The midterm General Chapter of the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX /SSPX) is under way in Écône, Switzerland. The semi-official daily of the French Episcopate, La Croix, has a good overview of the event.
Rapprochement with Rome divides LefebvristsA General Chapter of the Society of Saint Pius X begins on Monday, July 9, in Écône (Switzerland), while the Lefebvrist movement is crossed by strong tensionsThe doctrinal preamble proposed by Rome for discussion is the object of lively debates. One third of the Society is supposed to be opposed to Bp. Bernard Fellay, their Superior General, and to any agreement.Officially, there are "no dissenssions": "No group or priest has announced that he would leave the Society," Father Grégoire Célier, spokesman of the French District, affirms. However, deep divisions have appeared these last few weeks between the majority led by Bp. Bernard Fellay, the Superior General, favorable to an agreement with Rome, and a hardline wing, hostile to him and that could attempt a coup of force during the Chapter.That is shown by the exchange of letters made public on May 10 on the internet displaying the lively disagreement between the leader of the Lefebvrists and the three other bishops of the Society, who have condemned any practical agreement. Or, more recently, the putting aside of Bp. Richard Williamson, due to "his stand calling to rebellion."According to several observers, "Bp. Fellay unquestionably wants an agreement, and has moved forward considerably." In his June 29 sermon, he certainly recognized: "We have returned to the point of departure, in which we said we could not sign." But he also reminded: "We are Roman, and this we cannot put behind us. Even if we have to suffer from the Rome of today, we cannot renounce Rome, head of the Church."He seems to want to give assurances to both sides: to Rome, by discarding Bp. Williamson from the General Chapter and refusing to ordain priests for the "friendly" communities most opposed to an agreement; and his troops, by refusing to yield to the new conditions posed by the latest version of the doctrinal preamble, put forward by the pope. In any event, someone close to the Society of Saint Pius X analyses, "all that serves to psychologically prepare the spirits for an agreement."Moreover, in this context of pressures and leaks, this midterm General Chapter for Bp. Fellay, reelected in 2006 for twelve years, should be the occasion to evaluate the support which he has. He knows that most districts are loyal to him, particularly the most important ones (Germany and the United States).On the other hand, those of Ireland and England are strongly opposed to any agreement, and France, which represents one third of the Society, also poses problems: among 37 French priories, between one fourth and one third would be opposed to it.In total, according to several observers questioned by La Croix, one third of the Society is loyal to Bp. Fellay, another third, "the legitimists", would follow him no matter what may come, but a last third would be hostile to any agreement with Rome and to the Superior General.The threat of rebellionThis hostility is more widely based on the resentment of a good number of priests against the administration, deemed authoritarian, of Bp. Fellay, While Bp. Williamson has lost all credibility, Bp. Alfonso de Galarreta could be the catalyst of a rebellion, supported by Bp. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais.Following the last consultation, the Argentinian [Spanish-born] bishop had explained in detail why "moving in the direction of a practical agreement would mean going back on our word and our promises before our priests, faithful, Rome, and the entire world." In his view, "there is not any change, on the doctrinal level, from Rome, that would justify our [change]. Quite the opposite, discussions have demonstrated that they (Editor note: in Rome) do not accept our criticisms at all."If an entente is reached, would these opponents proceed to secession? "A considerable portion will not follow in the case of a personal prelature," Father Célier admits. But, following the rejection of the text delivered by Cardinal William Levada, [then] Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on June 13, "the process is once again blocked." In this sense, Father Célier considers, "just because we have returned to a classical situation, the General Chapter will not be any simpler."Departures would be minimalBesides, what would be of the opponents outside the Society? On one hand, the Lefebvrist priests formed in different seminaries barely know one another from one country to the other, and getting together within a new structure would not at all be easy.Most importantly, practical and financial issues should have considerable weight. Bp. Fellay, who was the Treasurer General of the Society of Saint Pius X for twelve years, would have taken the necessary measures so that, on the day on which certain District Superiors became opposed to him, their property would automatically revert to him... Many recognize that "between being opposed to an agreement and seceding, there is a distance.""If I had to leave my work from one day to the next, my parishioners, my colleagues, what would I become?", Father Célier, who has been "in the Society for 32 years," also asks. Another close [source] confirms it: "There are disagreements, this is clear. That being said, there are maybe 40% of displeased [members], but only 10 to 15% who speak up, and in the end 3% who will leave."When Father Philippe Laguérie wished to leave the Society in 2006, 70 priests had promised to follow him, and fewer than 10 effectively did so. Even Father Xavier Beauvais, pastor of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, in Paris, who loudly proclaims his opposition to any agreement, would have confided to his entourage: "I'm against it [an agreement], but I won't go against it."CÉLINE HOYEAU