Thursday, 17 May 2012

It's not over yet: a review and some thoughts on the SSPX situation

After twenty-eight years of close or more distant association with the Society of St Pius X, I cannot remember a seven-day period of such extraordinary news - such mind-boggling developments - as the one we have just seen.

Late last Thursday night I became aware of the letters between the bishops which brought to the surface a serious division in the analysis of the current situation among the SSPX's leaders and figureheads. It cast light on the previous week's publication of an editorial in Fideliter, the SSPX's French magazine, in which Fr Régis de Cacqueray, SSPX superior in France, accused the pope of operating under grave illusions. Its correlations with the letter of the three bishops was so strong that it makes one wonder if he was not singing from the same autocue regarding doctrinal matters and the state of the Church. Its timing at such a delicate moment in the Rome-SSPX negotiations was significant: it was at the very least hostile.

The reactions to, and condemnations of, the leak were small beer in comparison to the remarkable interview which Bishop Fellay gave to CNS which came out the same day the leaks hit the internet. And the write up of the interview was nothing in comparison to the video which came out late on Tuesday night (London time) in which Bishop Fellay said the following:

I may say in the discussions, I think, we see that many things which we would have condemned as being from the Council are in fact not from the Council but the common understanding of it. [...]

The Council is presenting a religious liberty which in fact is a very, very limited one, very limited. In our talks with Rome they clearly said that [thinking] it means that there would be a right to error, a right to choose [one’s] religion, is false. [...]

The video is in English, which is Bishop Fellay's third or fourth language, but there is no doubt he says what he means to say.

Then came the meeting yesterday of the CDF and an announcement that has taken everybody by surprise ...

Regarding the positions taken by the other three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, their situations will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.

... an outcome which has been sharply condemned by the SSPX superior in Italy as a tactic of divide and conquer.

I have been talking to friends and bending my brain trying to get around the implications of all this. Here are the meagre results:

1. The consequences of such a segregation of the three bishops are massive for the internal regulation of the SSPX. All of the bishops have spent years travelling around the SSPX missions and are all well known.

2. Due to these consequences, the CDF would not have been so diplomatically gauche as to make this announcement without Bishop Fellay's cooperation.

3. Bishop Fellay must feel he has the support of most of his superiors if he has agreed to this public segregation of the three bishops.

4. The CDF may have acted in this way now for a variety of reasons:

a. A separate resolution for the bishops might always have been envisaged, first, because of their hierarchical rank, and second because Archbishop Lefebvre intended for them one day to put their episcopacy into the hands of the Holy Father.

b. The reaction to the scandal of Bishop Williamson's holocaust denial was so severe that Rome will not countenance a repeat.

c. If Bishop Williamson or any of them goes AWOL now, nobody will blame Bishop Fellay for it.

5. One friend has argued that the price Bishop Fellay is paying - in terms of the segregation of the three bishops with all the risks it involves - suggests the deal he is going to get from Rome is gold-plated.


If Bishop Fellay did not know that the CDF were going to make that announcement ... this whole process could very well collapse. But is that possible now?

Yes, what an extraordinary week. I don't know what will happen next but frankly nothing would surprise me.


HughOSB said...

Yes, it has been quite a week! Your assessment is coherent, logical and realistic.

Of course the Italian SSPX superior is right, there upshot of the CDF bolletino is divide and conquer, though I suspect the intentions behind it are not so crude.

Like you I think that the CDF is shoring up Bishop Fellay. He has made the vital concession that the general presentation of the Council is not exactly equivalent to what the Council actually said. Not is that good sense, his public statement of it is a sign of good faith to the Vatican. The Vatican will not let him hang in the wind.

The CDF is perhaps, in part, hoping to force the hand of the other three bishops. Williamson is a lost cause, I imagine. But the other two now have had a warning shot across their bows.

With an accommodation increasingly likely, with error now not finding a happy home in the Church, with the Pope making every reasonable effort to welcome them back, and with a split within SSPX more than probable, these bishops now have to face the question: are we for an honourable return to communion with the Holy Father, or are we for schism?

If only one of them supports Fellay, it is enough, though not ideal. By treating each bishop "separately and singularly" each of them is being told that they will not treated as a 'job lot' (as when the excommunications were lifted) but as individuals on the basis of their individual choice.

Choose well, dear bishops. There will not be a second opportunity.

Bless you Ches!

Jackie Parkes said...

One must remember that the SSPX left our Church :(

Et Expecto said...

It now seems inevitable that there will be a schism within the SSPX - something that I believe that Bishop Fellay has been trying very hard to avoid. The indications are that Bishop Fellay will go for reconciliation and the other three will not.

Does anyone have a feel for how the ordinary clergy and the lay followers will divide? Presumably this is something that Bishop Fellay is thinking about deeply. I imagine that he must think that the majority will support him, but Iwould be interested in the evidence.

