Brian Mershon
SSPX update: Vatican insider projects speedy resolution
Bishop Fellay "confident" on doctrinal discussions; Pope expects to see full communion "promptly realized"
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By Brian Mershon
February 14, 2009

(Originally appeared in The Remnant, January 28, 2009)

January 26, 2009, Rome, Italy — During this week of Christian Unity on the exact date of the announcement to hold the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican's spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., said "It is a beautiful thing that the lifting of the excommunication [for the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X] occurred on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council, in such a way that this fundamental event now cannot any longer be considered an occasion of tension but of communion."

While Father Lombardi acknowledged that the process for full canonical regularization was still being worked out, the Holy Father expected to see this "promptly realized."

In his first interview subsequent to the Society of St. Pius X's (SSPX) official statement to the good news, Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay said that he believed in the infallibility of the Church and that he was "confident" that the Society would "reach a true solution" in its doctrinal discussions with the Holy See.

Vatican Working on Stable Juridical Structure

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, chief of Human Life International's Rome bureau, said his Curial source told him that they are currently busy working out the practical arrangements for a fully regularized Society of St. Pius X.

The final solution "cannot depend upon individual diocesan bishops," Monsignor Barreiro said, noting the longsuffering many traditionalist Catholics experienced for nearly 20 years under the Ecclesia Dei Adflicta arrangement.

"They would certainly need to have guarantees that where they currently are located, they cannot be touched by the local bishop," Barreiro said, noting the Society's chapels being located across the globe, which he described as "de facto parishes." Barreiro rightly noted that the Society bishops most likely would not accept any solution that involved jurisdiction by the local territorial Ordinary.

France's Seminaries to be Over One-Third Traditionalist

In fact, specific resistance is most likely in the dying churches of France with their bishops and priests. Upon final regularization, Monsignor Barreiro said, "More than one-third of all seminarians in France will be in traditionalist seminaries." This would include the SSPX, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), the Institute of Good Shepherd and the Institute of Christ the King (ICR) as well as some other lesser known traditionalist priestly groups.

"I expect that some structure like a universal Apostolic Administration may be the only solution," Monsignor Barreiro said, while cautioning that he did not have direct access to the specific details.

Several articles this week on the SSPX excommunication annulments contained comments from bishops and George Weigel in a New York Times interview noting that they expected that the Society bishops would need to explicitly adhere in some fashion to the Second Vatican Council. In light of Father Lombardi's expectation that the timing of the declaration in the midst of the week of Christian Unity on the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council would be viewed as a source of "great news that we expect to be a source of joy for the whole Church." New light may indeed be shining on the true authority of the Second Vatican Council.

Prior to the easing of the excommunications, Bishop Fellay wrote, in part, the following to the Holy See:

    We are always firmly determined in our will to remain Catholic and to place all our efforts at the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept its teachings with filial disposition. We believe firmly in the Primacy of Peter and in its prerogatives, and for this the current situation makes us suffer so much.

Monsignor Barreiro opined that the SSPX's official request for the lifting of the sanctions would be enough through its explicit recognition of the authority of the Holy Father and the magisterium of the Church.

Vatican II and All the Councils

"They won't be asked to accept the Council," Monsignor Barreiro said. "There is nothing dogmatic regarding faith and morals in the Council documents," he emphasized. "Many have elevated the Council as if it were a superdogma, when in truth, it was not dogmatic at all."

In the SSPX's official request to the Holy See asking for the dissolving of the excommunications, Bishop Bernard Fellay wrote the following: "We are ready to write the Creed with our own blood, sign the anti-Modernist oath, the Profession of Faith of Pope Pius IV, we accept and make our own all the Councils up to the First Vatican Council. Yet we can but confess reservations concerning the Second Vatican Council, which intended to a Council "different from the others." (Addressed by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI)

The perspective of Monsignor Barreiro and Bishop Fellay can certainly be read to be consistent with then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's 1988 Address to the Bishops of Chile:

    Certainly, there is mentality of narrow views that isolate Vatican II and which has provoked this opposition. There are many accounts of it which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II.

    The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

    This idea is made stronger by things that are now happening. That which previously was considered most holy — the form in which the liturgy was handed down — suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the Council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the Faith — for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. — nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation.

