As the ecclesiastical crisis continues to deepen in 2017, I have found myself facing a certain exhaustion; a feeling that, while knowing the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, that Christ will have the final victory, there is no respite from the near-constant series of assaults from the enemies of God’s truth. I know that many of you feel the same way. While we here at OnePeterFive believe we have an obligation to continue to cover the news of what is happening within our beloved Church, however unpleasant, there is also need for reassurance, a rediscovery of the most important elements of being a Catholic no matter what comes. We must at all times remind ourselves of why we fight, and what treasures we have that can never be taken from us.
With this in mind, I reached out to Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who is not only one of the most learned and fearless prelates in the Church today, but also, in my opinion, one of the most holy. I have enjoyed a few private conversations with him and assisted at his Masses; I have also had the unique honor of him baptizing my youngest child. In my observations of the man, I have sensed not only a quiet fearlessness, but a deep and abiding love of Christ, His Church, the Sacraments, and the souls of every person entrusted to her maternal care. He is a man who exudes the peace of Christ, even while being among the most outspoken in his analysis of the gravity of our present situation. In short, he seemed the perfect man to tell us: How should we handle this? Where do we go from here?
In the following interview, I sought to ask him the questions I thought many of you would also wish to ask. His answers do not disappoint. I ask that in thanksgiving for his faithfulness, you pray ardently for this true apostle and all those valiant clergy who now, despite being outnumbered, do all that they can to preserve the Holy Catholic Faith.
Steve Skojec: Many of the faithful feel exhausted and beaten down. There seems to be an endless succession of scandals or even insults coming from Rome, where they are accustomed to looking for consolation and guidance. What would you tell people who find themselves losing hope, or beginning to doubt the Church during this time?
Bishop Athanasius Schneider: This time of an extraordinary grave crisis in the Church is a permission of Divine Providence. God in His omnipotence permits this crisis in order to bring out a greater good. It is for us a trial of faith and of the supernatural hope. We have to hope apparently against hope. Our faith and hope in the Divine character of the Church and in the fact, that Christ Himself guides His Church in midst of such an immense confusion, is purified like the gold in the fire (cf.1 Pe 1, 7). When Catholics begin to doubt the Church during this time, it is a sign that their faith and their hope is not strong enough.
SS: Many Catholics were encouraged by Cardinal Burke’s suggestion that if Pope Francis will not answer the dubia, a formal correction may be in order. Some fear that this correction will never come, or that it will never be made public, and that they will be abandoned by their shepherds to the wolves. In this moment of confusion and crisis, should the faithful pin their hopes on a such a correction, or should their focus be elsewhere? Should they be patient even though they feel that the situation is an emergency?
A fraternal correction to the Pope, made on behalf of some members of the Episcopal or Cardinalitial College, is an extreme and last measure in the Church. It happened in the history, even though rarely. The first case was the formal public correction to Saint Peter made by Saint Paul. A fraternal correction is considered in moral theology as a part of the love for the neighbor. God oftentimes makes towards us a paternal correction and the Holy Scripture says that this is a sign of the love of God towards us (cf. Hebr 12, 6). The Holy Spirit says: “Whoever heeds correction is prudent” (Prov. 15, 5) and “Correction gives wisdom” (Prov. 29, 15). A correction has no automatic positive effect, but depends on the humility and docility of the person to whom the correction is addressed. The faithful should therefore not pin their hopes on such a correction, but focus on prayer for the Pope, because only God can ultimately touch the mind and heart of a person.
SS: I have spoken with priests who seem unable to know how best to handle the implications of Amoris Laetitia on a pastoral basis. Some are approached by people who are living in these so-called “irregular unions” and who feel emboldened to approach the sacraments because they believe the pope supports this. Some fear that they will come into conflict with their bishops if they do not give themselves up to this new regime of “mercy”. I spoke to one recently who really didn’t know what to make of it, or what he could do. What advice would you give to priests about living their vocation in fidelity to Christ while under the obedience of a bishop who may want to follow the more heterodox interpretation of Amoris Laetitia?
