Saturday, 21 April 2012

Stop saying there's going to be an accord!

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.


Enoch said...

Hi Ches, I so glad to see your commentary here on this issue. You mentioned that..."Getting the traditionalist world all exited 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."

Do you have some thoughts about whom they are hoping to blame? I've often wondered why Tornielli, who is no supporter of the SSPX, is so obsessed with being the first to get the real scoop on what's happening with the negotiations. Tornielli has also written favorably of Medjugore, so I'm not sure how traditional-minded he really is.

But I think that there also exists a camp of liberals who pose as respectable traditionalists in order to try to implode any hope for a reconciliation. I worry about them more than I do Tornielli.

I'm really hoping for a reconcilation, but not because it will validate tradition, or that it will help with the problems of liberalism in the greater Church. It's for the SSPX itself that I'm concerned. The longer it remains independent, the more entrenched that independence will become, and there's also the problem of the Sede position becoming more prevalent among adherents.

The whole scenario is certainly confusing, but it's good that you are helping to sort through the details.

Sadie Vacantist said...

It's interesting that you concentrate on the role of journalists (one in particular).

A problem back in Fellini's 1962 Rome ("La Dolce Vita" and all that) was just the very point you are making. Namely, the way press briefings were handled by the Council Fathers as in they were haphazard and unmonitored centrally. A level of expectation was thus created by the press corps which served to confuse the laity especially in those countries with advanced media outlets.

In my view, we should back Fr. Lombardi and nobody else in this business.

K Gurries said...

I think it was Fr. Lombardi who commented to Vatican Radio that Bishop Fellay gave "a very different" response this time around. If true then it is very interesting. What happened during the last meeting with Cardinal Levada -- and what would have been the consequences of an insufficient response to the doctrinal preamble by the SSPX? Could it be that among the consequences was some kind of warning against a heretical position? Was it enough of a warning to cause Bishop Fellay to remove the objectionable elements?

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for this thoughtful and timely analysis.

GOR said...

A timely and balanced reflection, Ches.

Bully for you on the Prosecco! Now as to ‘French pop’… Mon Dieu! you may need to adopt a nom-de-plume if you are traveling around Ch├ólons en Champagne, Troyes or Reims in the near future!

Ches said...

GOR - bring on the war with France!

Keith - I don't believe for a minute that the Vatican will start waving the heresy stick at the SSPX. And the SSPX would laugh at it anyway! I mean, with large chunks of the Church going native in secular Europe, targeting the SSPX for doctrinal error would look completely daft.

K Gurries said...

Ches, I don't think they want to waive any flags. But would they raise it in a last ditch effort if all else failed? The first response of Bishop Fellay was deemed "insufficient" to resolve the doctrinal problem...and was said to result in "incalculable" damage. The insufficiency appears to be about fundamental principles in connection with the faith. We may not want to call it heresy -- but that seems to be a reasonable conclusion. Remember Pope Paul IV had already condemned the notion of a "warped ecclesiology" and "twisted" notion of Tradition back in the 70's. In my view, these are among the problems that the doctrinal preamble is intended to resolve once and for all. Either the problems will be overcome or they will remain and fester. Are there bigger problems in the Church to solve? But solving this problem seems to be a priority for Pope Benedict.

JARay said...

Thank you Ches for this article. It makes a lot of sense to me.
I'm not a great fan of Prosecco by the way. I like my alcohol to be alcoholic and here in Australia that's exactly what we get.
As for "cui bono" I, for one, would say that we all would benefit if an accord is reached with the SSPX.

Ches said...

No, Keith, I disagree. Heresy would involve the rejection of something that has been sufficiently proposed in the deposit of the faith. I don't think the Church's understanding of Tradition, while providing a certain access to that deposit, is surely not in itself a dogma proposed for our belief, even if it is woven into doctrine.

So, no, not heresy. Irreconcilable differences? Probably, yes.

K Gurries said...

Fair enough, Ches. I guess it comes down to what the Holy See considers to be sufficiently proposed by the magisterium. For example, can a Catholic reject a teaching proposed by the authentic magisterium (Pope or Ecumenical Council) on the grounds that said teaching contradicts the Faith itself and Tradition? In other words, can those holiding the titular office fail by proposing what is actually contrary to Faith and Tradition? Has the Church sufficently proposed what is required by the faithful in these matters? How is this question related to the article of Fatih expressed in the creed: I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?

Whether or not there is an accord I expect these questions will be treated and/or reiterated in the aftermath.

Rubricarius said...

By far the best analyis of the situation on the Web at the moment.

Cruise the Groove. said...

At the very least I pray the Holy Father will acknowledge the confessions of the SSPX priests as valid.
My family and I assist at an SSPX chapel twice per month as this is the only TLM available to us and they offer confession right before Mass.
We find it extremely physically difficult to get to "regularised" parishes for Confession.

Unknown said...

Hi, I've never found this blog before. Nice writing, nice design. I find myself trying to read the book titles!

Torneilli is making his living. There's pressure to find a story. What interests me more is what happened in its wake. All those deo gracias at Rorate and elsewhere. They want SSPX to come "in" and do what they are afraid to do, or too lazy to do. They could start cleaning out the stable right now. There's plenty to do.

I encountered a new problem yesterday, related to the Council and the aftermath. In trying to find the right kind, the non-euthanasic kind, of 'end of life' paperwork for us old folks at church, I discovered some big differences in the wording of a local right to life group from the national one, called the local guy here and heard that the language (which includes the idea that it is permissible to pull the plug for a matter of *expense*) comes from the statement made by the US bishops in 1980. I dug a little deeper, and found that there are huge problems with this document, it leaves open a loophole through which even Catholic hospitals are declaring 'extraordinary' measures that actually are 'ordinary' and may not be removed or denied. They apparently qualified just enough the Church's support of human life from conception to natural death.

I could name other areas in which people need to get to work, phone calling, letter writing, posting, petitioning, and if necessary demonstrating in Vatican Square, to clarify iffy documents (the current teaching on sexual morality, including homosexuality up live right now on the Vatican website, and authored by Ratzinger when Prefect, is certainly one!). Why wait for SSPX, if one is so ready to pop the bubbly? Up the pressure now! Do some heavy lifting! That's what I felt like saying at Rorate.

And of course prayer.

BTW, anyone who thinks the document referred to by Tornielli is different from the original didn't read SSPX's own statement on it. It was merely a clarification.


J. Christopher Pryor said...


I agree in principle with your argument. But the recent statements by Fr. Schmidburger, Fr. Simoulin, and Fr. Rostand, are strong public relations related indications of an agreement that has already been reached.

Ches said...

Cruise, you'll almost certainly get good advice from the SSPX priests in the confessional. That said, others elsewhere have made you aware of the canonical issues this raises. As I am not sure what the new code says about your circumstances, I'll leave it there.

Dear Unknown (or is it Tsk?), I'm not surprised at what you say. I do think though that we are in a period where bishops are increasingly (not universally) ready to hear about this kind of thing). If some conscientious bishop can be convinced of the case, maybe he will bring it to the opinion of the conference.

Chris, there is clear division. I know of other superiors who are dead set against an accord, and I'm sure you have seen the latest Greek comedy to set out the case against the Fellay party. One correspondent sets out the dilemma thus: if the decision goes to General Chapter, it will be rejected, but if Bishop Fellay can take the decision himself, loyal members of the SSPX will follow.