A long time reader alerted me to a video put out by the Rome office of Catholic News Service about the recent development in the talks between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X. You can read about the “Doctrinal Preamble” here. The CNS video features commentary by Carol Glatz and my friend and fellow Minnesotan John Thavis. The video reveals high production values. It is a great idea that they have these videos, provided they offer some accurate and interesting features.
The video in question is in a queue of videos HERE. Look for “Unity with Traditionalists”, at the time of this writing at the top of the queue. They report on the topic rather as if it were a mission to the Sultan of Pulo Prabang, but let that pass.
As I watched the video, my impression was that they were doing a pretty good job. I object to their use of the phrase “bargaining table”, since the talks the Holy See and SSPX have been engaged in are not really negotiations, in the sense of what businesses do, or countries looking towards a treaty. With allowances for the journalists need to use shorthand and common parlance we let that slide.
At about 1:12 into the video, however, they went off the rails with this statement (my transcription from the video and my emphases):
I think the Vatican wanted to make clear to the Society that they were not willing to let these talks drag on forever. At the same time the Vatican appeared to offer the group some wiggle room on the Second Vatican Council. It said there could be legitimate discussion about some of the content of Vatican II documents and the teaching of the Popes who implemented the Council. Well, that was new and unusual. I really can’t remember another Vatican statement that says there’s room for disagreement with Church teachings.
To my friend Mr. Thavis, I suggest a review of my entry here which I posted in the wake of a claim made on an Italian language and then an English language site that what Pope Benedict and the Holy See was doing in view of the SSPX was tantamount to a “Copernican revolution”.
A couple things must be repeated. We don’t know for sure the content of the “Doctrinal Preamble”. It hasn’t been released. But from what has been said about it but good sources, if the Holy See is saying that there can be “wiggle room”, as Mr. Thavis put it, some measure of dissent from some of the content of the documents of the Council and subsequent Magisterium,. dissent from the texts themselves and not merely the interpretation of the texts, then the “Doctrinal Preamble” would be repeating… I repeat… repeating what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith already wrote in 1990 Instruction Donum veritatis “On the ecclesial vocation of the theologian”. Especially relevant are Donum veritatis 6, 21-22, 24, and 30-34.
There are levels of assent which Catholics must give to different levels of Magisterial teachings. Catholics are, of course, bound to accept (and not dissent from) teachings which are definitive. But there are other teachings which are not at that level. Though they cannot simply be brushed aside, dissented from freely, they do not bind in the same way that defined or infallible teachings do. There is some “wiggle room”.
The late Card. Dulles book Magisterium: Teaching and Guardian of the Faith is very useful on these points. Every seminarian and parish priest – and Vaticanista – should have this book. I direct your attention to pp. 97-98.
In any event, is not helpful for CNS to suggest that what the CDF may be saying to the SSPX is “new and unusual”…. because it isn’t either new or unusual. such a thing.
In my previous entry about this matter, I asserted that were such an idea to get hold, it would be possible for liberals – who will fiercely oppose reunification of the SSPX – to claim that the Holy See caved into the SSPX. In fact it would also be possible for less than well-read traditionalists to claim that the Holy See caved into the SSPX. But that is not what is going on.
If the speculation about the “Doctrinal Preamble” is accurate, the Holy See has not caved in on the texts of the Second Vatican Council. Donum veritatis laid out the possibility of and parameters of dissent in 1990. The theologians of the SSPX can work with the divinely constituted Magisterium along the lines already laid down in 1990.
The Rome office of CNS would do well to get this straight for their future reportage.