In Pope Benedict's "Letter to Bishops" accompanying the July 7, 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, while positively affirming that the Traditional Latin Mass had never been abrogated, the Pope wrote the following, which upon reflection, was an important, but overlooked part of the joyful document and occasion. Part of this text corresponds very strikingly with the 1988 Chile Bishops document aforementioned:

    We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger Recommends Bishops Examine their Consciences

So in the Bishops Letter, Pope Benedict covers some of the same ground as in the 1988 Chilean Bishops address about the SSPX and many traditionalist Catholics who were attached to the traditional liturgy and devotions. Pope Benedict made clear in the 1988 Bishops letter that while he believed the Church had gone as far as it could at that time with its negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, he posed that it was the pastoral duty of all bishops and pastors to conduct an examination of conscience regarding the then currents within the Church that could have helped lead to the consecrations of bishops without a mandate. With the clarity of the past 20 years now, Cardinal Ratzinger was precisely accurate in his assessment.

    Without any doubt, the problem that Lefebvre has posed has not been concluded by the rupture of June 30th. It would be too simple to take refuge in a sort of triumphalism, and to think that this difficulty has ceased to exist from the moment in which the movement led by Lefebvre has separated itself by a clean break with the Church. A Christian never can, or should, take pleasure in a rupture. Even though it is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See, it is a duty for us to examine ourselves, as to what errors we have made, and which ones we are making even now...

    For all these reasons, we ought to see this matter primarily as the occasion for an examination of conscience. We should allow ourselves to ask fundamental questions, about the defects in the pastoral life of the Church, which are exposed by these events. Thus we will be able to offer a place within the Church to those who are seeking and demanding it, and succeed in destroying all reason for schism. We can make such schism pointless by renewing the interior realities of the Church.

Aside perhaps from the current Pope and Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, how many bishops and pastors in the Church in the past 20 years have used the traditionalist situation as a true "examination of conscience" as Cardinal Ratzinger outlined? To ask the question is to answer it.

Pope Benedict Urges Bishops to Pastoral Solicitude and Reconciliation

Indeed, in the July 7 accompanying letter to Bishops, Pope Benedict repeated this same theme even more insistently, perhaps as a foreshadowing of the January 21 excommunications annulments.

    It is true that there have been exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition. Your charity and pastoral prudence will be an incentive and guide for improving these.

So the Pope asked the bishops to be pastoral and charitable to traditionalist faithful in guiding their pastoral solicitude. Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos dubbed it as avoiding treating traditionalist Catholics as "second-class citizens" in spite of the exaggerations and social aspects that had been "unduly linked" to traditionalist Catholics.

    I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church's leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return, widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

So as we move steadily closer to full canonical regularization for the SSPX, whatever form it may take, it is time for readers of The Remnant to recognize that the precedent has already been set most recently by the Institute of Good Shepherd, whose priests were allowed to continue working on the disputed theological points of the Second Vatican Council documents in good faith and avoiding public rancor, in the heart of the Church.

Vatican Will Not Demand SSPX Swallow the Council

In other words, there will be no demand for the SSPX leadership to accept the "Decree on Social Communication" as an infallible, dogmatic document.

And despite the ruminations of certain bishops, cardinals, priests, Cardinal Kasper and even George Weigel, neither will they be asked to accept the Decree on Ecumenism, the Declaration of Religious Liberty, Nostra Aetate or even Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum as dogmatic declarations that can stand alone without reading them in light of Tradition.

The Pope made this clear in his December 22, 2005 address. The "hermeneutic of continuity," even if used disparagingly in some traditionalist quarters, does not allow the Second Vatican Council to be interpreted any other way other than "in light of Tradition." And certainly, traditionalists should not fall into the trap of overemphasizing the degree of authority that mark the Council documents. Theological speculation on disputed and unclear points in a spirit of charity and without polemics and rancor will aid future generations in their understanding of Catholic truth.

Let us pray that the SSPX theologians, priests and bishops, as well as the Institute of Good Shepherd, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and Institute of Christ the King, contribute more than their fair share to the theological development of the doctrine of the Church in light of all of the Councils of the Church.

© Brian Mershon

 

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Brian Mershon

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective... (more)

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