Williamson and Fellay a Battle for ControlCase Study

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Leadership Challenge: A Tale of Two Leaders -- The Issue of Leadership in the SSPX

Leadership at the Fraternal Order of the Society of St. Pius X, headquartered in Switzerland, with stations in countries around the world, was always an issue from day one. The non-profit seminary for Traditional Catholics wishing to learn the traditional Catholic teachings (which the Church taught prior to the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s -- teachings regarding how to say the Mass in Latin, what to believe about religious liberty, and so on) had spread like wildfire around the world (Mallerais, 2002). Begun by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the seminary grew into a worldwide movement throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but Lefebvre was viewed as a rebel by the Vatican and chastised for his refusal to accept the new rite of Mass propagated by the Vatican following Vatican II. When he consecrated four bishops without the approval of the Pope, he and the four bishops were said to be excommunicated, though they would refute this charge and claim that they were not, according to the Vatican's own rules on the subject. In short, there was a lot of confusion about the status of Lefebvre's group, called the SSPX for short.

Lefebvre died in 1991; prior to his death he had already resigned from being the leader of the SSPX; leadership was passed to one of the bishops whom Lefebvre had consecrated -- Bp. Bernard Fellay. Fellay's view of what the SSPX should be differed from the view of another of the bishops consecrated by Lefebvre, Bp. Richard Williamson. Essentially, the difference boiled down to this: Fellay wanted official approval for the Society from Rome and Williamson viewed such a desire as antithetical to the spirit of the SSPX. Williamson asserted that Lefebvre had learned that one could not trust the Roman authorities, who, he held, were destroying the traditions of the Church. Fellay believed this was an erroneous way of viewing the Roman authorities and believed that by coming to terms with them, he could help restore these same traditions in Rome (Mallerais, 2002). Leadership in the SSPX was, therefore, divided. As a result, a split occurred and Williamson and his followers were expelled from the Society by Fellay in 2012. Some of the priests expelled with Williamson went on to form their own groups and organizations. Williamson continued to protest the direction of the SSPX and warn the members of how and why a return to Rome (i.e., putting themselves under Roman control) would be disastrous. This paper will discuss the issue of leadership within the SSPX from this standpoint and highlight what worked for Williamson and Fellay and what did not.

Model the Way

Lefebvre had modeled the way for the SSPX throughout the 1970s and 1980s, resisting overtures from Roman authorities, who insisted he place himself and his priests under canonical jurisdiction and normalize relations with Rome. Lefebvre was skeptical of the Romans' intentions, as the he judged the actions of the popes throughout this era as indicating that tradition was the furthest thing from their minds. Thus, Lefebvre was viewed by many priests and laity as a resister of modernism and a defender of tradition. He was celebrated around the world as one who walked a delicate line between catering to the Romans and outright defiance. Not every traditionalist agreed with him: some wanted him to go more to the right and defy more outright (which he finally did in 1988) and others wanted him to go more to the left and appease the Romans (which he somewhat attempted to do through the 1970s). Thus, the "way" that Lefebvre modeled for his followers was one that started off as trying to be conciliatory and ended by being more hard-line and intractable.

When Fellay took over as the Superior General of the SSPX in the 1990s, he wanted to reverse this trend and return the SSPX to the more conciliatory course and tone displayed by the Archbishop in the 1970s. Williamson objected that times were different then and that Lefebvre could afford to be this way at that time because he wanted to "wait and see" what was behind the shift in the Vatican away from that traditional Mass and teachings to the modernist Mass and teachings (Mallerais, 2002). Williamson insisted that since then, Rome had clearly demonstrated that it was committed to modernism and that the SSPX should therefore remain committed to a hard-line perspective when it came to normalizing its relations with Rome. Fellay disagreed. He felt that by being more conciliatory towards Rome, it would help the Roman authorities to see the good of tradition, which would then cause them to want to reinstate the old Latin Mass as the only official rite, abolish the new Mass, and restore the old teachings that were promulgated prior to Vatican II. Williamson viewed this idea as wishful thinking and believed that Fellay was wearing rose-tinted glasses. He began to say as much publicly when it became apparent that Fellay was determined to place the SSPX under Roman jurisdiction in 2012. Both followed the theory of Boaz and Fox (2014) which views the concept of leadership as an authentication/validation of self. Both Fellay and Williamson viewed their positions on this manner as definitive of who and what they represented as people and as leaders. This being the case, each tried to clarify his values, which Kouzes and Posner (2012) is important in modeling the way. Each, in turn, found others who supported his view/values: Williamson found supporters among the clergy and laity, and so too did Fellay. Fellay had promoted his followers, moreover, to positions of authority within the hierarchy of the SSPX, so when it came time for the hierarchy to condemn or approve the overtures of Fellay towards Rome at the General Meeting in 2012, almost all of them approved. It was a blow to Williamson and his campaign and followers -- but it did not cause them to changer or alter their values. In fact they adhered to their way even more strictly, which is what led to the ultimate break between their camp and the SSPX led by Fellay.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Both Fellay and Williamson had inspired a shared vision and each took to new media to do so. Fellay used interviews and the Internet to spread his message digitally around the world, and Williamson took to writing a weekly column which was emailed to subscribers all over the planet. Each thus took part in establishing a vision of what the SSPX should be. Each likewise viewed the activities of the other as irrational and unwarranted. Both leaders viewed the other as being undeserving of leadership. Williamson criticized the way in which Fellay essentially neutered his followers by practicing Stalinist tactics, threatening them with expulsion if they did not tow the line, and frightening them into submission. Fellay in turn criticized Williamson for being too negative and unwilling to see the good that the Roman authorities were doing behind the scenes. Williamson countered with some Scriptural advice -- namely, that a good tree bears good fruit and that by their fruits you shall know them. He challenged anyone to find good fruits coming from the Vatican -- and in this method, he mirrored the study by Schyns and Schilling, which assessed the effect of bad leaders on an organization (followers/members of the organization lost morale, intentionally tried to sabotage the organization, and/or resented leadership), and Williamson could point to several instances where the post-Vatican II church had only gotten worse, not better, since the death of Lefebvre. In short, he saw no good fruits. Fellay countered that the good fruits were apparent in the "lifting of the excommunications" that the Roman authorities had issued (with some reservations), the lifting of the ban on the Latin Mass, and the good will shown towards the SSPX in recent years. Williamson dismissed these "fruits" as mere overtures in the Romans' attempt to lure the SSPX back under its control. He saw it as a trap and one that Fellay was falling for. Each presented his vision with as much nuance and skill as he was afforded by nature and craft. Each saw the future in different terms -- Fellay as one with possibilities; Williamson as one fraught with danger, as indicated by the past. Each vision had its impact. Those who found the vision of Fellay to be more convincing and enticing followed Fellay and stayed within the SSPX. Those who found the vision of Williamson to be more accurate and sensible followed Williamson and left the SSPX. Thus, each followed the example of "enlisting others" and appealing to a common ideal, as pointed out by Kouzes and Posner (2012).

Challenge the Process

They both then began to search for opportunities to capitalize on their visions; they experimented and took risks. Fellay sought out opportunities to make the SSPX more appealing to Rome; he oversaw a virtual "re-branding" of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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