SATURDAY
March 24, 2001
volume 12, no. 83

Analysis: Vatican Talks with Society of St. Pius X


    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 27.

    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 traditionalist diocese.

    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 conclusion.

    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."


March 24, 2001
volume 12, no. 83
News from ROME
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