.’”
The Lefebvrist group broke with Rome in 1988, 28 years ago. Lefebvre died in 1991.
Despite the break with Rome, the group has been vibrant, with many new seminarians and priests, and with many families have eight, 10, and 12 children.
At a time when the Catholic faith in the West seems to have become in many areas tepid, without passion and commitment, and where birth rates are plummeting, the SSPX and its members seem to bring a fervor and commitment to the faith Pope Francis may feel the wider Church urgently needs.
Time will tell…
CONSIDÉRATIONS – The Schmidberger Letter Urging SSPX Acceptance of Regularization
Thoughts about the Church and the Place of the Society of Saint Pius X in it
By Father Franz Schmidberger
I. The Church is a mystery. She is the mystery of the one true God who is present among us, the saving God who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. This conversion requires our cooperation.
II. The Church is infallible in her divine nature, but she is led by human beings who can go astray and also be burdened with failings. An office should be distinguished from the person in it at a given moment. The latter holds office for a certain time and then steps down—either through death or through other circumstances; the office remains. Today Pope Francis is the holder of the papal office with the power of the primacy. At some hour that we do not know, he will step down and another Pope will be elected. As long as he occupies the papal throne, we recognize him as such and pray for him. We are not saying that he is a good Pope. On the contrary, through his liberal ideas and his administration he causes much confusion in the Church. But when Christ established the papacy, He foresaw the whole line of popes throughout Church history, including Pope Francis. And nonetheless He permitted the latter’s ascent to the papal throne. Analogously, the Lord instituted the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar with the Real Presence, although He foresaw many sacrileges over the course of history.
III. The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in the midst of these confusing times for the Church. It is called to provide a new generation of priests for the Church, to safeguard the true Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to proclaim the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all of society, even in the presence of liberal popes and princes of the Church who betray the faith. This necessarily led to a conflict: the Society was sent into exile in 1975. There, not only has it survived but it has grown and become for many people a sign of contradiction against the destructive work of these days. This contradiction became apparent in a special way on June 30, 1988, through the consecration of four auxiliary bishops by Archbishop Lefebvre, which was necessary for internal reasons.
IV. Despite this, Archbishop Lefebvre always sought a canonical solution for the Fraternity after its condemnation and did not shy away from dialogue with the Roman authorities; to this end it was important for him to move them to understanding and conversion. He continued these efforts even after the episcopal consecration, although being realistic he had little hope for success. Employing an argumentum ad hominem, he asked to be allowed to make “the experiment of Tradition.” He also fully recognized the fact that the Society is in an extraordinary situation, not at all through its own fault, but through the fault of its opponents. The situation remained the same until the year 2000. Since then Rome has made efforts to clean up this situation, sometimes cunningly, sometimes with honest intentions, depending on who was dealing with the problem from the Roman side.
V. The further dramatic decline of the Church since then and the simultaneously steady development of the Society have brought one or another cardinal or bishop to a partial or general understanding—one that he could not admit publicly, however, without further ado. For its part, Rome has dialed back its demands little by little, and in the latest proposals there was no more talk about recognizing Vatican II or the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo Missae. So it seems that the moment has come to normalize the situation of the Society, for various reasons:
1) Every abnormal situation inherently tends toward normalization. This is due to the nature of the matter.
2) Let us not lose sight of the danger that the faithful and certain confreres may get used to the abnormal situation and regard it as normal. The criticism here and there against any participation in the Holy Year, and also the complete disregard for the conferral by Pope Francis of ordinary jurisdiction for Confession (we have always cited the emergency situation and have quite rightly made use of extraordinary jurisdiction for Confession) are cause for concern. If the faithful or some confreres feel comfortable in this situation of freedom relating to independence from the hierarchy, then this indicates a creeping loss of the sensus Ecclesiae. We must never argue: “We have sound teaching, the true Holy Mass, our seminaries and priories and above all bishops. So we don’t need anything.”
3) We very likely have sympathizers and friends also among the bishops and cardinals. One or another of them would gladly call on us for help and give us a parish church or even entrust a seminary to us, but in the present situation this is impossible for them. These Nicodemuses are waiting impatiently for a solution that would also strengthen their backbone personally. A lot of barriers and inhibitions among orthodox but anxious Catholics would come down. That would put an end to the talk heard in the mass media and elsewhere about the “schismatic” or “rebellious” Society separated from the Church.
