Go to the right or the left and you wind up in the ditch

I am of the firm belief that the Catholic Church presents the only sure road for us in life.  You can go into the ditch on either side of the road, the left or the right – take your pick.  Either way, you are still in the ditch.

Something I read in a Catholic World News piece that caused me to muse a bit.  You have probably seen the story about the schismatic SSPX bishop Bernard Fellay making a comment to the effect that the Holy See is losing interest in talking with the SSPX.  According to the story, Fellay said Le Figaro.  Perpend: "the enthusiasm for the reconciliation that the Pope wants has abated." However, he said that maybe the Holy See was waiting for the a general chapter meeting of the SSPX to be held this summer during which they will elect their next fearless leader.   Poor Fellay.  You get the sense from him that he would like to do the right thing but the pressure from inside the SSPX, well… they’ll fillet Fellay in the upcoming SSPX fray this summer because he got a little too cozy with Rome.

SSPXPRCIn the meantime, in the Communist dominated People’s Republic of China, the Party has told the Patriotic Association that they had better not consecrate any more bishops without the permission of the Holy See, … or else!  This close on the heals of the Vatican cooling to near icy freeze in their diplomatic process with Beijing and such key figures as Card. Zen of Hong Kong effectively saying that after those illicit episcopal consecrations the Vatican should just cut off talks and not bother pretending anymore.

Furthermore, Pope Benedict XVI has assumed a stronger voice in other matters ecumenical and concerning religious freedom saying that the Church needs real reciprocity.

And we are pretty sure that there will be before very long a new Secretary of State.  That is to say, a new approach and many changes will be introduced to the Holy See’s Über-dicastery which grew under Pope Paul VI and John Paul II to wield something just shy of plenipotentiary power over the other offices.

I am picking up the tendrils of a theme.

PCA Bp Liu Xinhong of AnhuiSSPX Bp B FellayWe know that the situation of the Patriotic Catholic Association in China is in flux.  There are hardliners who are party stooges, to be sure, but there are some very gray zones also.  Many involved with the Chinese PCA really want union with Rome and have, in many ways, sought as much union as possible.  Rome has vetted positively some of their clerics for roles as bishops.  Many followers of the SSPX would in their heart of hearts rather be in closer communion with Rome and their bishops of their dioceses but for the goofy and even offensive things they have for years been forced to endure.  They would leave that cobbled together group like an arrow from a bow were some clerics actually to deal with them as both charity and the legislation laid down by John Paul II requires.  On the other hand, it must be said that there is an element among the SSPXers which verges into Sedevancantism.  Some are of such a hard line now that no matter what Rome would offer or expand, they would refuse to participate and simply find some other thing to bitch about, liturgical, theological… meteorological… whatever, so long as it gave them a chance to be negative. 

Alas, that whole thing tends to attract the sort of person who is happy only when he is unhappy. 

A common element in Rome’s conflict with the PCA and the SSPX are their illicitly consecrated, excommunicated bishops.  More importanly, however, they are also deeply mired in the matter of religious liberty in one way or another.  Simply put, in China the Party doesn’t want people to have religious liberty in the way the Church says they should.  On the other hand, the SSPX doesn’t want people to have religious freedom in the way the Church says they should.  Hey wait!  Isn’t that pretty similar?  The SSPX has always been a sharp critic of the Council’s document on religious liberty.  This is the true sticking point.   The liturgical question, as important as that is, and the matter of bishops etc., is all a side show easily resolved with the stroke of a pen.  Religious liberty is the key.

Just as in the PCA in China there are those who will never budge and will make it hard for others to be in harmony with Rome, so too there are those in the SSPX who will dig in their heals no matter what and ruin the hopes of many for concrete changes in their status. 

Pope Benedict XVI has been distancing himself from an attitude of appeasement and concession when negotiating over issues of unity with Rome and religious liberty.   When after the illicit consecrations in China the the Holy See didn’t simply say "Oh stop pretty pleeeeezzzzze…." The PRC pretty quickly backed away from the PCA, telling them not to consecrate anyone not having Rome’s approval.  

Pope Benedict is more than likely ready to grant all sorts of things liturgical to the SSPX.  It hasn’t happened yet, but don’t you just know he wants to?  However, when it comes to the theological dimension of the conflict, the SSPX would do better to come to the table and learn rather than demand.  Unless of course their power players are now confortable with their hobby Church and don’t want to submit.  Non serviam and all that… we’ll see.

For their summer meeting maybe the SSPX should provide strong China Black tea rather than the koolaid they have been pouring.   Dealing with Benedict is not the same as dealing with John Paul II.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: Ending up in the ditch at On the Silent Planet

  2. Alas, that whole thing tends to attract the sort of person who is happy only when he is unhappy.

    Recently I assisted at a TLM — in a location where a traditional Mass is an uncommon priviledge — celebrated by a priest who’d brought his fiddleback Roman-style vestments with him. Afterwards, a woman approached him and said “That was a truly beautiful Mass, Father. It’s too bad the consecration was invalid, so I was unable to receive Holy Communion.”

    “Why”, he asked?

    “Because you weren’t wearing a maniple.”

