Rorate Caeli

Holy See Communiqué: SSPX invited to "clarify"
UPDATES: today's meeting; why the Pope will not give up

MARCH 16, 2012

During the meeting on September 14, 2011, between His Eminence Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, a Doctrinal Preamble, accompanied by a Preliminary Note, was delivered to the latter, as the fundamental basis for achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See. This Preamble spelled out certain doctrinal principles and criteria for interpreting Catholic doctrine that are necessary to ensure fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium and sentire cum Ecclesia.

The response of the Society of St. Pius X to this Doctrinal Preamble that arrived in January 2012 was submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for their review and was then forwarded to the Holy Father for his judgment. In compliance with the decision by Pope Benedict XVI, the evaluation of the response of His Excellency Bishop Fellay was communicated to him by a letter delivered to him today. This evaluation notes that the position that he expressed is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the rift between the Holy See and the aforesaid Society.

At the conclusion of today’s meeting, out of a concern for avoiding an ecclesial rupture with painful and incalculable consequences, the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X was invited to be so kind as to clarify his position so as to heal the existing rift, as Pope Benedict XVI wished.

[Original languages: Italian and French ; we have replaced the VIS translation with one by Michael J. Miller, which closely follows the French text.]


Addendum (Radio Vaticana):

"Bp. Fellay is invited to clarify his position, in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI, from now until April 15."

[UPDATE - 1500 GMT] In an article on today's events, Salvatore Izzo reports the following for Italian news agency AGI:

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, delivered [the content of the communiqué] to the Superior General of the Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, in a conversation that lasted for over two hours ... . During today's meeting in the Palace of the Holy Office - in which the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Abp. Luis Francisco Ladaria, and the Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, Mgr. Guido Pozzo, also took part, while Bp. Fellay was joined by his assistant Fr. Nély - a complete rupture was avoided by the Holy See, making it clear that Benedict XVI still expects a recomposition.

[UPDATE: 1800 GMT - Comment on the events of the day, by Jean-Marie Guénois, blogger for Religioblog, the religion blog of major French daily Le Figaro -  we have also replaced the VIS translation above with one that more accurately reflects the French text.]

Why doesn't Rome give up hope on an agreement with the Lefebvrists?

Jean-Marie Guénois - March 16, 2012 17h46

This deformation of information is quite curious... While Rome reveals today that a new meeting took place this morning between Bp. Fellay, leader of the Lefebvrists, and Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the scope of reaching an - admittedly very hard - agreement, many colleagues [in the media] speak of an "ultimatum" imposed by the Vatican in order to find a solution within "one month".

I have read and reread the official communiqué and I do not find in it either the word "ultimatum" or above all any trace of a spirit of ultimatum. That is to say, of a pressure attached to a calendar in order to reach a result by forcing down the power lever.

No ultimatum

And what is worse: to affirm that is to profoundly deform the information published today by the Vatican. Especially since this matter of the ultimatum came from the interpretation of the words of Fr. Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, who answered the question of a journalist on the "deadlines". It is estimated that the Vatican would expect a response from now "up to around one month". He did not speak, as far as I know, of an ultimatum. Which would be, for that matter, ridiculous, for a crisis that has been open for... fifty years, since the opening of Vatican II!

Here is in fact the whole text of the communiqué. It is short enough to be quoted:


Not a meaningless courtesy

This very Roman courtesy is not at all meaningless. Quite the opposite, it indicates that the Pope still wants an agreement, whether we want it or not. And that Bp. Fellay wants it as well, whether we want it or not.

It seems to me, on the contrary, that the negotiation enters the homestretch. It has changed in its nature: it is no longer of a doctrinal, but of an ecclesial nature.

Allow me to explain myself: for three years, one might say, the systems engineers, on the Lefebvrist side and on the Vatican side, have worked in order to try to make two versions of the same "Catholic" software compatible. But... dating from two very different times.

They have tried it all. And they have indeed concluded that there is a technical and ...definitive incompatibility. That is, a theological "incompatibility" between Vatican I and Vatican II, to make this simple.

But this disagreement, formally established, does not mean that an "ecclesial" solution - we would say "political" in worldly language - is henceforth impossible.

It is this new negotiation that begins today with the letter delivered to Bp. Fellay.

Rome, it seems to me, is not looking for a cheap compromise. The Lefebvrists would not accept it, anyway. That would be the source of difficult problems in the mid-term.

Not a matter for bookkeepers

Rome wants an agreement, founded on a grand vision of Catholicism. A vision that is capable of integrating several families some of which are very far ones from the others. A spirit capable of accepting an internal debate, this "disputatio" that belongs to the great intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church - now currently lost.

In sum, an exit from this crisis through the high road. And not by the low way of these compromises of petty bookkeepers, who will never be in agreement on the interpretation of their results and their spreadsheets, because they are in fact limited to millimeters and commas almost with the meticulousness of Swiss clockmakers.

The Benedict XVI style is not there as far as I could observe it. With him, intellectual precision and rigor go along with grandness of vision and spiritual and intellectual vitality. He will never let himself be locked within the numbered notes of a supposed ultimatum, especially taking into consideration the time scale of the Church.

A meeting with the Pope?

And, after all, it cannot be excluded that, once the response of Bp. Fellay to today's mail comes to the Pope's hands, the latter, who has for a long time longed for finding this unity, would invite this rebellious son, once again, as he did shortly after his election in 2005.

And that he puts to him, like a father to a son - that is to say, man to man, and not as technician of a theology to technician of another theology - the matter of trust. Such is the will for reconciliation, even if all its details and all its past affronts will never be fixed. 

This is of the essence of the audacity of Christ's disciples. But it is also the characteristic of great men who know how to make, when the time has come, a true decision.