Communiqué from the Vatican, the open letter to Msgr. Bux and comments from journalists
On the morning of Friday, March 16, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, – assisted by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, Secretary of the Congregation, and Monsignor Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, received Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, accompanied by Father Marc-Alain Nély, Second Assistant General. Following this two hour meeting, the Press Room of the Vatican issued the following communiqué:
“During the meeting of September 14, 2011 between Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, the latter was presented with a Doctrinal Preamble, accompanied by a Preliminary Note, as a fundamental basis for achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See. This defined certain doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation Catholic doctrine, which are necessary to ensure faithfulness to the Church Magisterium and sentire cum Ecclesia.
The response of the Society of St. Pius X to the aforesaid Doctrinal Preamble, which arrived in January 2012, was examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being submitted to the Holy Father for his judgment. Pursuant to the decision made by Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Fellay was, in a letter delivered today, informed of the evaluation of his response. The letter states that the position he expressed is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems which lie at the foundation of the rift between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X.
At the end of today’s meeting, moved by concern to avoid an ecclesial rupture of painful and incalculable consequences, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X was invited to clarify his position in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI.”
This communiqué has been the subject of various commentaries which are rather revealing of the professional qualifications of their authors. We will overlook the fact that La Croix’s Roman correspondent, Frederic Mounier, transformed Fr. Nély into Fr. Benelli. The urgency of the story does not always allow the time to verify facts.
More seriously, when he handed this communiqué to the press, Fr. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See reported : “Bishop Fellay’s response is expected to be here in about a month.” It does not take long for the headlines in La Vie (formerly Catholic) to immediately read: “Vatican issues an ultimatum to the fundamentalists who want to rejoin Rome.” The “due date” of Fr. Lombardi became an “ultimatum,” which is not quite the same thing, as Jean-Marie Guénois of Le Figaro noted on his Religioblog:
“Bizarre is the only way to describe this distortion of information … While Rome revealed today that another meeting was held this morning between Bishop Fellay, leader of Lefebvrists, and Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in view of coming to an agreement—very difficult indeed—many of our colleagues are speaking of an ‘ultimatum’ issued by the Vatican to find a solution before ‘one month.’ I have read and reread the official communiqué and I find neither the word ‘ultimatum’ nor any trace of a spirit of ultimatum. That is to say, [no trace] of pressure being exerted on the timeframe in reaching a result by forcing a power struggle.”
“Worse, is the assertion that deeply distorted information was released today by the Vatican. Especially since the theme of the ultimatum came from the interpretation of comments by Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who answered a journalist’s question about the ‘timeframe.’ He estimated that the Vatican would anticipate a response in ‘about a month.’ To my knowledge, he did not speak of an ultimatum. Besides, that would be ridiculous for a crisis open for … fifty years, since the opening of the Second Vatican Council!”
Not quite satisfied with the “ultimatum” in his title, La Vie’s Jean Mercier considers in his article that it is simply pointless: “This new request for clarifications comes as Bishop Fellay has already, on two occasions, sent a document on the subject of the doctrinal preamble and has publicly stated that the Roman protocol cannot be signed by the SSPX. One has to ask oneself what clarifications are really needed.” Short of finding that this “ultimatum” became “unofficial,” he provides a political explanation: “This unofficial ultimatum issued by Rome perhaps has as its objective the rallying to it those integrist priests who are of a moderate tendency.”
Why all these suppositions and accusations? Note that on December 22, 2011, in its online edition, from the pen of Natalia Trouiller, La Vie extoled the reliability of the “revelations” on the Society of St. Pius X that could be obtained from sedevacantist sites, which in turn rejoiced on December 31st at finally being officially recognized, forgetting the doctrinal differences which must always exist between conciliarists and sedevacantists, so as to seal an objective alliance against the common enemy. In its issue of January 19, 2012, dedicated to the “secret war of the integrists” La Vie borrowed again from sedevacantist sites their “analysis” and even, without realizing it, some of their terminology.
