Concerning a statement by Abp. Müller on the “schism” of the Society of St Pius X
On December 22, 2013, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the following answer in an interview that he granted to the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera:
Corriere: Since the negotiations failed, what is the position of the Lefebvrists?
Abp. Müller: “The canonical excommunication of the bishops for their illegal ordinations was revoked, but a de facto sacramental excommunication remains for their schism; they put themselves out of communion with the Church. After that we are not closing the door and never will, but we are inviting them to be reconciled. But they too must change their attitude, accept the conditions of the Catholic Church, and the Supreme Pontiff as the definitive criterion for membership.”
This statement by Archbishop Müller is nothing new; it repeats what he already said in October 2012, in the interview that he granted to the German radio network NDR: “From a pastoral perspective, the door is still open,” while clarifying: “No compromise is possible on the level of the Catholic faith, in particular as it was correctly formulated by the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II is not in contradiction with the whole of the Church’s tradition; strictly speaking it is opposed to certain erroneous interpretations of the Catholic faith. We cannot negotiate the Catholic faith; no compromise is possible.” And he insisted: “The Society of St Pius X knows the requirements that it must accept. I think that from now on there will be no new discussions.” Quite obviously, the Society of St Pius X denies no article of the Creed and professes the entire Catholic faith; to call this into question is to make a false accusation. It only opposes all the novelties which have been altering the Catholic faith for the last fifty years.
What is new in Archbishop Müller’s answer, however, is the assertion of a schism. In fact, this is the first time that a high-ranking Roman authority has spoken about schism: “The canonical excommunication of the bishops for their illegal ordinations was revoked, but a de facto sacramental excommunication remains for their schism; they put themselves out of communion with the Church.”
(In the first part of his answer) “The canonical excommunication of the bishops for their illegal ordinations was revoked, but a de facto sacramental excommunication remains,” one might think that Archbishop Müller is repeating what Benedict XVI declared in his letter to the bishops dated March 10, 2009, explaining the lifting of the “excommunications,” in which he distinguished between the disciplinary and the doctrinal levels, stating that the members of the Society of St Pius X, although henceforth not excommunicated (on the disciplinary level), had no canonical status because the doctrinal disagreement continued: “The fact that the Society of St Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons.” And Benedict XVI insisted: “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers—even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty—do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
However the Pope did not speak about schism, as Archbishop Müller does today. (“A de facto sacramental excommunication remains for their schism; they put themselves out of communion with the Church.”) One might even add that Roman prelates have rejected not only the term but also the reality of schism with reference to the Society of St Pius X.
Thus, in a letter dated May 3, 1994, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, replied to a foreign correspondent: “As far as your question is concerned, I would like to point out immediately that the Dicastery for ecumenism is not concerned with the Society of St Pius X. The situation of the members of that Society is an internal affair of the Catholic Church. The Society of St Pius X is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the sense that this Dicastery uses those terms. Certainly, the Mass and the sacraments administered by the priests of the Society of St Pius X are valid.”
On November 13, 2005, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, explained to the Italian television network Canale 5: “We are not confronted with a heresy. We cannot say in correct, exact, precise terms that there is a schism. In the fact of consecrating bishops with a papal mandate there is a schismatic attitude. They are within the Church. There is just this fact: there is a lack of a full, a more perfect—as was said during the meeting with Bishop Fellay—a fuller communion, because the communion does exist.”
In May 2008, the same prelate questioned by Vittoria Prisciandaro for the Society of Saint Paul, declared: “… as we often said in the Ecclesia Dei comission, it is not a question of a true schism but rather of an abnormal situation that arose after the ‘schismatic act’ by Archbishop Lefebvre when he conferred the episcopate without a papal mandate, contrary to the express will of the pope.”
And in the Süddeutsche Zeitung dated September 25, 2009, he explained: “From 1988 until the year 2000 all the dialogues were broken off. They were not resumed until the year 2000 and a new process began, followed very closely by Cardinal Ratzinger, then a member of the Ecclesia Dei Commission. In 2001 in a consistory presided over by the Holy Father, all the cardinals present accepted the process for the reentry of the Lefebvrists into communion. In the presentation at the consistory, on the basis of a Note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was said that the excommunicated brothers did not have a heretical or schismatic character. They were certainly the result of a schismatic action. As far as their position with regard to the Second Vatican Council is concerned, they expressed difficulties about the text of certain documents and especially about certain interpretations of the Council. The greatest difficulties were related to the Decree on Religious Liberty and ecumenism.”
