If you scour this blog for the posts of June of last here, you will find the news about the impending agreement, when it seemed that the reconciliation had been achieved and only the right moment to make a public announcement was being waited for. Then, the initial reaction of surprise at the news that the widely anticipated reconciliation might not take place. When it became clear that the obvious informal agreement had been changed at the last minute (or misrepresented by people very near to the Pope) your humble correspondent, who doesn’t like to switch his brains off whenever a Pope is in play, dared to write that someone at the Vatican had lied, or had been duplicitorus, or had eaten his words.
When it subsequently became clear that the deal wasn’t going to happen, yours truly pointed out once again to the obvious: the Vatican had changed the cards on the table at the last minute, obviously after green informal green light for an agreement that seemed a done deal.
How the situation had probably evolved originally, I examined here.
Still, after the porcelain was broken I wrote this blog post, with the following observation:
it seems clear to me they are well aware the Holy Father himself has either eaten his word because scared of the results of the agreement, or he has wilfully lied to them when he first indicated his agreement with the SSPX’s version of the preambolo. Their answer to this is rather laconic: “We do not make names here, but if you want to talk to us be serious and stop playing clever guys”.
As an aside, I also made some proposal to improve the “dialogue”; proposals which, as I understand, were not followed.
Bishop Fellay, though, gave Mueller a lesson or two in Catholicism anyway, among other things pointing out that in the past Mueller would have ended in the sight of the same Holy Office he now leads. I heartily agree, by the way.
Who the real responsible of the entire mess was (make no mistake: Pope Benedict) I wrote here.
In the same tone, I pointed out how the appointment of Archbishop’s DiNoia to formally lead the “dialogue” would lead no nothing, if there is no intention to ever reconcile with Traditionalism.
The news making the round in the last hours are, therefore, interesting in themselves, but not entirely new to the readers of this forum: an agreement was certainly signaled to Bishop Fellay as done, prompting the formal offer of the SSPX which was then only waiting for the formal acceptance. At that point, someone ate his word, and if memory serves Bishop Fellay received confirmation in the following months that the one who ate his word was the Pontiff himself.
At the cost of being unpopular, I repeat once again that it is inconceivable that the sudden change in the Vatican attitude was not approved by the Pontiff, who therefore is the one bearing the responsibility for it.
Still, Pope Benedict is too intelligent to think that after two or three years of discussions, the SSPX would have suddenly abandoned the fight that is the very reason of its existence. Rather more probable is that the Pontiff Emeritus thought he could divide the SSPX dangling in front of the moderate elements the carrot of a reconciliation, retracting it at the last moment to see what effect it has. As I have already written i the past, this was too clever by half.
Where we are now, is that in the Vatican there is no interest in even pretending to be interested to a reconciliation. They prefer to reconcile with the Lutherans, and waffle about the “success” of the Reform.
Please let us not kid ourselves: Benedict never wanted an agreement. What is wanted, is either lead the SSPX to accept V II (a scenario improbable to the point of absurdity), or try to divide them in the process. Look at whom he appointed as head of the former Holy Office, and this will show you everything there is to know.
If Pope Francis ignores the SSPX I will still consider the attitude more honest than the disingenuous, frankly unethical ping-pong and carrot dangling we have lived in the past years.
I have read, and wholeheartedly agree with, a blog post on Ars Orandi pointing out that it is not true that Pope Benedict “bent over backwards” in an attempt to reach a reconciliation with the SSPX.
In my eyes, it is important to insist on what really happened in order to avoid a narrative that is becoming very spread, as in time the details are forgotten and the only concept more and more people remember is “Pope Benedict tried so hard”.
Well no, he didn’t. He didn’t at all. Rather, it appears to me very evident from the proceedings – richly documented and commented upon on this blog, so I will not get into it – that Pope Benedict first engendered the impression he would accept the SSPX opposition to the “innovations” of V II as a legitimate one, and at the last minute changed the content of the document (mind: he did it himself; not the wolves, or the gremlins come to that; he did it himself) at the basis of the reconciliation, asking the Society to accept the unacceptable. It is only some time later that the SSPX received the confirmation that the changes had come, let us write it once again, from the Pope himself.
