From a reader:
Why is the SSPX still not in union with Rome? Especially with groups
like the FFSP what problem do they still have with us? They could
unite with Rome, and still basically continue as usual. Am I missing
something big? Are they just being stubborn?
Well.. yes. They are being stubborn!
It is of the essence of being traditional and being a Christian to be stubborn, by the way. We have some other, fancy words for “stubborn” when speaking about fidelity to doctrine and our identity, but “stubborn” will do for the sake of this entry.
Christians are stubborn in the face of all sorts of things the world has to offer. And the SSPX would say they are being stubborn about those very same things, for they fear, or think, or have the suspicion that some of those worldly things have been embraced by the Church in a way that is contrary to her God-given mission.
There are various concrete issues over which members of the SSPX and formally manifest members of the Catholic Church will dispute. And I use that distinction of “manifest” in there because I believe SSPXers are members of the Church who are to one degree or another either separate from formal unity with the Church’s duly appointed shepherds (including the Bishop of Rome) or who are progressively getting closer or farther from that unity. But that is another discussion.
There are various concrete issues they will want to discuss. Some of which could be resolved with the stroke or two of a papal pen (such as the lifting of the excommunications incurred by Archbp. Lefevbre and the SSPX bishops in 1988 or the expansion of the use of the Roman Rite as it was in 1962). Other issues are thornier and will take hard work and humility to resolve.
For the sake of putting it in a nutshell, the people in the SSPX think or wonder (sometimes very strongly and out loud) or simply assert that something bad happened during the Second Vatican Council. The documents produced by that Council – along with everything that followed from those documents – were tainted which modernism, or immanentism. To make that even more concise, they think that the spirit of and even the letter of the documents of the Council may be more man-centered than God-centered or Christ-centered, anthropocentric rather than Christocentric.
They are stubborn about having it out with authorities in Rome over a whole raft of questions that eventually go back to whether or not the documents of the Second Vatican Council caved into modernity, lack a focus on God, and, thereby, stray from a proper understanding of Tradition. The SSPX wants to work out theological problems before there can be other questions about formal unity within the structure of the Church. They are being stubborn about that.
In trying to work things out with the SSPX, Rome has undertaken some theological discussions which will have to touch on the essential questions behind the other issues, such as that of “religious liberty” and to what extent the Council’s document on religious liberty may have changed the Church’s teaching.
In some ways the stubbornness of the SSPX is laudable. It is laudable if they are really interested in getting at the truth and not just in getting their way, as if they alone are arbiters of what is Catholic. But there are ways in which their stubbornness it is not laudable. Otherwise their priests and bishops would not be suspended from acting as priests and bishops and there would not be discussions with the view of their reconciliation. The separation is stretching out and there is an increasing danger of a real schism.
When you can’t hear Peter say you are in unity with him, and when that is a question on the table, then you may be in serious trouble. Be stubborn all you want, but at the end of the day Christ entrusted his Church to Peter and Peter’s successors. We can’t both remain Catholic and remain separated from Peter for a long time.
That said, the SSPX has hammered away at some theological questions that really do deserve attention and answers! In the interest of the truth, one way or another, we need to have clarity about some aspects of the Council’s documents which over the years have proven to be troubling and controversial.
My view is that when it comes to most of the theological questions that the SSPX wants to raise about the Council, since the Council never intended from the beginning to issue any new dogmatic statements, and since some of the things the Council dealt with (such as religious liberty) are really hard questions about which people of good will can disagree, there are very few reasons why some structure could not be provided for them within the Church. After all, the followers of Fr. Feeney, who held to a very strict interpretation of the difficult to understand extra ecclesiam nulla salus, were reconciled without having to recant their positions. If they, why not the SSPX?
The question that looms, however, is this:
Have they gone their own way for so long that they simply don’t want to obey? Are they actually willing to submit to the Vicar of Christ? Or will they be stubborn?
On the side of the Church, of course, there must be a genuine openness to receive the questions the SSPX will want to raise and then work through them to find answers.
Popes, by the way, are the most stubborn Christians of all. It is their special role in the Church to say “No.”, all the time. Thanks be to God. Don’t be surprised when you propose something against what he wants to happen if he says “No.”.
Moreover, consider when the SSPX is trying to defend over an opposed to what dissidents in the Church are trying to accomplish… rather… trying to tear apart.
Dissidents, and you can make your own list, will tear at the Church’s cult, code and creed very often with impunity in schools, parishes and in dioceses. Meanwhile, people who want nothing more than to uphold the tradition we have received from our forebears regarding cult, code and creed are often identified by duly appointed pastors as being the dangerous ones, they who must be repressed, they who are making trouble. Sometimes they bring this on themselves by being jerks, but that is an issue for a different entry.
Never mind that while in parishes far and wide there is crazy preaching from pulpits, poor catechism, and wacky liturgy, it is the SSPXers or other traditionalists within the Church who are regarded with suspicion even though they stick to the liturgical books and virtually never depart from what you could find in the Roman Catechism, the Baltimore Catechism or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In the final analysis liberals and dissidents will always give ecclesiastical authorities far more headaches through their heterodoxy and disobedience. They, however, get and keep parishes and schools and top notch positions while the more traditionally-minded occasionally get a handful of dirt.
I have in mind, for example, a diocese in which the more traditional Catholics and their priests would quite literally go to the wall to back the bishop in good initiatives for which he is taking heat, but liberal priests actually attack him in public, even in newspapers. One of these days, bishops are going to figure this out and start going to the wall for the faithful in their flocks.
That will be a grand day indeed, on which I shall sing Non nobis.
Thing are going to change. It is a matter of demographics and the inexorable grace of God.
Benedict XVI is. furthermore, the Pope of Christian Unity.