Furthermore one might note that in the sermon he gave during the episcopal consecrations on June 30, 1988, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was anxious to tell the faithful precisely what his intention was in performing that act: “You must understand that we do not want, for anything in the world, that this ceremony be a schism. We are not schismatics. If an excommunication was pronounced against the bishops of China, who separated themselves from Rome and put themselves under the Chinese government, one very easily understands why Pope Pius XII excommunicated them. There is no question of us separating ourselves from Rome, nor of putting ourselves under any foreign government whatsoever, nor of establishing some sort of parallel Church as the Bishops of Palmar de Troya have done in Spain. They have elected a pope and formed a college of cardinals. It is out of the question for us to do such things. Far from us be this miserable thought of separating ourselves from Rome. On the contrary, it is in order to manifest our attachment to Rome that we are performing this ceremony. It is in order to manifest our attachment to Eternal Rome, to the Pope, and to all those who have preceded these Popes who, since the Second Vatican Council, have unfortunately thought it their duty to adhere to grievous errors which are demolishing the Church and the Catholic Priesthood.”
Anyone who might find it paradoxical to hear Archbishop Lefebvre reject the term “schism” during the very ceremony of episcopal consecrations would be well advised to read what Rev. Fr. Héribert Jone, O.F.M. Cap. wrote in his Moral Theology, no. 432.1 (The Newman Bookshop, Westminster, MD, 1945): “A schismatic is someone who, as a matter of principle, does not want to be subject to the pope…, but someone who simply refuses to obey the pope is not schismatic, even if it is for a long time.”
And on this point the reader may benefit from the judgment of Saint Augustine: “Often, too, divine providence permits even good men to be driven from the congregation of Christ by the turbulent seditions of carnal men. When for the sake of the peace of the Church they patiently endure that insult or injury, and attempt no novelties in the way of heresy or schism, they will teach men how God is to be served with a true disposition and with great and sincere charity. The intention of such men is to return when the tumult has subsided. But if that is not permitted because the storm continues or because a fiercer one might be stirred up by their return, they hold fast to their purpose to look to the good even of those responsible for the tumults and commotions that drove them out. They form no separate conventicles of their own, but defend to the death and assist by their testimony the faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. These the Father who seeth in secret crowns secretly. It appears that this is a rare kind of Christian, but examples are not lacking. Indeed, there are more than can be believed. So divine providence uses all kinds of men as examples for the oversight of souls and for the building up of his spiritual people.” (De vera religione, in Augustine: Earlier Writings, translated by John H. S. Burleigh [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953], 231.)
It is all the more surprising that in the recent response of Abp. Müller to the Corriere della Sera, he says immediately afterward, with regard to the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez: “Gutiérrez has always been orthodox.” In fact, Abp. Müller co-wrote a book with him, On the Side of the Poor: Theology of Liberation, which was published in both Spanish and German. As the English journalist William Oddie reported in The Catholic Herald on July 6, 2012, citing the American Vatican-watcher John Allen, “Every year since 1998, Archbishop Müller has travelled to Peru to take a course under Gutiérrez…. In 2008 he accepted an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, which is widely seen as a bastion of the progressive wing of the Peruvian Church. On that occasion, he praised Gutiérrez and defended his theology. ‘The theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, independently of how you look at it, is orthodox because it is orthopractic,’ he said publicly. ‘It teaches us the correct way of acting in a Christian fashion since it comes from the true faith.’” Now we understand: if Gutiérrez is orthodox—and even “orthopractic”—in Archbishop Müller’s view, the Society of St Pius X can only be “schismatic.” That is the whole difference between liberation theology and traditional theology. But in this context, it is necessary to recognize that the use of the word “schism” is the result of an entirely arbitrary decision.
One might therefore readily conclude that the recent statement by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes any “reconciliation” impossible. But then how are we to understand this apparently contradictory statement: “We are not closing the door and never will”? The interview with the German radio network NDR in October 2012 clarifies the difficulty: “From a pastoral perspective, the door is still open; but no compromise is possible on the level of the Catholic faith, in particular as it was correctly formulated by the Second Vatican Council.” In other words, the door is open pastorally, but it is shut doctrinally.
He adds in the same interview: “Vatican II is not in contradiction with the whole of the Church’s tradition; strictly speaking it is opposed to certain erroneous interpretations of the Catholic faith. We cannot negotiate the Catholic faith; no compromise is possible.” Archbishop Müller recognizes, in spite of himself, that the Second Vatican Council can assimilate everything pastorally, but that the traditional doctrine on religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality, etc. cannot be assimilated by the first pastoral and non-dogmatic Council in the history of the Church. This is what was demonstrated by the doctrinal discussions between the Roman theologians and those of the Society of St Pius X between 2009 and 2011.
(Sources: Corriere della Sera/NDR/Süddeutsche Zeitung/archives dici.org – DICI dated January 11, 2014)