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A step forward
The long negotiation between the Holy See and the Society of Saint Pius X continues
After days of leaks, the confirmation has come from the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” itself. With a press communiqué released by the Holy See, it announced that “on 17 April 2012, as requested during the 16 March meeting held at the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Commission received the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X”.
A long process. The news represents a step forward in a long and complex process of dialogue between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the church of Ecône, in Switzerland, in 1969. The breach with the Catholic Church occurred in 1988 when the founder was excommunicated by John Paul II for having consecrated, without the Pope’s authorization, four bishops: the Swiss Bernard Fellay – who following Lefebvre’s death in 1991 took his place as head of the Society -, the English Richard Williamson, the French Bernard Tissier and the Argentine Alfonso de Galarreta. With the pontificate of Benedict XVI the first signals of a rapprochement began: in July 2007, the Pope granted permission for the celebration of the preconciliar rite of mass in Latin precisely with a view to facilitating reconciliation with traditionalist groups linked to the mass according to the rite of St. Pius V. In 2009 the Holy See remitted the excommunications of the four schismatic bishops. But a series of explicit and violently antisemitic statements denying the Shoah made by Bishop Williamson caused a grave crisis between the Holy See and the Jewish world at the international level. The wound thus opened was only closed thanks to a long and patient healing process conducted by the Holy See in its relations with Jewish organizations. A further step forward came on 14 September 2011 when the Holy See proposed an agreement to the supporters of Archbishop Lefebvre which, if accepted, would permit the Society to enjoy a personal prelature directly dependent on the Holy See. The Society of St. Pius X in this case could continue to celebrate the mass according to the ancient Latin missal, and to train its priests in its own seminaries.
The text of the agreement. The text of the so-called “Doctrinal Preamble” remains secret for the time being and will be published – in its definitive version, and not in that originally presented by the Society – on the conclusion of the process. The text of the Preamble – explained a press release of the Holy See last September - “defines certain doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine, which are necessary to ensure faithfulness to the Church Magisterium and ‘sentire cum Ecclesia’”, but “leaves open to legitimate discussion the examination and theological explanation of individual expressions and formulations contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and later Magisterium”. In substance, the Preamble contains the “professio fidei”, the profession of faith required today of Lutherans or Anglicans who wish to become Catholics. It is a Preamble which, in the view of traditionalists, still presents some “points difficult” to accept. So the first response received by the Vatican from Ecône just before Christmas (14 December 2011) was judged by the Holy See not sufficient for the achievement of an agreement acceptable to the Pope. And on 16 March 2012, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, delivered a letter to Bishop Bernard Fellay, in which a renewed request was made to the Society to accept the Doctrinal Preamble. The response of the Society is the one that arrived on 17 April.
An encouraging response, which represents a “step forward”: that’s how Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press Room, judged the Society’s response in a briefing to journalists. And he added: “Those who have read the response assure us that it’s a response different from those that had hitherto been considered insufficient”. So it’s “a step forward, a different and more encouraging response”, even if the process has not yet been concluded. “If an agreement is reached on a signed document – added Father Lombardi – I imagine it would be published. For the time being we are still in an exploratory phase”.
The first reaction of the Society of St. Pius X. “Our state of mind is serene”: that’s how Father Christian Thouvenot, editor of “DICI”, the publication of the General House of the Society of St. Pius X, describes the way in which the followers of Bishop Lefebvre are following the lengthy negotiations with Rome. But he explains that the response sent by the superior general represents a “stage and not a conclusion”, also because the text must be examined by the Congregation for Social Doctrine and then submitted to the examination of the Holy Father”.