I do not see in this any “bending over forward” whatever. The final phase of the proceedings rather left the very unsavoury impression the Pope first created the hope the SSPX might get their way – at least in the sense of being allowed to freely criticise V II – and then backpedaled at the last moment in order to cause strife and possibly a revolt within the society. In case your innocence made it difficult for you to contemplate this hypothesis, you might want to know the very same (then) Cardinal Ratzinger used exactly this strategy when he was the engine behind the creation of the FSSP, which in fact managed to cause numerous defections among the SSPX priests, and worked after the same principle: make them quarrel.
What I think was from the start the principal effect desired from the “negotiations” (the splitting of the Society) has clearly failed; but the second hoped for effect (letting the SSPX appear the stubborn ones) is getting traction, and frankly I think we should react to this.
The opposition to the novelties of V II is the reason why the SSPX exist in the first place. Pope Benedict and all those involved within the Vatican knew this perfectly well. As a consequence, negotiations aimed at seeing how the SSPX may continue its work after a reconciliation – and be it in the presence of disagreements concerning the Council – are perfectly legitimate, but three years of talks at the end of which, suddenly, the cards on the table are changed and the SSPX is asked to deny the reason why they exist is a behaviour that can be only be called, on a good day, disingenuous.
Let us remember this as the months and years go by and more and more people will confusedly remember, or will be told, that Pope Benedict “tried so hard”.
Oh, he tried hard all right. To cause strife among them and split them, that is (I know, many of you don’t believe me; alas, I suspect not a few do). Divide et impera.
If Pope Francis undertakes nothing in the matter of the SSPX, I will think this a more honest behaviour than the talks set up by Pope Benedict, very probably without any serious intention from the start, unless it was to test the SSPX’s cohesion. Please, please let us stop with the usual legends about the wolves, or the foreign governments forcing a Pope to behave badly, or the German bishops threatening schism, & Co. Besides being lame excuses with not a shred of evidence for them, they are deeply insulting of a Pope seen as not in control of his actions, and remote controlled by his own bishops, or even by foreign Governments.
Long live the Society. May they bury all the V II Popes until the glorious day when sanity returns in the matters of the Church, and true orthodoxy is defended in its fullness and not only when it is popular. We will, most probably, not live to see that day, but I personally prefer to die with open eyes.
Interesting interview given to the Angelus Press, who put it on youtube (I have it from angelqueen)
The last part (of this Part I) is clearly the most interesting (American spelling as in the original):
Q: Father, there are those who argue that the Society is simply looking for a practical agreement, even contrary to the wishes of Archbishop Lefebvre himself. What would you say to that argument?
A: Well, I think first of all we must make it clear that Bishop Fellay is not really looking for an agreement. Rome is proposing a regularization of the Society. So, the term “agreement” is confusing. It’s not clear. It’s too vague. An agreement would be mainly on doctrine, which is not the case. But a recognition of the Society: that’s what we are talking about today. The Society [has existed] for more than forty years. It was founded, erected, within the Church in the normal way of the Church. And because of the circumstances, because of the crisis of the Church, where we were kind of kicked out – in a way, not that we are outside of the Church, but we are…
– in an irregular situation –
…yes, pushed into an irregular situation – it would be an act of justice in fact to be just reintegrated in a more visible way in the Church. That’s all we are talking about here.
Father Rostand points out to a very important fact: the SSPX can wait because they are not waiting or expecting for anything, nor are they making any “concession”.
The more cynical (but more often right) part of me thinks that this contains a veiled message: if the Pope has postponed the announcement of the reconciliation waiting for some “announcement” of the SSPX leading him to believe they have moved an inch, he will be disappointed and will have to die without an agreement.
The less cynical (and more often wrong) part of me sees this as a simple message of the SSPX to the Holy Father: we had hoped the decision would come in May but hey: you’re the boss, take your time.
It is not to be denied that Bishop Fellay has played his cards well: at no point has he compromised the integrity of the SSPX; at no point has he given the impression the SSPX would be ready to make a barter, giving something to get something. The simple truth is: the SSPX is not going to give anything, and the Vatican can decide what to do of it.
