One of the most significant points of conflict between the SSPX and the Holy See has been the issue of the document of Vatican II Nostra aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
Over the years, I’ve said that this document, as well as the document on religious liberty Dignitatis humanae, shouldn’t have to be an obstacle. Of course, ecumenism and religious liberty are intimately intertwined.
The issue of religious liberty and ecumenism is difficult and susceptible of many Catholic approaches and views. It should be acceptable to disagree about various aspects of religious liberty. I am reminded of the case of Fr. Leonard Feeney, SJ, who took a hard-line position about the truth of the Catholic doctrine, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus … outside the Church there is no salvation”. After significant conflict with ecclesial authority, he was censured with an excommunication. Later, he was reconciled and he did not have to abure his hard-line position.
The situations of the SSPX and Fr. Feeney are not strictly parallel, but the example of the later serves to illustrate that Catholics, rather well-informed theologians, can have differing positions about difficult points of doctrine, so long as they do not dissent in a scandalous way from dogma.
There should be some flexibility when an issue is really hard, as the issue of religious liberty is. Do people have a natural right to pursue error, or is this only a civil right? Are there really paths to salvation outside the Church? Does what the Second Vatican Council resolve these questions definitively?
We now see at LifeSite that an ice layer has broken in the jam at the Holy See regarding Nostra aetate.
One particular Council document with which the SSPX takes issue is Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), a declaration on the Church’s relationship with other religions. Some interpret it as inconsistent with or at the very least muddying the Catholic Church’s teaching that it alone is the one true religion.
Pozzo said Nostra Aetate is not dogmatic and therefore no Catholic is bound to accept it as such.
“Nostra Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic,” Pozzo said. “This declaration can only be understood in the light of tradition and of the continuous Magisterium. For example, there exists today, unfortunately, the view — contrary to the Catholic Faith — that there is a salvific path independent of Christ and His Church. That has also been officially confirmed last of all by the Congregation for the Faith itself in its declaration, Dominus Iesus. Therefore, any interpretation of Nostra Aetate which goes into this [erroneous] direction is fully unfounded and has to be rejected.”
Also, Fr. John Hunwicke cites Archbp. Pozzo, the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (my old office) which handles relations with the SSPX. Fr. Hunwicke also relates what the LifeSite piece contained, but includes Archbp. Pozzo’s preamble about something that happened during the Second Vatican Council, specifically about Nostra aetate (my emphases):
“The Secretary for the Unity of Christians said on 18 November 1964 in the Council Hall about Nostra aetate ‘As to the character of the declaration, [PAY ATTENTION] the Secretariate does not want to write a dogmatic declaration on non-Christian religions, but, rather, practical and pastoral norms’. [We are free to disagree with “pastoral norms”.] Nostra aetate does not have any dogmatic authority and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognise this declaration as dogmatic. This declaration can only be understood in the light of tradition and of the continuous Magisterium. For example, there exists today, unfortunately, the view – contrary to the Catholic Faith – that there is a salvific path independent of Christ and His Church. That [he apparently means “The unfortunate existence today of such an unCatholic view”] has also been officially confirmed last of all by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself in its declaration Dominus Iesus. Therefore any interpretation of Nostra aetate which goes into this direction is fully unfounded and has to be rejected”.
It is not disobedience to desire clarifications about really hard questions that result from documents that are fraught with controversial points and that are not dogmatic.
I hope this signals a major step forward in relations with the SSPX.
The moderation queue is ON.