Rome – Society of Saint Pius X: Press review
For lack of reliable information about authenticated facts, the press is devising hypotheses about an imminent canonical recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X. Journalists are attempting to specify a time-frame and are striving to discern the reasons that Benedict XVI might have to grant a canonical status to the Society, despite the doctrinal differences recognized by both parties.
The German magazine Der Spiegel, in its online edition dated April 15, 2012, claims that the pope’s decision will be communicated after his birthday (April 16): “In the Vatican’s Secretariat of State—the source of several documents that were leaked in recent months in the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ scandal—has classified the SSPX letter as secret, and the issue is being handled with the utmost discretion. It is only to be made public following the pope’s birthday celebrations.”
Earlier that week, on April 13, the French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on a response received by a Roman source: “Officially, the Vatican awaits the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the Lefebvrists. As soon as it is received in Rome—‘It is a matter of days, and no longer of weeks,’ someone at the Vatican said—it will be examined ‘immediately’. If it conforms to expectations, the Holy See will very quickly announce a historic agreement….”
On April 17, the Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli over-hastily declared that Bishop Fellay sent a “positive response” to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whereas it was actually a set of clarifications that the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X was adding to his response to the Doctrinal Preamble, at the request of Cardinal Levada on March 16 of this year. These clarifications must now be examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then submitted for the pope’s decision.
All observers acknowledge that the doctrinal discussions between the Vatican and the Society of Saint Pius X manifested profound disagreement about the Second Vatican Council. On April 14, Jean Mercier of the progressive weekly La Vie, painted this picture on his blog: “Is the pope really fooled into thinking that the Lefebvrists are willing to be reconciled in depth with the Universal Church? Without prejudging the latter’s purity of intention, it is obvious that they have never disavowed their basic stance against the Council and that they will never do so. The request for the lifting of the excommunications was not accompanied by any repentance for their disobedience in 1988. Since then the integrist bishops and priests have multiplied their statements declaring that they have never changed their minds and that they intend to continue their battle against the Council, and especially against religious liberty, interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.
“In all probability, the pope granted the remission of the excommunications in 2009 with an awareness of this lack of repentance—which is contrary to what would normally occur within the context of the confessional, in which contrition, even imperfect contrition, is required. But the stakes here are more political…. The pope probably has few illusions about the calculated strategy of those, the more moderate ones, who would be ready to rejoin Rome: to lead a crusade within the Church so as to bring her back to the ‘true’ faith, banking on the erosion or disappearance of the generations that brought us the Council and the postconciliar period.
“Benedict XVI no doubt thought that he had to wink at the certain impenitence of his interlocutors. And he decided to go beyond what is an inescapable fact: the total disagreement between him and the integrists about essential elements such as religious liberty, ecumenism and dialogue with other religions. Even at the risk of not being understood by his base.”
Jean-Marie Guénois in Le Figaro (April 14-15) suggests that the situation can be deciphered as follows: “The apparent failure of the latter [the theological talks], one year ago, had given the impression of a complete failure of the negotiation. The doctrinal disagreement between the Lefebvrists and Rome regarding the Second Vatican Council was effectively abysmal. But it had been forgotten that the object of those conversations was not finding an agreement, but establishing the list of differences and of the reasons for them.
“It is therefore with full knowledge and, thus, without any ambiguity, that Rome intends to seal this unity found once again with Écône, stronghold of the Lefebvrists in Switzerland. It will probably be done with the creation of a special status—a ‘personal prelature’—already experienced by Opus Dei. This structure grants a true autonomy of action seeing that the Catholic faith is shared. Its superior answers directly to the pope, and not to the bishops.
“But the true ‘revolution’ that Benedict XVI seeks to allow in the sight of Catholic Church history is elsewhere. It touches on aspects of the Catholic Church that are not peripheral. These have already enraged the groups opposed to this reconciliation. The so-called “Progressives” of the Conciliar Church who see the ‘gains’ of Vatican II called into question. The ‘ultras’ within the Lefebvrist ranks who see in this a betrayal and a compromise with Modernist Rome.
“This revolution aims for broader vision of the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI, the theologian, has never accepted that in 1962 the bi-millennial Catholic Church would have cut herself off from the culture and strength of her past. More than a reconciliation with the Lefebvrists, he aims, with this gesture, at a reconciliation of the Catholic Church with herself.”
The above-cited online edition of Der Spiegel dated April 15, without indicating its sources, gives this analysis that is supposedly making the rounds in Rome: “The letter makes clear that conflicting positions on Vatican II are ‘not decisive’ for the future of the Catholic Church, because the Church is more than the Council. The Society of St. Pius X is no longer demanding that the Second Vatican Council should disappear. [It never took that position: it recognizes the Council as an historic fact. – Editor’s note.] Indeed, it has its own legitimate understanding of the question.… The German Cardinal Josef Becker, an advisor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a participant in the talks with the SSPX, said recently that it is difficult to find common ground in the positions held by the Catholic Church and the Society of St. Pius X. But, he added, each side must ‘try to understand’ the other. He also said that the Church must re-examine all Vatican II documents to understand them fully from today’s perspective.”
Bishop Bernard Fellay, who sticks exclusively to reality, wrote on April 14 to the members of the Society of Saint Pius X: “The press is reporting the possibility of an imminent positive outcome in our relations with Rome, without however ruling out the threat of a definitive condemnation. The truth is that nothing has been gained, neither along the lines of a canonical recognition, nor along the lines of a rupture, and that we are still awaiting developments.
“As I wrote in the editorial of the current issue of Cor unum [the newsletter of the General House of the SSPX, Editor’s note], we are guided by two principles: the first is that the Society must not be asked to make concessions concerning the faith and what results from it (liturgy, sacraments, morality, discipline). The second is that a real liberty and autonomy of action must be granted to the Society so as to allow it to live and develop in concrete circumstances.”
The prudence and vigilance of the Superior General of the Society are understandable when one knows that currently posted at several European websites is a Note from the Ecclesia Dei Commission dated March 23, following their canonical visitation to the Institut du Bon Pasteur [Good Shepherd Institute, a society of apostolic life in France]. In this document we can read that the professors of the seminary in Courtalain must direct their efforts “concerning the transmission of the Church’s patrimony in its entirety, while insisting on the hermeneutic of renewal in continuity and relying on Catholic doctrine as a whole as set forth by the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” rather than on “a critique of Vatican II, even a ‘serious and constructive’ one”. This is a critique that theologian John R. T. Lamong, professor at the Catholic Institute in Sydney, nevertheless invites us to make, by posing questions about the Magisterial authority of Vatican II than second the questions of the Society of Saint Pius X. (Read “The questions of a theologian”)
(Sources : Figaro/Vie/Spiegel/FSSPX-MG – DICI no.253 dated April 20, 2012)