    It turns out that, hurriedly preparing to leave his home parish, when he grabbed the 5-piece vestment set to carry to his car, the maniple had slipped unseen to the floor (where he found it upon his return). When he arrived and saw it was missing, he made a spot decision to go ahead and celebrate Mass anyway. Silly him.

  3. AM says:

    So how much of a defect is it if the pries’s vestment is incomplete? On a scale from 1=admirably pious to 10=stark raving mad, where does the woman fall?

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    AM – much closer to 10. A moral theologian in the time before the Council might have considered it gravely sinful for a priest to purposely omit using a maniple at Mass, but not even the most rigorous would doubt the liceity, let alone the validity of such a Mass – especially if the maniple is omitted through error rather than intention.

  5. Oh, wow, some commenter has an anecdote about a supporter of the classic rite who’s nutty and rude. All of us who attend the TLM have met people like that. And there’s no shortage of jerks, zanies, and outright heretics attending the Novus Ordo. People of good will should agree that these stories of jerks and nutjobs should not be admissible as evidence for either side.

    Fr. Z, don’t you think that the SSPX has a point re: the interpretation of DH? Let the Magisterium give us a definitive interpretation (rather than one based on the hermeneutics of rupture) with an explanation of how the doctrine has developed and how previous magisterial statements are to be understood. Then, and only then, can we know who is truly with Peter. Until Peter unambiguously tells us where he stands, how can we know where to stand to be in union with him?

    Also, the CPA is pro-abortion and a tool of a regime that murdered millions. Let’s be aware of the distinctions as well as the parallels between them and the SSPX. I said somewhere else that the CPA is the tool of a mass murdering regime, whereas the SSPX (to its way of thinking) refuses to be the tool of a Mass-murdering regime.

  6. Boko: I fully agree about the nutjobs, believe I do. They shouldn’t be the point of reference. At the same time some of these folks are nutjobs now because over time they have drifted or been driven to their positions through unfortunate circumstances or constant attacks on their Catholic sensibilities. Either way, they spoil many possibilities of rapprochement.

    I think a lot of good ink has been set to paper about DH (which for those who are not as knowledgeable as you is Vatican II’s document on religious liberty Dignitatis humanae. When properly understood and read with a favorable mind, it is susceptible to an interpretation is which is just fine. IF you start out looking for problems, you will find some due to the fact that DH is not at every point without ambiguous language. I guess we can get into whether or not a papal or conciliar document ought to have ambiguous language in it or not. The fact is that not every statement is crystal clear. Does this mean that everytime some group doesn’t like some statement in some document, then the POPE ought to make a solemn declaration to settle the matter? I am not so sure if that is a good road to start down.

    I just want to add a point about the Patriotic Association. I don’t think all of the priests and bishops were or are supporters of the PRC’s abortion policies. I would not make that generalization any more than I would say that all SSPXers are Sedevacantists just because some of them are or that all would refuse unity with Rome just because some of them would.

    Thanks for the comment, even though I have less time than I would like to respond to it. Hopefully we can get back to this. The religious liberty issue deserves attention.

  7. Father,

    As regards the quote, you pull from the CNS story. It is not an accurate translation. I refer you to:


    The meaning of what Bishop Fellay said is not that Rome has lost “enthusiasm”, but as the link points out, that there is a braking of the movement. It does not connote Fellay feels a lack of effort on the part of the Holy Father, as the CWN article suggests, but that something, not the Pope, is slowing or stopping progress.

    Secondly, the word “réconciliation” is not exactly translated “reconciliation”, because in the French there is not neceaasrily a connotation of error or wrong doing, as there is with the modern English term. “Regularization” might be a better translation.

    Thirdly, as to the sticking point of DH: Since there has not been an “authentic interpretation” or at least an authoritative explaination of how to reconcile the principles of DH and earlier Papal Encyclicals, I think it is a bit disingenuous to suggest the the SSPX does not accept “Religious Liberty”. We have heard nothing beyond “hermenuics of continuity”, but what does that mean as regards “Religious Liberty?” I’m glad to see you understand the question is important. Fellay has explained in all of his conferences on the progress of thing that the SSPX has offered (once the initial conditions of discussion are met) to work on the theological problems with Rome. But that is not a simple or easy thing to do, since the implication of any interpretation are far-reaching. In particular, the issue create a large problem as regards a Catholic state, if ever there was one again. Does a Catholic state have the right to prohibit false religions?

    Unfortunatly, and I think unjustly, Father, you do not make the differentiation between the CPA and SSPX. You link them together on one point, but they are hardly comparable on most every other point. That comparison is akin to saying that Dorthy Day and Janis Jopin have similar characteristics (yet neglecting to point out that except for their sex, they are so different of women that it almost invalidates the initial comparison). The CPA is a political tool, who disobeys Rome because Rome and Catholic principles are opposed to their Communist and Marxist “theology”. The SSPX, even if they are in the wrong, disobey Rome because they are attempting to preserve tradition, not because of a difference of principles, but because of an inability to reconcile seemingly contradictory practice and theology from before Vatican II and after. That difference is a light-year wide.

Comments are closed.