The open letter to Msgr. Bux
On March 19, 2012, three days after the meeting of Bishop Fellay with Cardinal Levada, Monsignor Nicola Bux, consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Pope, addressed an open letter to Bishop Fellay and the priests of the Society of St. Pius X, inviting them to accept an agreement. When interviewed by the Roman news agency IMedia on the 21st, this Roman prelate refused to see “a kind of ultimatum” in the request by the Holy See for further clarification of the position of the Society of St. Pius X. He only considers “that once we arrived at a certain point, we must decide.”
Despite this, the next day Natalia Trouiller persisted in writing: “Monsignor Nicola Bux, who is close to the pope, sent a letter to Bishop Fellay and his followers. Proof that the Society is facing an ultimatum.” And to expand on it: “Read in its entirety, his [Msgr. Bux’s] message is clear: the Lefebvrists have no hope of further concessions from Rome: either they come back now, or they continue their way alone. The letter was certainly written with an iron fist, but in a velvet glove: it’s a safe bet that some phrases like ‘It is undeniable that numerous facts of Vatican II and of the period that followed it, related to the human dimension of this event, have represented true calamities and have caused intense pain to many great Churchmen,’ will make for much discussion.”
This criticism of the Council that bothers the La Vie journalist is picked up again two days later, on March 23, by Francois Vercelletto on the site Ouest France: “The general tone of the text [by Msgr. Bux] is largely open to questions and criticisms by the integrists, especially on the Second Vatican Council. In particular when he writes: ‘It is undeniable that numerous facts of Vatican II and of the period that followed it, related to the human dimension of this event, have represented true calamities and have caused intense pain to many great Churchmen’ (…) It will be interesting to monitor the evolution of this issue. I do not know if the general spirit of this letter is representative or not of the thoughts of the highest authorities of the Church. Personally, if that were the case, I would not rejoice.”
Nevertheless, the substance is not known whether the clarifications Bishop Fellay will bring will suffice or not “to overcome doctrinal problems.” On March 21st, Msgr. Bux responded to IMedia that the Pope sought “unity and recomposition after the estrangement, but not at any price.” On March 22nd, in an email, Bishop Richard Williamson pointed out to Msgr. Bux: “Your letter begins with an appeal for ‘every sacrifice in the name of unity.’ But there can be no true Catholic unity that is not grounded in the true Catholic Faith. (…)Faith sacrificed for unity would be a faithless unity.”
Jean-Marie Guénois says in the article already quoted from his Religioblog: “It seems to me that Rome does not seek a cheap compromise. The Lefebvrists, anyway, would not accept it. This would be the source of difficult medium term problems. Rome seeks an agreement based on a broad vision of Catholicism. A vision capable of integrating several families, some of which are very distant from each other. A spirit capable of admitting to an internal debate, this disputatio, however, belongs to the great intellectual tradition—now lost—of the Catholic Church.” One really wonders if it is to this theological disputatio that Msgr. Bux refers in his open letter to the Society of St. Pius X when he writes with a cautious moderation: “Perplexities certainly remain, points to be deepened or detailed, such as those regarding ecumenism and interreligious dialogue (which has been, for that matter, already the object of an important clarification given by the declaration Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of August 6, 2000), or regarding the way in which religious liberty is to be understood. Also on these matters, your canonically assured presence within the Church will help bring more light. How can you not think of the contribution you could give to the welfare of the whole Church, thanks to your pastoral and doctrinal resources, your capabilities and your sensibility?”
No one knows what the future holds. But it is certain that the future belongs to God, and not to journalists. That is why the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X invites priests and the faithful to pray and sacrifice in these Holy Days and following weeks. – Read the Press Release of the General House.
(Sources: vatican.va / IMedia / APIC / Religioblog / Life / ecclesia mater / West France – DICI No. 252 of 03/30/12)