4) In the coming years we urgently need new bishops. To consecrate them without a papal mandate is certainly possible in an extreme emergency. But if bishops can be consecrated with Rome’s permission, we must ask for that permission [today]. [Translator’s note: the last word of the sentence is a handwritten addition.]
5) Modernists, liberals, and other enemies of the Church are very upset about steps toward a canonical solution for the Society. Doesn’t the discernment of spirits make it clear that this is the right way and good?
6) How can the Church overcome its crisis at all? In the current state of affairs, we see not even a glimmer of hope. On the other hand, the official act of recognizing the Society would unleash a beneficial unrest within the Church. The good would be encouraged and the evildoers would suffer a defeat.
VI. Answers to some objections:
1) Why would anyone want to be recognized by Pope Francis?
Answer: We have already pointed out the necessary distinction between office and officeholder. No doubt the current Pope has the God-given task of showing everyone plainly what the Council really was and what its ultimate consequences are doing to the Church: confusion, the dictatorship of relativism, setting pastoral concerns above doctrine, friendship with the enemies of God and the opponents of Christianity. But precisely because of this, people here and there are coming to understand the errors of the Council and to infer the cause from the effects.
Furthermore, those who relied too much on Benedict XVI personally, instead of putting the papal office first and its holder second, were left out in the rain by the resignation of the Pope Emeritus. Let us not make the same mistake again of relying too much on the specific person, instead of on the divine institution! Maybe, too, Pope Francis is precisely the one who, with his unpredictability and improvisation, is capable of taking this step. The mass media may forgive him for this expedient, whereas they would never ever have forgiven Benedict XVI. In his authoritarian, not to mention tyrannical style of governance, he would probably be capable of carrying out such a measure even against opposition.
2) But what will the people of the “Resistance” say? [Rorate note: the so-called “Resistance” is composed of a small number of priests who have left the Society and a small number of faithful who are against any conversations with the Holy See.]
Answer: We cannot perform our actions to please people who quite obviously have lost their sense of the Church and love of the Church in her concrete form. Besides, by now they have become completely divided among themselves.
3) From now on you will have to remain silent about all the present-day errors.
Answer: We are not letting ourselves be muzzled; instead we are calling errors by their names, before any normalization just as we will after a normalization. Thus we intend to return from “exile” just as we are today.
4) Pope Francis has such a bad reputation among Catholics that recognition on his initiative would more likely harm the Society than help it.
Answer: At the outset we already made the distinction between office and person. If Francis is Pope—and he is—then he also has the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church, whether he otherwise is helping the Church or harming it. Let us walk the path that helps the Church; let us not seek human favor by our actions, and then God will bless us.
5) But this integration into the conciliar system will cost the Society its distinctive character, and maybe even its identity.
Answer: It all depends on how steadfast we ourselves are, and who converts whom. If we go to work vigorously, relying on God’s grace, then our new situation will become a blessing for the whole Church. Where else is there a community that here and now can undertake such a work of conversion? Admittedly, we cannot count on our own abilities and strength, but on God’s help. Think of the battle between David and Goliath.
An analogy to that: As Christians we are put into an utterly godless, corrupt world and have to prove ourselves in it. The danger of contagion is great, yet we can and must escape it with the grace of God. One thing is clear: a new situation in and of itself will not make our efforts any easier, but rather harder, yet it will make them all the more fruitful.
6) All the communities that submitted to Rome have conformed to the conciliar system or have even gone under.
Answer: The starting point is not the same: in our case, Rome is the one that is eager for a solution and has come to us; in the other cases, those communities went to Rome as supplicants, often with a guilty conscience. Not one of them has bishops now, except for the Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney in the Diocese of Campos in Brazil, where Bishop Rifan is willing to make any compromise. Of course we need solid protection through an appropriate ecclesial structure. But this seems to be guaranteed by a personal prelature. Until now such a structure has been offered to no other community. Finally, the objection raised is only partly relevant: the Fraternity of St. Peter has already been in existence for more than twenty-seven years, and, at least in German-speaking countries, it has remained true to the Traditional Mass, with few exceptions. Indeed, having the Society of St. Pius X in the background was their life insurance.
If God wants to come to the aid of His Church, which is bleeding from a thousand wounds, He has a thousand opportunities to do so. Among them is the official recognition of the Society by the Roman authorities. Is the Society not consecrated to the Most Blessed Virgin, who will protect and guide her work in a new situation? Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata—da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos. Make me worthy to praise you, Blessed Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.
Zaitzkofen, February 19, 2016
Fr. Franz Schmidberger
[This translation was prepared by Richard Chonak and revised by Michael J. Miller.]