VATICAN, Mar. 23, 01 (CWNews.com) -- According to informed sources
within the Vatican, discussions between the Holy See and the traditionalist
Society of St. Pius X have reached a critical point, and a dramatic move to
bring the Lefebvrist faction back into communion could come soon.
Vatican officials have refused to make any public comment on the latest
discussions with the traditionalist group. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the head of
the Vatican press office, has confirmed that the discussions are ongoing, but
refused to offer any further information about the content of those
discussions or the schedule for further talks.
Nevertheless, sources suggest that a sort of "summit meeting" may take place
in Rome-- perhaps as early as next week-- bringing together Vatican
officials with the bishops ordained by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The purpose of that meeting would be to end the schism that began when
Archbishop Lefebvre went ahead with those episcopal ordinations despite
the Vatican's opposition.
Pope John Paul II, it is generally understood, is very anxious to bring the
division caused by that illicit ordination to an end as soon as possible. He has
asked Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos-- in his capacity as prefect of the
Congregation for the Clergy and president of the Ecclesia Dei commission-- to
make the efforts to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X a top priority.
Last December 29, at a meeting with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, Bishop
Bernard Fellay-- the superior of the Society of St. Pius X-- said that his group
sought three concessions from the Vatican: a lifting of the ban of
excommunication, a regularization of the status of the bishops ordained by
Archbishop Lefebvre (and a fifth bishop ordained by them), and the
establishment of the Society as an order of pontifical right. In February of
this year, in a letter to the Pope (with copies to the heads of the Roman
Curia) Bishop Fellay suggested a slightly different set of terms: the lifting of
excommunications and the announcement that every Catholic priest has the
right to celebrate the Mass according to the traditional rite. This latter
condition would mean an end to the "indult" approach to the traditional
Mass, which requires the approval of the diocesan bishop.
Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos replied to the traditionalist bishop's suggestions by
saying that the first condition-- the lifting of the excommunication-- did not
present any problems. However, the cardinal indicated that the Holy See was
not prepared to accept the second point.
From the perspective of the Holy See, the difficulty with the Society of St.
Pius X involves more than the use of the Tridentine-rite liturgy. The
traditionalist movement has raised serious questions about whether the
Novus Ordo Mass is valid, and has also questioned the authority of some
Vatican II documents. The Society of St. Pius X has also generally opposed
Vatican statements and actions in the fields of regarding ecumenism, inter-
religious dialogue, and religious freedom. Thus the question of accepting the
traditional Mass is bound up with larger questions about the traditionalists'
acceptance of Church authority and Catholic teachings.
The next step in the discussions between the Society and the Holy See,
according to Vatican insiders, might be a meeting in Rome. Bishop Fellay
would lead the traditionalist contingent at that meeting, but would also be
accompanied by three of the four other bishops ordained by Archbishop
Lefebvre. (The fourth, Bishop Williamson, has indicated opposition to the
latest efforts at reconciliation.) Another likely participant would be the
Brazilian bishop, ordained by the other bishops of the Society, who now
serves a "para-diocese" in Campos, Brazil, unrecognized by the Holy See.
Vatican officials, speaking anonymously, indicate that such a meeting could
take place very soon: perhaps before Easter, and possibly as soon as next
week. One source suggested that the meeting would begin on Tuesday, March
If such a meeting does take place-- again, according to reports from Vatican
insiders-- the Holy See might even propose a juridical solution to the status
of the Society of St. Pius X. Several possible solutions have been mentioned
in the rumor-mills of Rome.
One possibility would be the establishment of a new personal prelature for
traditionalist Catholics. The personal prelature-- a recent canonical
invention-- allows a good deal of latitude, and since only one personal
prelature (Opus Dei) has been recognized, the "ground rules" of that structure
are not firmly established. However, it seems unlikely that a personal
prelature would give the traditionalists the autonomy they seek, since it
would not allow for recognition of religious congregations or of the Brazilian
Another approach would be the establishment of a new patriarchate. But
while that possibility would suit the traditionalists' needs, the prospect
would appear to be unlikely. The Holy See has been reluctant to establish a
patriarchate for the Ukrainian Catholic Church despite years of entreaties
from that Byzantine-rite community. It seems unrealistic to suspect that a
schismatic group would receive a status which has been denied to Catholics
who suffered through persecution and remained loyal to Rome.
Nevertheless, rumors about the possible creation of such a new structure
continue to swirl around Rome. And those rumors may help to explain the
renewed interest in the discussions between the Holy See and the Society of
St. Pius X, as well as the new sense of urgency to bring those discussions to a
The last several months of discussions were triggered by a Jubilee
pilgrimage in August of last year, which brought 5,000 traditionalists to the
basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. During that visit, Bishop Fellay told the
monthly magazine 30 Days that he would answer any invitation to speak
with the Pope, out of "filial obedience to the head of the Church." In
September, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos told the same magazine that the Holy
See was ready to entertain proposals from the traditionalist Society, and that
any such proposals "would be examined with respect from the perspective of
the authentic welfare of the entire ecclesial community."