This is, in a way, the reverse of the situation of 1988. In 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre knew he would not live for long, and had to act. In 2012, it is Pope Benedict who knows he will not live for long, and is – if he is wise – terrified at the idea of going to His creator with hundreds of appalling episcopal appointments, heresy spreading undisturbed and the SSPX situation still unresolved. The SSPX, on the other hand, can wait for as long as it takes, and will not compromise for the sake of reconciliation.
If there’s something I have learned from the reconciliation discussions it is how absolutely spiffing these SSPX people are.
In September, when the hopes of a reconciliation between SSPX and Vatican started to take momentum, I wrote a blog post about the SSPX, the Mamma and the Cake inspired by an excellent post on Messa In Latino.
After the failures of the talk, I felt it natural to go back to those optimistic days and try to understand – as far as we can do it from the outside – what went wrong.
In September, the beautiful comparison was made in the Italian blog between the idea that the Vatican bakes poisoned cakes (which, I agree, should not be accepted by the Vatican in the first place, and seems to me in contrast with the very concept of indefectibility of the Church) and the much more moderate idea the Vatican bakes cakes, some of which aren’t a success.
I remind you what made everyone very optimistic in September is the fact the preambolo was announced with a joint press release, whose tones led one to hope the second reading (the Church bakes bad cakes at times, and it is perfectly legitimate for an obedient son to say so, and to say he won’t have any part of the cake which tastes badly) is the one that would apply.
What happened later, no one really knows. I can, at this late night hour, only think of two hypotheses:
1) Fellay and his strictest collaborators thought the compromise was viable and would save the doctrinal integrity of the SSPX, allowing her to continue her work of vigorous – but loyal – criticism of V II; but when Fellay met with the other SSPX grandees in Albano the latter gave a different reading of the matter; then it was decided to write a counter preambolo saying “are we sure we will be able to continue to criticise V II as we are doing now?”, and the rest is history.
2) The Vatican gave the SSPX the medicine in small doses. First she released the preambolo and the joint press release indicating the way for an agreement, and in the following weeks – more discreetly perhaps, and by way of hints – gave the SSPX to understand what would be required of them if an agreement took place; not out of bad faith perhaps, but of a different concept of what loyalty requires from the SSPX. The SSPX began to smell the rat and in Albano decided to ask for an explicit consent to freedom of movement (that is: open criticism of the wrongs of V II). The rest is, again, well known.
And in fact, it seems to me in the later utterances of Fellay – a person who cannot be accused of the rigidity of a Williamson – this point came out again and again: the fear to be silenced, and to have to shut up as a price for the reconciliation. My personal impression was the problem is not so much a doctrinal one anymore, but one of practical behaviour after the reconciliation.
I have in this blog very often compared the Vatican to a drunken father and the SSPX to an obedient, but loving son; a son whose love and devotion for his father does not, cannot arrive to the point of abetting his drunkenness, and in whose refusal to agree to his father’s drinking habit I see not rebellion but love, and loyal, loving, truly filial submission to a father’s role rather than to parental antics.
As I see it, the Church is still drunk of Vatican II. Not besotted as she once was, for sure, but still not entirely sober. Continuing with the simile, it seems to me we are at the point where the father is almost sober and begins to see he has done a lot of mischief in the past, but still insists to say – as he used to say in his drunken days – his son was wrong in not obeying to him whilst drunk, and by the bye he was not really drunk, merely curiously excited nd perhaps a bit too exuberant; but really, nothing to be ashamed about.
If, dear reader, you think the Church has not – or could not – go through such phases, I suggest you delve a bit into Church history; methinks, you’ll find examples of erratic behaviour which can compete with V II every day of the week; the Arian heresy was a terrible disgrace for the Church hierarchy not less than for Christianity at large; the Avignon period can be only remembered with shame, like the end of the Templars which took place just before those terrible years; the corruption – moral, if not theological – of the XV and XVI century has been abundantly exploited by popular press and media; heresies like, again, Arianism swept away a good part of the Catholic bishops, and in more recent times Jansenism became not less dangerous, if in the end less devastating. To say nothing about modernism, of which V II is a less virulent, if in the end more dangerous version (and in fact, V II has already unquestionably caused far more damage than Modernism ever did).