BAS: To admit the so called divorced and remarried persons, who have no serious intention in stopping their adulterous acts, to Holy Communion, is against Divine law. Therefore, no authority in the Church has the competency to allow such a sacramental practice, because it contradicts de facto and evidently the Divine law of the absolute indissolubility of a valid and consummated marriage and contradicts at the same time the absolute Divine prohibition of committing sexual acts outside a valid marriage. It is evident, that no real Catholic priest can obey a command of his superior to give Holy Communion to adulterers who have no intention to stop with their adulterous acts. Such a command would represent a glaring abuse of power to the example of the Pharisees and Scribes. A priest has to prefer to be punished or banished rather than to collaborate with the evident impiety of such a “pastoral” practice, which in reality is an extremely non-pastoral practice, because it confirms and leaves the poor adulterous sinner in the unhappiness of the sin and in the real danger of losing his eternal salvation.
SS: It is an unfortunate reality that because of the controversy surrounding Pope Francis, many Catholics have begun to express their belief that he is not the pope, that he has abdicated due to heresy, that Pope Benedict remains the true pope, and so on. What would you say to these people? How should a faithful Catholic respect not just the office of the papacy but the man who occupies it when they feel that his actions and words are harming the Church and the souls entrusted to her care?
BAS: Pope Francis is without any doubt the legitimate Pope. To deny this is just wishful thinking and a misrepresentation of the juridical facts. We have to keep a sober attitude with a healthy common sense. A Catholic should not be too much focused in his daily life on what the Pope says and does. Such an attitude is not sound, but helps to increase an unhealthy “pope-centrism” and a mundane personality cult. We have to believe that the real Head of the Church is Christ, that the real soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit, that the mother and the heart of the Church is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Pope is only the visible Vicar of Christ. There had been times in the history of the Church, when during two or three years the Church had no Pope, as e.g. in the beginning of the 4th century there was twice a period of two years without a pope (304-306 and 309-311): in this time lived Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Athanasius in his youth; there was no pope from 1268-1271, from 1292-1294, from 1314-1316, from 1415-1417: despite of this in these periods of time the Church existed and even flourished. There lived in this “pope-less” times for example Saint Albert the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis King of France, Saint Raymond of Penafort, Saint Gertrud the Great. There are no significant indications of complaints about the “pope-less” years on behalf of these Saints. These Saints did simply their work: they prayed, they were teaching the Catholic doctrine, converting sinners and striving for holiness. It seems that they had no time to observe the deeds or actions of the Popes or debate the theme of the papal election, which was indeed a very serious issue in that time. Likewise we shall remain more calm and do each of us his duties and pray, teach and defend the Catholic faith, convert sinners and live a life in deep union with our Lord. The Lord will surely intervene in this current crisis.
SS: You have made comparisons between our present situation and the Arian crisis of the 4th century. What was life like for the faithful of that time? How did your namesake, St. Athanasius, console them? What did it take to return the Church to her senses after, as St. Jerome famously said, “the whole world groaned and marveled to find itself Arian”?
BAS: There is a famous letter with which Saint Athanasius consoled the faithful in midst of the huge confusion and the infidelity and political correctness on behalf of the overwhelming majority of the episcopacy of that time. We quote a part of this letter: “May God console you! What saddens you is the fact that others have occupied the churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises – but you have the Apostolic Faith. They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you. Let us consider: what is more important, the place or the Faith? The true Faith, obviously. Who has lost and who has won in the struggle – the one who keeps the premises or the one who keeps the Faith? True, the premises are good when the Apostolic Faith is preached there; they are holy if everything takes place there in a holy way. You are the ones who are happy; you who remain within the Church by your Faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from Apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded. They are the ones who have broken away from it in the present crisis. No one, ever, will prevail against your Faith, beloved Brothers. And we believe that God will give us our churches back some day.”
