People of good will can differ on theological points and still remain in unity.
People of good will can attain unity even when they disagree on matters which are by no means clear.
The history of the Church’s great Councils underscores this fact. Time and time again, Fathers of this Council and that Council or Synod would affix their signatures to creeds or symbols which contained carefully worked out compromises of expression. Both sides would have to give here and there until the language was acceptable to both sides. Slowly but surely, brick by brick, Council after Council the Church’s doctrines on the hardest questions became clearer.
I call to mind also the situation of the late Fr. Leonard Feeney, SJ, and his "wildcat group" the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They took a black and white position on the Church’s true teaching that "outside the Church there is no salvation". This got them in hot water with the Holy See. Eventually an understanding was hammered out. The so-called "Feeneyites" were able to be in union with the Church but without having to abjure their position about extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.
The theological problems the SSPX has with the Second Vatican Council or the Holy See or anything else, don’t necessarily need to be the absolute obstruction to unity. Questions of the role of the Church in the modern world or religious liberty are really hard. There is room for debate and disagreement. It is possible for people of good will to disagree about whether or not the fruits of Vatican II were all wonderful. It seems to me that there is a precedent for closer union even when we consider the theological concerns some SSPXers might be harboring.
Moreover, last September in Rome at a conference held in honor of the first year of Summorum Pontificum, the Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei made an astute observation applicable to what has happened with the SSPX and these excommunications. He said that Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum there has been a change in the "atmosphere". We hope, he continued, that a change in the "climate" will follow. Our weather changes rapidly and can vary in this place or that place, even if they are close. But climate is a larger concept. We hope that gestures such as Summorum Pontificum, request of Bp. Fellay that the followers of the SSPX pray the rosary for the lifting of the excommunications, the exchange of Bp. Fellay and Card. Castrillon last June, and now the lifting of these sanctions indictate not just a shift in the atmosphere, but also the whole climate.
The liturgical issues can be, in fact were already to a great extent, solved with the stroke of a pen. Sure some study went into Summorum Pontificum, but before it was really just a signature that was lacking. The lifting of the excommunications was preceded by some study and reflection, but it was in the end a signature or two that completed the act. Regularizing the canonical state of the bishops and priests of the SSPX, or the Society itself, is a matter of a stroke of a pen. It’ll take some planning, of course, but the actual acts will be simple. Hammering out the theological difficulties to the point where there can be some sort of Protocol will take some elbow grease on both sides, but in the end it will be a matter of signing something and then moving on.
What it all depends on, to my mind, is the attitude of both sides, the Holy See and the SSPX leadership. If they really want unity, then they must make these concrete gestures, such as that which we saw today, and then get into the same room, roll up the sleeves, and work things out. They have to open their minds and hearts and keep in mind that we don’t have to be in lock step about the putative glories of Vatican II, or the efficacy of the Novus Ordo, etc. It is time to let go of the Council or its "spirit" as some sort of super dogma.
It is also time to start obeying the Roman Pontiff and tone down the language.
There is a whole generation of young people who have grown up in these SSPX chapels, listening to their parents and priests, for whom a state of conflict with Rome, with the bad feelings and attitude of superiority and intractability is normal. They have never known union with Rome and the local bishop. A clear path for walking this division back to real and clear union with Rome is going to become weedier and narrower and harder to find if this goes on much longer. The clock is ticking.
In effect, people on both sides have to stop behaving like jackasses and get to work… if they really want union.
I sure do. I can hardly wait to hear about SSPX priests regularly attending deanery meetings and having a voice on presbyteral councils.
So let the arguing begin in earnest civility.
In both Rome, and in chanceries and in the rank and file of the SSPX people must open their hearts and not just their minds.
It is possible for people of good will to disagree on very hard questions and still be in union.