In all this, what I understand is that the survival of the Church in the midst of phases of more or less spectacular corruption and/or incompetence is the bets proof the Holy Ghost supports Her. If Coca Cola and Apple were run with the same professionalism of the Church they would go belly up in a matter of years. But you see, they don’t have the Holy Ghost to back them.
The news here
Alas, I think in order to see the SSPX in full communion we will have to wait the death of the VII generation.
I am glad the SSPX decided not to compromise. Whilst we will possibly never know the details as the famous preambolo dottrinale‘s text was never published, I think most will agree the public comments and interpretations given by the SSPX clearly indicated the SSPX was required to either officially accept V II with all its baggage of mistakes and wrong formulations, or at the very least accept to be institutionalised and lose its function of whistle-blower about the still too many bad influences within the Church.
The Vatican has asked Fellay to clarify his clarification, which would indicate the door is not officially closed. But at this point I do not see how what could not be cleared in years of discussions could be cleared with the next round of letters exchange.
My conclusion is that the Vatican is still dealing with the V II toxins and at this point it will take time, and at least a new pontificate, to heal the wounds. A pity, but it is what it is.
The great consolation in all this is that the SSPX was, in a way, tempted with an easy exit and chose not to yield to the lure of a “reconciliation” that would have gone against the spirit of his founder, and would have betrayed th every reason why it exists. If you don’t believe Williamson in this, I am sure you’ll believe Fellay.
We will, no doubt, read in the next days the position of the SSPX and many other comments.
At the risk of appearing sugary, I’d say prayers for all parties involved are in order.
It would appear the moment of truth (better: of not having the nerve to say the Truth) is rapidly approaching for the Society of Saint Pius X, with the Vatican expected to end the matter before the end of June.
Those who have followed the discussions up to here will know that very probably, at this point not much is going to happen, at least for this round of discussions. The SSPX have been offered golden bridges if they accept to compromise on the role and reach of Vatican II, and implicitly accept the muzzle in the matters related to the Council. They have gently but clearly answered this is not going to happen, but have presented a document asking the Vatican to clarify some of the statements therein contained, for the case a common position which does not compromise the SSPX could be found.
But with the progress of the talks, it seems to me the issue looming in the background was less and less the doctrinal differences – which would probably be rapidly worked out with the more conservative elements of the Curia – and more and more the matter of the new role which would be expected from the SSPX in case of full communion. I do not doubt that, if this is wished from both side, an agreement can be found. What I doubt is the SSPX will be able to renounce to the full freedom in criticising the ruptures with the past represented by Vatican II, and the ability of the Vatican to accept they do not want to silence their criticism.
What I think is easily neglected, is that the reigning Pope is – though certainly from a conservative point of view – through and through a VII man. Whilst he has the best intention towards the SSPX, it appears to me less than probable he will allow them to continue to drive the hardline position that VII be – together with its orthodox parts, which are in harmony with the Magisterium and therefore not the work of VII itself – at times not better than a homily in the Sixties, and a very bad one at that.
In my eyes, I think we enter here the inscrutable workings of our deep nature, with men in perfect good faith able to disagree on such momentous matters because of their past history and cultural heritage. It shouldn’t happen, though. Goes to tell you what damageVII still continues to inflict on the body of the Church.
I am, as always, a long-term optimist. It seemed to me this things might have had a happy end, but I am now much more cautious on the matter (remember the text itself was never published, so the room of manoeuvre was never to be fully gauged) as it seems to me the unread preambolo was worded in a way which made the agreement not really acceptable for the SSPX. A pity, because the initial joint communique’ about the preambolo itself was certainly encouraging.
It seems to me this matter will approach solution only when the VII generation has, literally, died.The fact people like Vincent Nichols continue to be called in good standing whilst Bishop Fellay is not in full communion really demonstrates the size of the problem.
Read here on the always excellent Rorate Caeli the English translation of the interview of the German newspaper Die Welt to Father Franz Schmidberger, the Superior for the German district of the FSSPX.
