Bishop Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, has given an interview in the USA during which he answers fifty-four questions about the SSPX's doctrinal discussions with Rome, Assisi III and the beatification of John Paul II. You can find it in English here. He thinks that if they had their time again, they would still enter these discussions. But, he also observes that by and large they have produced no meeting of minds. The only danger, he says, of coming to the discussion table is that of feeding illusions about where the Church is really going. He hopes in the long run, nevertheless, that the kinds of critique of Vatican II issued recently by Monsignor Gerardhini and others will come to enjoy a much wider reception.
I note with a sense of déjà vu and disgust that the mimetic cudgels have been taken up in the discussion about this issue posted on The Catholic Herald's website. On the one side, high-minded papal loyalists cannot say enough about how disobedient the SSPX is, or how proud. On the other side, SSPX tub thumpers jeer about the hierarchy's tendency to wink at all rebellions apart from the SSPX's, and the busted flush of Benedict's papacy which has seen him gravitate from liturgical traditionalist to Assisi tribute act in a mere four years.
This outcome was inevitable, however. [redacted] The same principles of endgame which I said were relevant to the potential Motu Proprio on the SSPX apply also to the doctrinal discussions; I was right then, and I'm right now [end of redaction]. What was needed from the beginning was an endgame mechanism which both sides understood and agreed upon. If you start moving with no idea of how to recognise the end of your journey, then the likelihood is that you will never get there. Now, as far as we know, neither Rome nor the SSPX had agreed upon the principles by which they could end this process. We can speculate about the exact terms but they appear to be as follows:
- for Rome the endgame is when the SSPX accept the authority and Catholicity of Vatican II and agree to refrain from treating their own theological views as the rule of faith.
- for the SSPX the endgame is when Rome accepts that the SSPX's analysis of Vatican II is correct, and when it begins taking practical steps to correct its errors.
Now, these are two irreconciliable principles on which to be having a discussion about Church doctrine. Indeed, in a way they are redolent of many doctrinal disputes which have at one time or another arisen in the Church. But ultimately, the endgame can only be what the endgame always is in the Church.
It is not logic, rhetoric, philosophy or even theological history which is the final criterion of this process. It is not the forensic comparison of previous magisterial texts with newer ones. It is not the process of assessing measurable fruits on one side and the other.
Yet neither is the final criterion a mindless assertion of authority. Neither is it the burying of all that is good, true and holy in the adversary. Neither is it the adoption of some techno-omnipotentist mentality which imagines the Church will behave like a marionette if only the hierarchy are bossy enough.
The final criterion is what it has always been: the final criterion is the faith of the Church of Rome articulated by the Bishop of that holy, ancient See. This is not primarily a juridico-canonical category - though it is that - so much as the corollary of a charism which the Church perpetually needs. We are not talking about a production line of infallible statements here, but just the practical acceptance that the Magisterium of the Pastors (notably of the chief pastor) has priority over the Magisterium of the Theologians (be they in the SSPX or Tubingen); it is the practical acceptance that all charismatic action in the Church (which we might kindly interpret the SSPX's action to have been) must be subject to the hierarchy. Under that umbrella there is immense freedom to criticise, debate and discuss. With that umbrella, indeed, we can have a thumping great debate about the new liturgy, religious liberty and ecumenism, as long as the rules of charity, honesty and patience are observed.
But without that umbrella there is never ANY endgame to ANY doctrinal discussion. Without that umbrella, discussion is only over when I, me, moi, your truly - or every individual from Bishop Fellay to Hans Kung and Mrs Miggens of The Tablet - say it is over.
In other words, without that criterion in the Church we are condemned to fragmentation. This is the lesson of history.
But who is listening?