Although the new head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is optimistic about reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, he says that the teachings of the Church, including the dogmatic content of the Second Vatican Council, will never be up for re-negotiation.
“The purpose of dialogue is to overcome difficulties in the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council,” Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller told EWTN News July 20. “But we cannot negotiate on revealed faith; that is impossible. An ecumenical council, according to the Catholic faith, is always the supreme teaching authority of the Church.”
As prefect of the congregation, Archbishop Muller is also the president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” the Vatican body responsible for dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X.
The commission is currently awaiting an official reply from the society to an offer of reconciliation that would give the traditionalist group personal prelature status within the Church. In return, the society would have to accept a “Doctrinal Preamble” proposed to it by the congregation, including full adherence to the dogmatic content of the Second Vatican Council.
In a July 19 statement, the society said it had “determined and approved the necessary conditions for an eventual canonical normalization” at its recent general chapter gathering, but added that it still rejected “all the novelties of the Second Vatican Council, which remain tainted with errors,” as well as “the reforms issued from it.”
“This is simply not possible,” said Archbishop Muller in response. “No one who claims to be Catholic can take such a position. This was precisely the position taken by Martin Luther in 1519, who argued that ‘even councils can err.’”
He added, however, that between various texts of the Council there are “gradations” of teaching authority. By way of an example, Archbishop Muller drew a comparison between the Council’s document on social communications, Inter Mirifica, which carries “less weight” than “dogmatic declarations” like the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.
“Whatever is dogmatic can never be negotiated,” he said, while still expressing hope that the members of the Society of Pius X “can overcome their difficulties, their ideological restrictions, so that we can work together to proclaim Christ as the Light of the world.”
Although the 64-year-old German is new to his current post at the Vatican, Archbishop Muller has had extensive dealings with the Society of St. Pius X in the past. As archbishop of Regensburg in the Bavaria region of Germany for the past decade, his diocesan territory included a seminary operated by the traditionalist group.
A key problem for Rome in recent discussions seems to be the perception that the Society of St. Pius X often speaks about errors in the conciliar texts themselves.
“The assertion that the authentic teachings of Vatican II formally contradict the tradition of the Church is false,” Archbishop Muller stated.
Instead, the Vatican believes a distinction should be made between what the Second Vatican Council actually said and the sometimes problematic interpretations and applications of its teaching.
“We can all come together and avoid ideological positions if we accept the word of God present in the doctrine of the Catholic Church,” he said.
The Vatican’s willingness to continue dialogue was indicated last month with the deployment of a high-ranking American archbishop to the commission responsible for the discussions.
On June 26, Pope Benedict switched Rome-based Archbishop Augustine Di Noia from his post as secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship to vice president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.”
Archbishop Muller, who took up office in Rome earlier this month, said he is fully committed to working for the reconciliation of all separated Christians. “Our aim and our task is clear: to promote the unity of all the disciples of Christ in the one Church under the leadership of Jesus Christ and in communion with his vicar, the Successor of St. Peter.”