SS: You have spoken about your experiences growing up in the Soviet Union, and have indicated that you see the spread of Russia’s errors even now. You have said that “We have to pray that the Pope may soon consecrate explicitly Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. As we now embark on this centenary year of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima, do you believe Our Lady’s warnings will come to fruition? How urgently is the consecration needed?
BAS: We have to take it at serious when God sends us His Immaculate Mother to warn us. If we hear the admonitions of Our Heavenly Mother, Her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ will make miracles, as He did at the wedding in Cana. A solemn act of consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of the Pope in moral union with all bishops will undoubtedly cause the pouring out of abundant graces for the Church and for all mankind, as it foretold Our Lady in Fatima. It is tragic that prophetic appeals are heard oftentimes too late. Let us pray and ask the Holy Father to do what Our Lady asked in Fatima.
SS: You are an apostle of the Eucharist and a champion for truly sacred liturgy. There are rumors now stirring in Rome that the Vatican has an eye toward demolishing the 2001 instruction on liturgical translations, Liturgiam Authenticam, and possibly also the “correction” of Summorum Pontificum. In that letter, Pope Benedict XVI said that the ancient liturgy had never been “juridically abrogated” and insisted that “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” Should Catholics who love the venerable rite of the Roman liturgy be concerned?
BAS: It is not very much realistic to assume that Pope Francis will abolish the traditional form of the Liturgy, since Pope Benedict XVI said that the ancient liturgy had never been “juridically abrogated”. As a last resort there could be issued norms, which would practically restrict the possibility of the celebration of the ancient liturgy. However, I don’t believe in such a possibility, since Pope Francis is in favor of a regional and ritual pluralism in the Church. In any case, the faithful and especially the youth should defend this inestimable treasure of the Church and spread it ever more. The traditional liturgical form of the Holy Mass became already the very Mass of the youth. The liberal minded nomenclature in the administrative power in the Church of our days should not stifle or silence the voice of the youth, who seriously demand the celebration of the traditional form of the Mass, otherwise it will lose all credibility and reveal itself as displaying an ideological and rigorist attitude, throwing stones upon these honest and deeply believing young people.
SS: You have urged Bishop Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X “not to delay his acceptance any longer” to bring the Society into full, canonical communion with Rome. Why do you believe that now is the time? Can the Society trust Rome at this moment, when so much else in the Church appears subject to the scalpel of novelty?
The more the general doctrinal and liturgical confusion is increasing, the more we do need the combined and united strength of all good forces inside the Church. This is the order of the day in these highly critical hours of the history of the Church. Thus did Saint Athanasius when in 362 he assembled a synod of union in Alexandria, to which he invited even the good minded and sincere semi-arians, the so called “homoi-ousians”, in order to combat the generally spread Arianism and the heretical semi-arianism. Some radical opponents of Arianism, as e.g. Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari, who was a friend of Saint Athanasius, an intrepid fighter for the true faith and who suffered in exile, declined the invitation of Saint Athanasius. Contrary to the attitude of Saint Athanasius, Lucifer of Cagliari accepted no other explications than the “homo-ousios” of the Council of Nicaea, and wanted to “save” the Church with his group, which isolated itself considering itself as the only “healthy” part of the Church. When the FSSPX will follow the principle of “trust in Rome”, it will demonstrate by this a quite human attitude and a lack of the supernatural view of the Church. We have not to trust in the person of a concrete Pope and in his collaborators, who all change more or less quickly (even the time of 30-70 years is a very short time in the eyes of the 2000 years of the Church and in the eyes of God all the more). The famous historian Ludwig von Pastor, the expert and pious author of the chef d’oeuvre “History of the Popes” said: “However different the personalities of the popes might be, it is always the same Peter whom we venerate”. We can find in the catacombs the following painting: a lamp in the shape of a ship; in the ship is sitting the Lord who commands the storm and the waves; Saint Peter stays at the rudder of the ship; and there is this inscription: “Peter does not die”.
