National Catholic Register

Vatican

Missed Opportunity for SSPX

Traditional Society, With No Canonical Status in the Church, Rebuffs Pope’s Latest Offer for Unity

BY Edward Pentin

Rome Correspondent

April 8-21, 2012 Issue | Posted 3/30/12 at 5:30 PM

 

The Society of St. Pius X risks losing the historic opportunity to reconcile with the Catholic Church and needs to make sacrifices for unity, a senior advisor to the Vatican has warned.

Msgr. Nicola Bux, a consulter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Register March 25 that if the society “does not accept the offer of a pope like Benedict XVI, who has already made possible the gestures to meet them halfway, a historic opportunity would be lost, and, above all, there would be a further injury to the mystical body of Jesus Christ.”

The monsignor, who is also a consulter to the Office of Pontifical Ceremonies, called on the society to “at least sacrifice something, as St. John the Baptist taught us: ‘I must decrease so that he may increase.’”

The SSPX rejects many of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and defied Pope John Paul II in 1988 by illegally consecrating four bishops, leading to their excommunication.

In gestures of reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications in 2009 (at considerable personal cost) and, in 2007, promoted the wider use of the 1962 traditional Latin Mass employed by the SSPX.

But the Holy Father has said he will not accept reconciliation if the society continues to reject some of the Council’s declarations on interreligious dialogue, ecumenism and religious freedom.

However, SSPX district superior Father Franz Schmidberger said March 25 the society “hopes for a satisfactory solution. If this solution would be reached it would considerably strengthen all the orthodox forces in the Church,” he said. “If not, it would weaken and discourage these forces. So it is not primarily about our brotherhood, but for the good of the Church.”

In January, Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the SSPX, gave the society’s response to a doctrinal preamble, issued in September, which aimed at clarifying some doctrinal principles necessary for reconciliation. His response was then examined by the CDF, culminating in the Holy Father’s judgment, which was made public on March 16.

The Vatican published that evaluation in a communiqué, saying the position of the society was “not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the fracture between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the society had been told it had until mid-April to clarify its position in order to heal “the existing fracture.”

Officials stress the deadline is not an ultimatum, but the Vatican has made it clear that a non-acceptance of what was “foreseen in the preamble” would be “a rupture, something very serious for the Church,” with “painful and incalculable consequences.”

Bishop Fellay declined to comment when contacted March 22, saying he preferred “for the time being to pray and to work in silence.”

However, SSPX district superior Father Franz Schmidberger said March 25 the society “hopes for a satisfactory solution. If this solution would be reached it would considerably strengthen all the orthodox forces in the Church,” he said. “If not, it would weaken and discourage these forces. So it is not primarily about our brotherhood, but for the good of the Church.”

In November 2011, Bishop Fellay said the doctrinal preamble “cannot receive our endorsement, although leeway has been allowed for a ‘legitimate discussion’ about certain points of the [Second Vatican] Council.”

Privately, senior Vatican officials were bitterly disappointed by the society’s response to the doctrinal preamble.

“The ball is really in their court now,” one Vatican official told the Register. “They need to respond to the generosity of the Holy Father, which, so far, I don’t think they have really done. Obviously, we don’t want to close the door. There’s no ultimatum or anything; but, in the end, they need to accept the offer that has been made.”

On March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Msgr. Bux wrote a letter to Bishop Fellay, warmly inviting the society to “come take part in this blessed future in which we can already foresee dawn, despite the persistent darkness.”

He added: “Your refusal would increase darkness, not light,” and he underlined the valuable contribution its members could make to the whole Church through its “pastoral and doctrinal resources.”

Asked about the chances of the society agreeing to reconciliation, Msgr. Bux told the Register that the hope “must be firmly anchored in the Lord, who wants his disciples to love one another and be united.”

Failure to reach an agreement, he added, would “make vain the death of Christ, who sacrificed himself, because his is one body.”

Some believe the problem is a lack of intellectual depth among the SSPX leadership and an absence of “real theologians.”

They argue that the people the society sends to negotiate are only able to repeat formulas they know from their “own manuals” and that anything that goes beyond those formulas is suspected as being heresy.

But Msgr. Bux disagreed, arguing the society does have “true theologians,” whom he defines as those who humbly place rational wisdom in the service of the faith.

However, he stressed, “there are things that must be united and others for which there is freedom of opinion; but, in all, charity must prevail, according to St. Augustine.” He added: “The [Church] Fathers say the Catholic Church is rich in variety (circumdata varietate), and in it, as the Holy Father recalled to French bishops in Paris, no one is too many.”

Arguably, a more serious obstacle is presented by the divided and intransigent factions within the society, such as the disgraced Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson, and some French SSPX members.

Some also blame benefactors who they think may be exerting pressure on Bishop Fellay to steer a harder line.

“We must hope that the reasons for reconciliation are free from any pressure,” Msgr. Bux said.

He added that two keys are necessary on this path towards unity: an interpretation of Vatican II that is in continuity with tradition and faith in understanding the path of God in every ecclesial event.

He also asserted that the society would benefit from an appropriate juridical status within the Church — a probable solution if reconciliation is reached.

Msgr. Bux asked, “Who needs to stay out of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?”

 

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.