It's taken me nearly a week of thinking over this matter back and forth. I've spoken to the well connected and to the less well connected. I've discussed matters with the wise and the simple. I've studied abstruse theological articles and considered examples of grandiloquent literary showboating. And my conclusion is this: by all that you hold holy, stop, stop, stop saying there is going to be a Vatican-SSPX accord! To whose advantage does it play?
My cautiousness of last weekend - pray, wait and see - was seemingly blown away by Tornielli's article on Tuesday. Bishop Fellay's response is positive; there could be an agreement in a matter of days ... With that news I confess that my wife and I cracked open a bottle of Prosecco (none of that dodgy French pop for me, I'll have you know), devoured a bar of Dairy Milk and talked into the early hours. I texted SSPX-supporting members of my family, telling tham to go and read Rorate. The following day I spoke to various people who were all convinced a deal was definitely on the cards. In spite of pouring cold water on speculation through their press releases, the SSPX were showing themselves cautious for strategic reasons. Fr Lombardi on Vatican Radio seemed to suggest that Bishop Fellay's response was a real step forward. An old friend of mine told me that Bishop Fellay was in Rome on Monday, the pope's birthday, where - my friend intimated - he might meet quietly with the pope without it appearing in any public schedules. And, as another friend said, given that they confess Pope Benedict to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, how could they seriously refuse a deal if they were given all the freedom they wanted? It's a done deal. Let us merely await the CDF process and the pope's final signature.
As I say, the counsel of the wisest I have listened to in the last few days is this: a deal is on its way. No other option is possible. The SSPX have a better chance with this pope than with any other. If they don't make an accord now, that's it for years, possibly decades, maybe never.
My first doubt about this reasoning is that this is not how the SSPX reason. In private many of them might think that way. It could be that this kind of pragmatism has set in in the upper echelons. But strictly speaking, their position is not one which is time conditioned. They believe they are defending the faith against the modernism of the post-Conciliar Church. How could that cause possibly have a time limit on it? My point for now is simply that, unless pragmatism has set in behind the scenes, there is nothing in their governing dynamics and logic which demands a reconciliation within a certain time period.
But then, I got to wondering about why people went mad about news of the possible reconciliation. With many traditionalists it was simply the prospect of the traditional position receiving a thunderous validation. Vatican II's life as a superdogma would be over if the SSPX could live within the Church and criticise it freely. And if they could, why couldn't everyone else? No, traditionalists everywhere are rubbing their hands with glee at this prospect, no less than the liberals are wringing their hands. Incidentally, let's not get the current liberal wave in Ireland and Austria out of proportion. The children of liberal Catholics either do not exist (because they've been contracepted) or they are weak believers who exemplify the trend of believing without belonging (because what's the point?). Between the horn of traditionalist / conservative demographics and the recognition of Vatican II as a problematic council, the liberal dream would be subjected to a rude awakening.
But then I got thinking again. My speculation about Tornielli's enthusiasm was that he was part of a body of opinion who wanted a Vatican-SSPX deal to go through. Prematurely announcing the deal in that case looked to my eye like Tornielli's contributing to the pressure on the Vatican to accept the SSPX's modifications to the preambule. But, a friend tells me, Tornielli is no friend of the SSPX; in fact, he is close to Opus Dei, a group who, it is felt, would be quietly rather annoyed by an SSPX reconciliation. Of course it could be that Tornielli was acting like a journalist and hoping to scoop everybody - which indeed he did! There is no doubt that all the talk about a Fellay-Benedict agreement was Tornielli's victory as much as anything else. But what if there is no deal coming, and what if you knew that pretty much for a fact? If you were no friend of the SSPX, might you not trumpet a coming deal and say that it is within reach, so that when no deal comes through, there will be no doubt as to who is to blame? What after all would ensure a greater reaction against a non-reconciled SSPX than to wind up all the hopes of the trad-friendly conservatives? Getting the traditionalist world all excited would prime the guns of those who are thinking about the blame game to be played after what they hope will be the failure of the Vatican-SSPX negotiations.
I'm not saying this is what Tornielli has done. He alone knows hiw own motives. I'm simply reflecting on the fact that we should be very cautious about all this and not take facts at face value. Such matters are often not what they seem. We know that unofficially the noun 'Vatican' declines in the plural and that smart operators are two to three steps ahead of the rest of us pedestrians. Have you noticed that there has been very little reaction from the French episcopate on this matter - one official statement by my reckoning? Have they been reassured as to the dead-end of these negotiations? Or is this a sign of the changing nature of the French episcopate? In such situations I am beginning to believe that we hardly know who to believe any more; that the hither and thither of personal and corporate agendas threaten the Church in ways that we innocents can hardly calculate. I dare say it was ever thus, no matter what hagiographised version of Church history we would like to adhere to.
So my practical conclusion is this: let's not build up expectations any more. We can only stoke the fires of the SSPX's enemies if we do. Anyone who is genuinely interested in a reconciliation has to see the dangers of being overly optimistic.
But, will the SSPX come to an agreement with the Vatican? I have also had many thoughts on this since Tuesday. But they will have to wait until later. It's now dindins time for little Cheslette.