One of the wisest clerics in the traditional Catholic world, Father Claude Barthe, wrote a short note for the highly regarded French Catholic periodical L'Homme Nouveau on the Holy See communiqué on the meeting between Cardinal Müller and Bishop Fellay yesterday. He paid attention to the key words, as well as to words that are missing, and how they represent a high point in the evolution of relations between the Apostolic See and the Society of Saint Pius X.
Father Barthe, by the way, is the main chaplain of the remarkable Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage to Rome, taking place a month from now -- if you can, please join it, there's still time.
The Society of Saint Pius X in a state of "Imperfect Reconciliation"
On the day following the meeting in Rome between Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Bp. Fellay, Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X [FSSPX / SSPX], Father Claude Barthe was willing to provide us with his analysis of this event, and of its possible repercussions.
Towards a canonical recognition?
It was therefore yesterday, Tuesday, September 23, that, at the Palace of the Holy Office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), took place the meeting that had been announced without a date between Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", and Bishop Fellay, Superior-General of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Present in the meeting: on the side of the Congregation, Abp. Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, Abp. Ladaria, Secretary of the Congregation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Abp. Di Noia, Adjunct Secretary; and on the side of the SSPX, Bp. Fellay's two assistants, Frs. Pfluger and Nély. The canonical recognition of the SSPX, in case it took place in the times ahead, would not have anymore the appearance and interest of an earthquake that it would have had within the Church at the end of the Benedict XVI pontificate. On the other hand, it has paradoxically become much easier to accomplish, from the moment the current pope - it's the least we can say - does not have the reputation of traditionalism that his predecessor did.
Several comments can be made:
- One notes a kind of solemnity given to the meeting by the Holy See that, after having kept hermetic silence on its date, had it followed by an official communiqué of the Press Office, in the form of a diplomatic document with duly considered terms.
- The second point is the return to the fore of the tiny Ecclesia Dei Commission and its Secretary, Abp. Pozzo. With the leaks that had made known the short interview of Bp. Fellay with the Pope, at Domus Sanctae Marthae, over six months ago, observers had reached the conclusion that discussions intending to grant a canonical status to the SSPX, interrupted in June 2012, had once again been established. The very Ratzingerian Abp. Pozzo shows himself to be an effective craftsman, having not hesitated, let us say, to pay [the price of] boldness in certain occasions.
- The content of today's [yesterday's] communiqué picks up, by the way, almost word by word [the contents] of the one of 2005. In 2005, "the meeting took place in an environment of love for the Church, and the desire to reach perfect communion. Though aware of the difficulties, the will was made clear to proceed by degrees, step by step, and in a reasonable time." Today [yesterday]: "it was decided to proceed gradually and over a reasonable period of time in order to overcome difficulties and with a view to the envisioned full reconciliation." We remark the difference: the qualification of the theological status of the SSPX is the object of a concept created for the occasion. Reaching "full communion" is not mentioned for it anymore, assimilating it by this fact, more or less, to the separated communities to which is reserved the expression "imperfect communion" (mistaken, by the way, because communion is not marked by degrees). But the communiqué states that the SSPX must find "full reconciliation". The SSPX, already in full communion, is not yet in full reconciliation.
- Regarding this, we recall that Cardinal Castrillón, when he was in charge of the dossier, was eager to affirm that the SSPX was not at all schismatic. We can venture the hypothesis, aware of the workings of the governance of Pope Francis, who loves to short-circuit the official paths of information in the Curia with those of his own, that the long verbal report made by Cardinal Castrillón to him in October 2013 had a great influence.
- The most important aspect unveiled by today's [yesterday's] communiqué is "political". It's clear that Abp. Pozzo could not have acted in this new phase, very discreet up to today, if not with the express approval of the Pope. According to the uses of the Holy See, and under Pope Francis more than ever, a communiqué of this nature receives his personal approval before publication. If we add that, in a recent so-called "secret" meeting of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), presided by the Pope, that is, one of the CEI meetings that do not lead to informations to the press, the Pope, in response to a bishop's questions, affirmed that the regulations regarding the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (the Apostolic Letter and the application Instruction [Universae Ecclesiae]) remained in force, we can say that we find ourselves here in the "continuity" portion of the current pontificate with that of Benedict XVI. Francis, the "Progressive", would not be unhappy if he succeeded there where Benedict the "Fundamentalist" failed.
- A major point remains surrounded by a profound mystery, unknown by all, including by those who are closest [to him]: what does Bp. Bernard Fellay wish to do, or, which is the same, what does he believe to be in a position to do?
[Source, in French. The somewhat informal tone was kept - slightly adapted where necessary for better comprehension.]