VATICAN CITY — Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, arrived at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith this evening amid speculation that Pope Benedict XVI has decided on the latest terms for the traditionalist society’s reconciliation with the Church.
According to Catholic News Service, Bishop Fellay arrived at the CDF at 5pm this afternoon Rome time. If the speculation is correct, prefect Cardinal William Levada will have handed the SSPX leader the Pope’s response to the doctrinal preamble that forms the basis of reconciliation. It will then be up to the SSPX’s leader to give final assent to the document, leading to an official announcement.
However, the positions of three other bishops, who are understood to have strong reservations to any agreement, will be examined individually by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Quoting SSPX spokesman Father Alain Lorans, Agence France-Presse reported this evening that Benedict XVI’s response will “not be known before the weekend,” adding that “it will be a week to 10 days before further moves” and that “today was just a step in the process,” according to the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli.
Speaking to the Register June 12, Msgr. Nicola Bux, a consultor to the CDF and to the Office of Pontifical Ceremonies, said he didn’t think the Pope’s response would “take too much time, just what is necessary to prepare the response and the canonical form suitable for those who are returning to the Catholic Church, as happened for the Anglicans with the constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus."
In a revealing interview with the official SSPX website DICI June 8, Bishop Fellay offered his most comprehensive assessment yet of the breakaway fraternity’s reconciliation process with Rome. He also shared in detail his view of the modern Church and the tone he intends to take if the SSPX fractures over any rapprochement.
Roger McCaffrey, who published Latin Mass magazine, told the Register June 8 that, with the DICI interview, Bishop Fellay had “crossed the Rubicon. ... There is no turning back.” He said, “The deal is very done.”
In that interview, the SSPX leader maintained the “official attitude of the Church [...] changed; we did not.” He also said the society was being invited back into full communion in order to work as the reforming saints did in the past.
“What has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution,” Bishop Fellay argued, adding that some in Rome regard “a different understanding of the Council” as something “not decisive for the future of the Church, since the Church is more than the Council.”
The Church cannot be “reduced to the Council, but is much larger,” he said; therefore, “we must strive to resolve more far-reaching problems.”
This new awareness, he added, “can help us to understand what is really happening: We are called to help bring to others the treasure of Tradition that we have been able to preserve.”
Maintaining it is the Pope who wants to recognize the society, and that the SSPX didn’t ask for any agreement, he said this was due to “terribly important problems in the Church today” that must be addressed. “We must set aside the secondary problems and deal with the major problems,” he continued, adding that this is the view of “one or two Roman prelates” who would “never say so openly.”
As an example of the Vatican’s efforts to remedy some of these errors, the superior general referred to how the Vatican, in a recent letter to priests, composed a guide for them on the examination of conscience that, because it was “so much along the lines of pre-conciliar spirituality,” it could have emanated from the SSPX seminary in Ecône.
Asked about areas of doctrinal disagreement with the Holy See, such as religious liberty and ecumenism, Bishop Fellay argued against the danger of wishing for an ideal Church that was free of all error.
“In this situation, which some currently depict as an impossible situation, we are being asked to come and work just as all the reforming saints of all times did,” he said. “Certainly that does not do away with the danger. But if we have sufficient freedom to act, to live and to grow, this must be done [on] the condition that we have sufficient protection.”
Offering clues on how he would deal with anyone dissenting from a Rome-SSPX agreement, in particular the three SSPX bishops (Bishops Tissier de Mallerays, Alfonso de Gallareta and Richard Williamson) who claimed in a leaked letter that an agreement was impossible, Bishop Fellay said that if his confreres see that the Roman proposal “contains a genuine opportunity for the society to ‘restore all things in Christ,’ despite all the troubles that continue to exist in the Church today, then they will be able to readjust their judgment.”
He said he was convinced that any offer from Rome would not be a trap, as some SSPX confreres believe, basing their fears on earlier disappointments from the Vatican. “Our enemies may plan to use this offer as a trap, but the Pope, who really wants this canonical recognition, is not proposing it to us as a trap,” he said.
Responding to Bishop Fellay’s contention that the Church has changed its view of the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. Nicola Bux said it “depends on your point of view.”
“In a certain sense, the SSPX and the Holy See have maintained their positions, and, at the same time, they have innovated,” he said. Mgsr. Bux stressed that if the fraternity accepts reconciliation with Rome, “it means that it, too, has made progress in understanding the necessity of communion with the Roman Pontiff if one wishes to remain Catholic.”
Roger McCaffrey sees the real possibility of the Pope consecrating a fifth SSPX bishop, which, he feels, would “solidify” any agreement. The new bishop, he said, “would be a message to the society malcontents that the Pope is sincere; but, to those same people, he would personify, by virtue of the fact that he would remain with Fellay and Rome, that the malcontents are fringe.” He also believes the bishop would guarantee that the SSPX would continue if Bishop Fellay were to die.
McCaffrey’s favorite candidate would be Father Franz Schmidberger, district superior of the SSPX in Germany. “He is someone none of the malcontents can criticize per se,” he said, adding that he was in a senior position in 1988 when the other bishops, including Bishop Fellay, were illegitimately consecrated by SSPX’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Msgr. Bux wouldn’t be drawn on the speculation, simply saying, “The Holy Father is sovereign in all his decisions.”
Asked if he was optimistic about reconciliation, he said: “I am confident that it will happen as soon as possible, and I pray for this. St. John Chrysostom urged that preserving unity was the most precious good.”
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.