There then follows the matter of how property would be divided. I read somewhere that in the USA, the property is vested in the order as a whole, and not with any particular parish or province. I think that under English law, the property would have to be vested under a UK trust, with British citizens as trustees.

The break up of the Epiccopal Church in America has resulted in an incredibly amount of expensive litigation.

GOR said...

Admittedly I don’t know much about the inner workings of the SSPX, but something strikes me about the ‘dissent’ of the three other bishops and presumably some proportion of the SSPX faithful - both clerical and lay. Bishop Fellay is the Superior General of the Society, but how much authority and duty of obedience/adherence does that imply?

I suspect Bishop Fellay cannot say: “We’re coming back into full communion. Now everyone, follow me!” Well maybe he could say it, but what is the obligation of the other members to comply? On the part of the clerics - pace ‘The Three’ – there may be an obligation in obedience to the Superior General - but what of the lay members?

It seems somewhat analogous to an Anglican pastor telling his congregation that he is joining the Ordinariate. While he might like the congregation to follow him, he has no authority to command them to do so nor would they necessarily feel an obligation on that account. And if some in the SSPX have a problem with the authority of the Holy Father, what is their sense of the authority of the Superior General?

Romanitas Press said...

The CDF's statement of assessing each bishop separately could also be a stall tactic - since some members do not want the SSPX reintegrated per Pope Benedict's wish.

Thus they have put up another stage in order to stretch out (like taffy) the discussions - prior to any practical agreement - as much as possible - perhaps hoping that someone will collapse on his throne first, before something can actually go through.

Ches said...


Regardless of your views, do not spam my blog with links to your own. I allow comment here but it is not a free-for-all forum. I post below your last comment for which I thank you. But don't spam me again.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What is the moral authority of the pope and cardinals over the three SSPX bishops when they are in public heresy?

If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith(CDF) cannot affirm Vatican Council II (AG 7) with respect to Jews and ecumenism, and if they do not admit that invincible ignorance and being saved with a good conscience (LG 16) are not explicit exceptions, then how can they expect the Society of St. Pius X bishops to accept Vatican Council II, and that too, their version of Vatican Council II with no supportive texts from the Council?

The SSPX bishops could insist that the CDF relationship with the Jews should be based on Vatican Council II and that they should be able to cite texts from Vatican Council which says Jews do not have to convert in the present times or that Jews are the Chosen People of God today. There is no such text in Nostra Aetate or Lumen Gentium with reference to the Jews.

Nostra Aetate also does not say that for good relations with the Jews Catholics must deny the Faith.
-Lionel Andrades

Ches said...

You will find, Lionel, that such passages take for granted the Catholic understanding of those in invincible ignorance, so your analysis is incorrect. The principle of invincible ignorance was regarded by mid-20th century theologians as a 'sententia certa'.

Ches said...

Futhermore, this just in from Ad Gentes, Section 7:

"Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity."

Catholic Mission said...


Thank you for mentioning this.

You will find, Lionel, that such passages take for granted the Catholic understanding of those in invincible ignorance, so your analysis is incorrect. The principle of invincible ignorance was regarded by mid-20th century theologians as a 'sententia certa'

Catholics accept the principle of imnvincible ignorance as you have mentioned correctly.

However there is no magisterial document which says that we know explicit cases of persons saved in invincible ignorance or that they are excpetions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus or AG 7.

Once has to make an assumption and a wrong one and this is what is being done.

Catholic Mission said...

Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith....

True and they can be saved and they are known only to God.Since we do not know any of these cases they are not an explicit exception to the dogma or Vatican Council (AG 7).

Don Juan said...

GOR raises an interesting point about the obedience/ adherence of the faithful (leaving aside for now that of the bishops and priests). When we are baptised, our first obedience is normally to three superiors in the church, two of which are territorial: our parish priest, our local ordinary, and the Bishop of Rome. However, before the establishment of the FSP, those faithful that felt that the crisis in the Church and the problems with the Novus Ordo justified their migration and adherence to the SSPX for access to the pre-Vatican II traditional Mass and traditional liturgy,would arguably be allowing the SSPX priests and bishops to have some sort of ad hoc supplied jurisdiction over them.

Well, whether you agree with this notion of supplied jurisdiction or not, the point is that the obligation of the faithful to obey and put their trust in +Fellays resolve to lead them into a practical accord with Rome seems at least tenuous if not binding on them.

So I would argue that Bishop Fellay really needs to be, at some point, upfront and open with not only all his bishops and priests, and other religious orders under the SSPX umbrella, but also with the faithful, as to what he intends to sign up to, and this before he actually does the deed. He needs to adopt the example of the Archbishop who was completely open about his intentions to consecrate the four bishops in 1988 and held conferences before proceeding to act as he felt his conscience dictated. He made it clear to all that they were free to follow or not to follow.

I therefore hope +Fellay does not make it a fait accompli before he fully reveals to us what the proposed agreement contains if he does not want to make a split even more likely.