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.
In 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.
We 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.