Before I leave you to enjoy the fresh air always coming from such interviews – notice how unequivocal the man always is, how to the point his answers; and please compare to the pathetic attempts of too many among those in full communion to give answers which do not displease anyone – I would like to correct some of the statements of the journalist involved. Alas, it seems to me unavoidable that a journalist be not prepared, or exaggerated, or self-aggrandising, or all three together.
1) the chap seems to believe that now there will be either full communion or what he calls “definitive expulsion”. This is a non sequitur, as I cannot see how the failure to reach an agreement may lead to any further consequence for the organisation as such. If there had been a theological ground to declare the SSPX in outright schism, this would have been made long ago. “Imperfect communion” is what we are at, and the word “schism” is only used by trendy priests and, at most,merely hinted at by an emotional Pope emphatically not speaking ex cathedra and ( just in case you want to know who was more orthodox) emphatically a Koran-kisser.
2) The chap says the Pope stakes “his reputation” and “the unity of the entire Church” on the reconciliation, no doubt feeling very important in the process. Stakes… what? I sometimes think if journalists haven’t cretinous delusions of grandeur they aren’t allowed to work.
3) The chap seems to think that the “enforcement” of religious liberty is “key for world peace today”. Look, I thought peace is best founded on Truth. My bad, no doubt. Hope the chap is not a Catholic. If he is, he has some learning to do.
The entire interview is very beautiful and again, the crystal-clear words of the SSPX are always such a welcome change from the usual soppy platitudes of much of the Western hierarchy. But I liked this exchange most:
Die Welt: What reasonable arguments does the Fraternity in fact still have against religious liberty, the enforcement of which is key for world peace today?
Fr. Schmidberger: Religious liberty is not, in the first place, a matter of practice, but a matter of doctrine. The condemnation of religious liberty by the popes never implied the will to force others to accept the Catholic religion, but it implied that a state, in which the majority of the population is Catholic, should acknowledge that the Catholic religion is the religion revealed by God. At the same time, it can very well to tolerate other religions and confessions and even lay those tolerances down in civil laws.
Obviously, in today’s pluralistic times, such a tolerance would have to find broad application. At the other hand error never has a (natural) right. When, however, it comes to man being capable of recognising God by the light of reason and of being aware of the true religion, then this is also true for statesmen; and it is exactly this that the Popes, up to Pius XII, maintained by condemning religious liberty. Everything else is, in the end, agnosticism.
In the matter of the Preambolo it has now transpired the first answer delivered by the SSPX to the Vatican has been considered not to the point (that is: too long-winded), and the SSPX has been requested to present a second answer, more concise and more focused on the Preambolo itself.
This second version is being examined as we speak, though of course no immediate reaction is to be expected.
What seems interesting to me from the source (the highly reputable Italian daily newspaper “La Stampa”) is that the SSPX answer is not a simple refusal of the Vatican offer, but a partial acceptance, with the clarification of what the SSPX is not ready to accept and the request of further clarifications from the Vatican as to what they mean by certain expressions.
The crux of the disagreement seems to me in the way the SSPX and (perhaps) the Vatican understand the ordinary (which means, erm, cough: the fallible) Magisterium.
For the Vatican, it would seem that
the Catholic is called to ensure a “religious submission of will and intellect” to the teachings that the Pope and the college of bishops “offer when they exercise their authentic Magisterium,” even if they are not proclaimed in a dogmatic way, as is the case with most of the documents of the magisterium.
For the SSPX, what is not in accordance with the Tradition is just plain wrong, and therefore there can be no question of religious submission to error. As a consequence,
the Lefebvrians do not intend to give their assent to the texts of the Council regarding collegiality, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and religious freedom, because they believe these to be inconsistent with tradition
As it is acutely pointed out – oh, the difference between Italian “vaticanisti” and the bunch of politically correct ignorant idiots employed by the BBC and elsewhere! –
the concept of tradition – “Traditio” – and its value, represents the crux of the debate that has characterized the talks between the Society and the Holy See. The Lefebvrians criticize some of the Council’s provisions, considering them to be at odds with the tradition of the Church.
