Rorate Caeli

Pope Francis the "Pastoral"
- On the Synod and on the SSPX
A guest-piece by Don Pio Pace

We are very honored to post this fourth guest-post by a very wise, knowledgeable, and highly influential cleric, writing under the pen name of don Pio Pace. This time, he tries to decipher Francis, also taking into consideration the stakes of the Synod of Bishops beginning this Sunday and the curious warmth towards the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

Vatican Museums
Pope Francis has just been hit by the non possumus expressed by a total of ten Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, and not among the lesser ones, rising up against the calling into question of the indissolubility of marriage. With this debate opened by the Pope himself, journalists such as Sandro Magister, Marco Tosatti, among others have accidentally helped channel a cardinalatial and clerical opposition that, following the 2013 conclave, had taken long to take hold, differently from the opposition to Benedict XVI, that had arisen since the moment following the 2005 conclave. Antonio Socci added: "Never before in the History of the Church had it happened that a majority of the cardinals had had to take public positions against an inversion of the Magisterium and of the discipline of the Church, that had been proposed by Cardinal Kasper, but that in reality had come from Bergoglio himself." (Libero, September 22, 2014)

But Socci's fierceness shows that the opposers are following the wrong path, up to a point. The Pope does not want to "change the doctine," that is, attempt against Tradition and the Magisterium. But, on the other hand, he reckons that, pastorally, in order to respond to the expectations of the man of this age, it is necessary to find new layouts of "mercy". Not a second sacramental union, but the coexistence of this second union and a sacramental life.

Deep down, with Francis we arrive at the full development of the "priority of pastoral", dear to Yves Congar, and that has been unleashed since the opening of the last Council: without meddling with the infallible Magisterium, we can "move forward" more freely in a register that is below that of dogma, which is that of "pastoral" work, in order to make adjustments to the modes of thinking and feeling of the modern world. Rather than running into opposition head on, we do it by working around it. But up to now there remained the concern of establishing a continuity between pastoral novelties and dogmatic Tradition: this concern for the affirmation of continuity is, incidentally, the key to the work of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. But now, with Pope Bergoglio, we discover a dynamic that even Paul VI, the restless pope, did not know. We must take Francis very seriously when he holds himself to be the first one to have truly internalized Vatican II, this Council that "produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the Gospel itself. ... one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible." (Interview to Antonio Spadaro, SJ, for Civiltà Cattolica)

Which confirms the grievous witchhunt against those understood (rightly or not) as conservatives who are even mildly "restorationists" (Cardinal Piacenza, Franciscans of the Immaculate, Cardinal Burke, this prelate in the Curia, then that other one...) By the way, the true "Progressives", at least in Rome, as as fearful as the Ratzingerians about the new upcoming purges: the men who now are in power in Rome could be qualified not as being the same as the "Old Progressives," but as of the "center-left". Not in favor of dogmatic rupture, but of "working around" things.

As for some traditionalists, ever since the resignation of Benedict XVI marginalized them once more, they are deeply bewildered, but not desperate. They are following events, but in a completely different fashion in which they were interested in Benedict XVI, who wanted to join them forcefully to the "hermeneutic of continuity" ride. With Francis' agreement, and even with his positive encouragement, the talks with the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX) in view of its canonical regularization go on with this basic understanding: the Society is not in breach of communion. From which we can understand the tone of the extremely warm meeting that took place on September 23, at the Palace of the Holy Office, between Cardinal Müller and Bp. Fellay. (Despite all that, an outcome is still unlikely in the short term: by reading the more detached communiqué of the SSPX after the meeting, and Bp. Fellay's interview released on October 3, we understand that the Swiss bishop is making the most of this climate to make the good sentiment last longer.)* We can even say that the contacts between the SSPX superiors and the Roman offices in charge of the SSPX files had never reached such a high level of cordiality. Jean-Marie Dumont, a correspondent for French Catholic monthly Famille chrétienne, even mentions a discreet visit by Abp. Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, to Écône (he more likely means to the General House of the Society of Saint Pius X in Menzingen, also in Switzerland).

In fact, this fashion of considering the "Lefebvrist question" is itself "pastoral". To ask of Bp. Fellay, as it was done under Benedict XVI, to sign laborious "doctrinal declarations" was only essential insofar as the SSPX fell into line with the "hermeneutic of continuity". But, as paradoxical as it may seem at a first untrained glance, freed from all "restorationist" fixations and scruples, there is no further unease with the gap between pastoral and dogmatics. So much so that the criticism of the Council in the name of dogma by the Society of Saint Pius X, that disturbed Benedict so much, does not disturb Francis at all. In the worst case, it actually strengthens him.

*In his interview, Bp. Fellay affirms that, "there is nothing new," and gives the impression that it had still been demanded of him to sign the very same, "Doctrinal Preamble that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has proposed to us since 2011," refused by him. Let us say quite frankly that this seems not too credible to us, due to the diplomatic uses in force, in cases of a renewal of negotiations, and not in agreement with what is between the lines of the September 23 communiqué handed by the Congregation to the Vatican Press Office: "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."