My friend the nearly-ubiquitous John L. Allen, Jr, the fair-minded writer for the ultra-liberal dissenting National Catholic Reporter has an interesting piece about an upcoming meeting scheduled between SSPX Bishop Bernard Fellay and the CDF in Rome to review their rounds of theological talks.
BTW…I haven’t written about this myself for two reasons. First, when it appeared that this meeting might have a more interesting agenda than it does, I thought it best that everyone keep quiet about it and let it happen. Second, the meeting is now known to be a matter of a routine next logical step.
Here is part of Mr. Allen’s piece with my emphases and comments:
What do China, Israel, and the Lefebvrites have in common?
by John L Allen Jr on Aug. 25, 2011
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
It sounds like the set-up to a bad barroom joke: What do Communist China, the State of Israel, and the traditionalist Catholic Society of St. Pius X (popularly known as the “Lefebvrites”) have in common?
In reality, there’s a serious answer. All three are bodies with which the Vatican is involved in seemingly eternal, and notoriously unresolved, dialogues. In each case, there’s a familiar rhythm – every six months or so, some new step forward is heralded, only to be followed by another step back as surely as night follows day.
The latest case in point comes with news this week that the leader of the breakaway St. Pius X group, the no-longer-excommunicated Swiss Bishop Bernard Fellay, will travel to Rome next month to meet American Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. The purpose of the meeting is to review a recent round of talks between the traditionalists and a Vatican delegation.
I’ve learned from hard experience that prediction is a hazardous business, but here’s one I feel safe in making: Anyone expecting this meeting to end the dispute between Rome and Écône (the Swiss headquarters of the traditionalists) is going to be disappointed.
Last year, I prepared, but didn’t publish, a background piece on the dialogue between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X, just ahead of a meeting in April 2010. At the time, it seemed like too much insider baseball and so I consigned it to a folder on my computer and forgot about it.
In light of this week’s news, I’ll offer it here. It’s a bit dated, but it nevertheless adds some flavor to the present discussion.
Though they may be heading nowhere fast, the talks have at least produced a few moments of mirth.
At one point, a Vatican delegate attempted to break the ice by putting things this way: “You think we’re in error, even if personally we’re not sinners because we’re in a state of invincible ignorance. You also say that error has no rights. Yet if you really believe that, what are you doing here talking to us?”
According to people in the room, that line didn’t exactly produce a seismic shift in positions, but it did at least make some of the traditionalists smile.
There is a lot more to the piece, and you can read it over there.
I am a little more sanguine about these talks than Mr. Allen seems to be.
Surely the time for these talks and then some concrete action on both sides is now, while Benedict XVI is Pope.
From the CDF’s side, as I have argued before, if the followers of Fr. Feeney, with their rigid interpretation of “no salvation outside the Church” can be reconciled without abjuring their positions – that is a very hard doctrine to grasp and interpret, after all, true as we affirm it to be – then why cannot the SSPXers be reconciled when they have problems with some things from the Second Vatican Council which are also points that are very hard to interpret? Points which in the Council’s own documents are subject to differing interpretations? When we are faced with doctrines that are very difficult to grasp, a certain measure of freedom should be allowed.
If we can have greater unity with former Anglicans, who can maintain many of their cherished traditions but in unity with the Roman Pontiff, if we can have an Ordinariate for them through Anglicanorum coetibus, then why can we not have some structure for the SSPX, who are closer to us in so many more respects?
For one thing, the Anglicans were willing to submit to the authority of the Roman Pontiff and were willing to give up things and make sacrifices for the sake of unity. In the balance, they gained far more than they gave up.
The more difficult problem than the doctrinal discussion – and they are not easy – is probably just that some in the SSPX are now so comfortable or set in their positions that they may not be able to change.
We are now seeing a young set of SSPXers coming up who have never in their own lives known unity with Rome. They have a mindset which they defend and they may not be able to leave it aside and make the hard choice for manifest unity with the Roman Pontiff and, what is more, obedience to his authority.
In both Pope Benedict and in Bp. Fellay we see men who are trying to bring the two sides together. I pray that they succeed. There will be resistance from some close to the process on both sides. I suspect that even if they were to come to an accord, there would be a group that split off from the SSPX and there would be savage criticism and resistance within the ranks of those who are in clearer formal unity.
A wise mentor whose memory and lessons I hold dear once told me that at a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open hearts.
Perhaps you will include this petition in your prayers, that those who have closed hearts and minds on both sides will make the choice for reconciliation so that this wound in the Church’s unity can be healed and that men with a valid contribution to make to the life of the Church can finally be brought home and celebrated.