In simple words, I will put it in this way: if your drunk father orders you to bring him more brandy, are you obliged to comply because he is your father and you are supposed to obey him? Substitute “drunkenness” with “Vatican II novelties” and you are, I think, not very far from the nucleus of this disagreement. The Vatican seems to think you still obey to papa because you owe him obedience, the SSPX says the very love and obedience you owe to your father requires that you refuse to comply. The comparison with drunkenness might seem strong, but after fifty years of Vatican II devastation I am inclined to call it gentle.
We shall see. Don’t hold your breath. Actually an Hail Mary or three is a better idea.
Both Messa in Latino and Rorate Caeli, (the latter in English) report about the now imminent refusal of the Preambolo Dottrinale from the side of the SSPX.
Whilst it is sad for me – as, I hope, for every Catholic – to have to write these lines (there might still be further changes and an agreement in the end; but at this point I am not holding my breath), it is easy to see what is happening: the SSPX will only accept an agreement allowing them to continue to fire with all cannons at the “Spirit of V II” and the toxic rests still polluting the Church, or will continue to remain in imperfect communion.This was the main aim of the request for clarification from Rome, and the result is in front of our eyes.
In times of Assisi III and of Archbishops astonishingly expressing themselves in favour of “civil partnerships” ( a practice, as you all know, widely practiced during twenty centuries of Christianity and only now… no, wait!!) one is really not surprised at the Bishop’s stance; then to renounce to thunder against the continuing state of popularity-seeking drunkenness of too large a part of the clergy would be tantamount to giving up the reason the SSPX exists in the first place.
Allow me, on this occasion, to comment on what I have read around: that Bishop Fellay be more or less forced to refuse the agreement because of the internal pressures from the right wingers, and assorted killjoys.
Frankly, I think it’s bollocks.
The senior members of the SSPX have met in Albano and have held talks all together about what was the real – I think this meant: the unspoken, the implicit – deal offered to them. You will remember Bishop Williamson was not even present. It can, therefore, not be said that the “hawks” have managed to somehow highjack the gathering and impose their extremes views. On the contrary, the fact that the mainstream within the SSPX – which is, I am tempted to think, pretty much the very best the Church has to offer nowadays – has decided not to approve the Preambolo Dottrinale is in itself a clear indication that, after careful consideration, this was seen as not giving enough guarantees that the SSPX would be free to continue his work unmolested.
I am rather sure a clear majority among my thirteen readers will be persuaded that whilst the SSPX is not immune from isolated cases of extreme religious grumpiness, the majority of their religious members sincerely desire the end of the strife and full reconciliation, if this can be made in the right way.
Alas, they have decided – without Bishop Williamson even being there – this is not the case. I admire their courage and determination; and their, well, chutzpah. Whatever faults you may attribute to them, the absence of cojones is not among them.
Secondly, I do not agree with this idea of the SSPX so jealously interested in remaining in a state of imperfect communion, because this would promote their work and leave them in a golden spot at the margin, but still inside the edifice of the Church. Besides the fact that these are not really the kind of people putting ambition first – otherwise they would have tried to become, say, the one or other of the 27,000 bishops in full communion, some of them cowards and/or heretics in astonishing measure, but undisturbed- it seems clear to me that the day the Society is in full communion its expansion will be massive, as the stigma of “rebellion” would be lost but the fame of doctrinal integrity would be intact. The SSPX has much to gain from an agreement, and if they had been driven by ambition this is exactly what its members would have done.
The brutal truth is, if you ask me, that the men of the SSPX put doctrinal orthodoxy before personal interest and ambition for their order, as this rather spectacular refusal of an agreement without full guarantees of being able to continue Archbishop Lefebvre’s work shows.
What a difference with the thousand big and small testimonies of cowardice and appeasement with the world coming from people who are and continue to be in full communion.
Seriously, I never liked the SSPX so much as these days, as they have showed in the most impressive way the cloth they are cut from. It is really a pity they should – unavoidably – attract so many protosedevacantist – or outright sedevacantist – elements. Can’t be helped, I am afraid, sedevacantism being so fragmented and litigious that the attraction of a substantial, rock-solid organisation with spread presence must be irresistible to many of them.
Still: thank God for the SSPX!