Rorate Caeli

SSPX Superior Fellay in letter:
"We will never cut all ties with Rome, or we'd cease to be Catholic"
Relationship "somehow blocked" since June 2012

We were sent this news yesterday: it is a letter sent by the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), Bp. Bernard Fellay, in November 2013, to a Polish layman, who was probably interested in trying to understand how things stand between that priestly fraternity and the Holy See. 

The letter is in English and the source is a March 13, 2014, post of the French "résistance"* blog "Avec l'Immaculée" (click for larger). We do not consider this a leaked letter, it seems very likely (and the blog confirms it) that the addressee himself made the letter available.

Its main point (which is probably what made the layman divulge the letter) is the peremptory affirmation that, "We [the SSPX] will never cut all ties with Rome. Otherwise, we would simply cease to be Catholic."

We tend to think that the author meant "somewhat blocked," and not "somehow blocked," but that is the way it is printed.

Since the original Vatican document with the two conditions mentioned above was never made publicly available, we can only understand that the reference to "liceity" often mentioned in the past two years refers to the usual Catholic meaning of a juridical legitimacy as demanded by circumstances. However, as we said at the time of the 2012 collapse in negotiations, the matter of "liceity" may be complex or not, the problem is that not even the May 5, 1988, Protocol signed by Archbishop Lefebvre and later accepted by the founders of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (see FSSP website) demanded that. That Protocol mentioned merely the "validity" of both rites, and this was what was repeated in all negotiations regarding this matter. Then, all of a sudden, on June 13, 2012, "licéité" was mentioned as a condition. It should not be expected that what was not demanded in 1988 would have been suddenly demanded in 2012, if there had not been a desire from some quarter inside the Vatican to derail the negotiations.

In order to explain the historical development of the 2011/2012 negotiations better, we repost below the text by Côme de Prévigny we published in July 2013:


One year later
by Côme de Prévigny

Over one year ago [in June 2013], the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered to the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX) a document presenting three necessary conditions for the canonical recognition of the work of Abp. Lefebvre, a famous document that should put an end to several years of discussions.

Some weeks earlier, the entire press indicated that the regularization of the SSPX was certain. Andrea Tornielli, the famous Italian Vaticanist, predicted: "In May should be reached the end of the road leading the Society of Saint Pius X, founded by Abp. Lefebvre, to full communion with Rome." Henri Tincq, a journalist with Le Monde, not known for any indulgence with the traditional cause, has covered religious news for decades. According to him, it was merely a matter of days: "the imminence of an agreement that should be signed between the Vatican and the Society of Saint Pius X, the stronghold of integrist Catholics, is not in doubt anymore." On April 19, his fellow journalist Bernadette Sauvaget, of Libération, wrote: "Since Tuesday, some Vaticanists have affirmed that agreement has been reached." All the echoes emanating from the Pontifical Apartments allowed for the confirmation, without much second-guessing, that the doctrinal declaration proposed by Bp. Fellay had been accepted by the Pope and already the most hostile observers considered that Rome that conceded all ground to "the Integrists". On the side of the Society, however, the expectation remained realistic, by insisting on the fact that the roadmap remained uncertain. Several relevant points, both doctrinal and canonical, remained open to clarification and the discussions were not yet over.

The text sent back to Rome was a declaration dated April 15, 2012, proposed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and revised by the Superior General of the SSPX. In its great lines, it was a copy-paste of the May 5, 1988, Protocol of Agreement that Abp. Lefebvre had rejected not due to its doctrinal basis but because of its context (the points related to the Roman Pontiff or to the new Code of Canon Law are the same, for instance). The document negotiated twenty-four years later had its weaknesses, and its progresses that counterbalanced, on the other hand, those same weaknesses. For instance, the text speaks of conciliar formulations that are "not reconcilable with the previous Magisterium of the Church", while the 1988 Protocol was limited to saying that they are "reconcilable with Tradition only with difficulty". There were the document signed by Abp. Lefebvre indicated "a positive attitude of study and of communication" regarding the Council, the one that Bp. Fellay had written was stronger because it neutralized any "interpretation of these affirmations that may lead to present Catholic doctrine in opposition or in rupture with Tradition and with this Magisterium". Whatever the case may be, this counterproposal was presented, and it was said in the Roman halls that it would open the path to an imminent recognition. In order to prove that the search for unity begun by the founder was not seen as an optional point, the Superior General of the SSPX did not fear the public criticisms of his British confrere or the rebellious attitude of a friendly religious community.

However, the June 13 meeting three new points were superposed to these exchanges, which would, in a few hours, ruin the process begun many months earlier. Among these conditions was to be found the recognition of the continuity of the conciliar texts in relation with the preceding Magisterium, which contradicted the doctrinal declaration that mentioned, on the contrary, their non-reconcilable character. Moreover, the authorities introduced the need to recognize the "liceity" of the new mass, a new term that had been, it was known, the object of bitter debates. This had never been demanded, neither in 1988, nor of the different institutes regularized up to that moment. These new demands left the impression that there was a desire to interrupt the process very elegantly as well as suddenly, by the introduction of inadmissible points.

What were the motives for this about-face that was sudden and that was incongruous with the attitude adopted by Benedict XVI for so many years? Undoubtedly, the influence of certain heads of dicasteries strongly opposed to this recognition, as well as specific diplomatic pressures, had their influence on the inclination of the pope. A few months later, the latter resigned from his position in the stormy context of the Vatileaks. As a French university professor rightly remarked recently, these leaks have ceased as if by magic since pope Ratzinger stopped presiding over the fate of the Church. Does this mean that the dossier of relations between Rome and the SSPX is dead and buried and that the Traditional world will relive those days of silence that were the 1990s? It is true that Benedict XVI was very close, personally, to the matter. Nevertheless, the restart of relations in the early 2000s took place in the pontificate of John Paul II. In France, in any event, the Society of Saint Pius X had, on the ground, obtained more for its local pilgrimages from bishops supposedly far from it than from those considered conservative. Bp. Perrier, of Lourdes, opened for years his shrines, lending liturgical objects and ornaments, while the diocese of Versailles, governed by Bp. Aumônier, who knew Abp. Lefebvre well in the early years of his priestly life, never granted anything to the work that the latter founded.

Beyond these considerations, the dynamics of the traditional movement, invigorated by the liberation of the Mass and the lifting of sanctions affecting the bishops of the Society, will increasingly make clear the unavoidable character of Traditional groups. Ignoring them now seems hardly tenable.

*"Résistance" is the curious name chosen by those who "resist" the very fact that the Society of Saint Pius still has any relationship with the Holy See at all...
[Original posting time 12:21 a.m.]