SS: You recently observed that the Masonic goal of corrupting morality to defeat the Catholic Church has become very relevant again. The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita was written now over a century ago. Have they achieved their stated aims? Have they infiltrated the Church at the highest levels? How can we fight back?
BAS: It seems that the well known and historically proven Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita from the 19th century achieved their stated aims to a very large extent. Yet the Freemasonry, the ultimate enemy of Christ and of His Church, is not taking account of this one truth: “The gates of the hell will never prevail against the Church”. The freemasons don’t take account of this, because they don’t believe in the words of Christ. Even priests, bishops and even popes are unable to destroy the Church, because they are ultimately powerless in the face of Christ who is always the chief commander in the ship of His Church. We can fight back ultimately and most efficaciously with the spiritual weapons of prayer, penance, fasting, with the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the special devotion and invocation of the Holy Angels, in first place of Saint Michael the Archangel, using often the prayer and the general exorcism against Satan and the evil spirits, which composed Pope Leo XIII.
SS: In 2014, you gave a talk in which you said that you thought there would be “an interior split in the Church of those who are faithful to the faith of their baptism and of the integrity of the Catholic faith”. But you also said that “we have all the beauty of the divine truths, of divine love and grace in the Church. No one can take this away, no synod, no bishop, not even a Pope can take away the treasure and beauty of the Catholic faith, of the Eucharistic Jesus, of the sacraments. The unchangeable doctrine, the unchangeable liturgical principles, the holiness of the life constitute the true power of the Church.” Is the split now upon us? Should the faithful be worried about this split, or should we focus, as you said, on the beautiful things of divine origin that no one can take away? How should a Catholic weather this storm? Where should he take refuge?
BAS: The split inside the Church exists already for several decades. It became more acute and manifest in these our days after the Publication of the Papal document Amoris laetitia. There is not a formal exterior split or schism, but an interior split between those who still are keeping the integrity of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith and those who have already denied this faith regarding some essential truths, as e.g. the universal and absolute validity of the Sixth Commandment of God and of the indissolubility of the marriage, the uniqueness of the salvation through Christ and His Church. These heretics are not canonically schismatics, because some of them occupy powerful ecclesiastic positions. They are carrying however heresy and schism in their souls. When a future Pope or Ecumenical Council will demand from these, nowadays interior schismatics, an unambiguous and integral profession of the Catholic faith, they could out themselves and become formal schismatics. Our refuge we should take in the meantime in the Blessed Virgin Mary, our heavenly Mother, the victress over all heresies.
SS: Our Blessed Mother seems to be the key to so much of what troubles us. She stood by Jesus during every moment, including His Passion and death on the Cross. Is this moment, where the Church appears to be joining in the Passion of her Mystical Spouse, also perhaps a time for the promised Triumph of the Immaculate Heart? How should we plead for her intercession? What should we pray for?
BAS: We should pray and spread with a renewed zeal the prayer of the Holy Rosary, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart and we should put again Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist in the center of our life and of the liturgical life of the Church. The Church can be renewed authentically only with Mary, the Mother of the Church, and with the Eucharist, the foundation and the heart of the Church.
SS: Do you have any final words of encouragement for the faithful?
BAS: In this time of an extraordinary crisis of faith inside the Church we should be ever more convinced and be proud of the integrity and beauty of the Catholic faith and of the Catholic liturgy. We should be proud of the holiness and the powerfulness of the little ones in the Church, of the hidden Saints of our days, the hidden victim souls from all levels: religious, celibate persons in the world, mothers and fathers of family, young people and even children. From these treasures of the beauty of the faith, of the liturgy and of the victim souls, who live in midst of us, nobody can separate us, not even persecution and death (cf. Rom. 8, 39). God is the truth, and we serve His wonderful creation, the Church, the most and best through the integral and unadulterated truth. This our fidelity will keep us with the grace of God free and strong in the eyes of God. Only the view of God matters. And we shall say: my greatest honor are not the praises of this world, nor ecclesiastical titles, but to live and to die as a true Catholic.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.