Houston, we have a problem! Without my hardly noticing it, The Sensible Bond has become a commentary box on the SSPX's situation over the last few months. Your servant has tried hard to keep up with events and statements, offered analyses and predicted likely outcomes. It gives me little satisfaction to think that my caution of mid-April proved too accurate. Skip to the end of this post if you want to know what happens next.
But, as I say, Houston, we have a problem. There is nothing left to say. I have long repeated what I believe to be the only possible endgame to the current situation. The SSPX can maintain their ministry, as long as they accept the adjudication of Rome. For their part, the SSPX continue - as in their latest declaration from the General Chapter - to say that only Rome can provide the solution. That's what they say . In reality, what they mean is that Rome can only provide the solution by implementing the solution which they, the SSPX, insist on. They try to claim that this only involves a return to the Church's Traditions; in other words, it is not their solution but the Church's own solution. The problem here is that we have only the SSPX's word for it. Rome itself positively contests their view of the Council and the New Mass. Nothing guarantees that the SSPX's position is the true representation of Tradition. When I argue this, their members or supporters instantly turn from the methodological question and start trying to prove their propositions one by one. One might as well begin sawing off the branch on which one sits.
Tradition clearly teaches that whatever happens the faith of the Church of Rome does not fail. This is not a principle which justifies the personal theology of any old pope and certainly not of this current one; but it does mean that the essential function by which Peter guarantees the Church's unity cannot be lost. Behaving like vigilantes or mutineers in the present circumstances does not help. But once we have reached this point in the discussion there is nothing more to say. The SSPX refuses to have its arguments adjudicated by Rome. Their only guarantee that they are correct is theological expertise: they claim a more faithful reading of the Tradition than can be provided by Rome. Why we should accept their expertise over anybody else's continues to escape me. Bishop Williamson has been hiding out in the crack he has attempted to drive between Catholic truth and the Catholic authorities. He fails thereby - and no doubt always will fail - to engage with the reality that one of the criteria by which we know Catholic truth is the Catholic authorities. I'm not talking about short-circuiting intelligence. I simply continue to believe that God's Church cannot fail to remain the permanent sign of divine revelation in the world. Establishing another touchstone for the Church's fidelity cannot be the answer.
So, as I say, there is almost nothing left to say. Hmm, but let me just say one thing in the light of the General Chapter's declaration. After denouncing the Council's errors and the New Mass for decades, the SSPX's General Chapter then said the following:
We join with the persecuted Christians in the various countries of the world who are suffering for the Catholic faith, very often to the point of martyrdom. Their blood spilled in union with the Victim on our altars is the pledge of the renewal of the Church in capite et membris, according to the old maxim, “sanguis martyrum semen christianorum”.
I'm sorry, did I miss something? Unless there are communities of traditionalists who are being thus martyred across the globe, the communities of Christians who suffer thus are to a man in union with the very Church authorities with whom the SSPX refuses to come to terms. In which case, even if they are suffering for their consciences, they cannot be said from the SSPX's perspective to be Christian martyrs! Various SSPX grandees are forever telling us that the religion of Vatican II is not the Catholic religion. Judge for yourself the coherence of those who denounce the Church's errors in one paragraph and then proclaim their solidarity with the Church's martyrs in the next.
Pope Benedict's Vatican will continue to seek to bring the SSPX back - and, my goodness, do we ever need them! I sincerely believe it. Note the diplomatic loop hole which the Vatican's response to the General Chapter offered them. The SSPX's communique of 14 July announced that it would soon unveil a 'common statement to Rome'. When this common statement came, the Vatican answered it with the following words:
While it has been made public, the Declaration remains primarily an internal document for study and discussion among the members of the Fraternity.
The Holy See has taken note of this Declaration, but awaits the forthcoming official Communication of the Priestly Fraternity as their dialogue with the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" continues.
This is diplomatic chess. The subtext is simple: you cannot possibly think you are addressing the Holy See correctly in this way, so we will regard this 'Declaration' as an internal document. As for the SSPX, this document is perfectly in line with the position we thought all its members occupied until this summer.
And that is one of the remaining problems of course. Bishop Fellay's words and actions this spring and summer seemed to expose a serious division in the SSPX and one which cannot be easily papered over. What is his position now? Has he abandoned the views which he espoused in his CNS interview, as Bishop Williamson asks in his most recent circular newsletter? If he now remains in his post as Superior General, is it at the price of adopting the harder line advocated by Tissier, Gleize and others, that Vatican II cannot even qualify as an act of the Magisterium? In other words, has he survived the General Chapter only because his is the acceptable face of the SSPX? Only time, his words and his actions will tell. I have no confidence - zero, zilch, nada de nada - in the prospects evoked by the juggling of personnel at the CDF or elsewhere. The problems are more radical than that.
Meanwhile, as I say, there is nothing more to say. So, I think, for now, I shall mothball The Sensible Bond. News of developments can be found elsewhere: this has never been a news service. Should there be a substantial development in events, I will no doubt bring the blog out of mothballs for the duration. As for your servant, I shall be seen lurking in one or two places: Fr Z's blog, Clothilde's good food blog, and Fragments and Ruins, a recently launched blog for survivors of the daily grind. Correspondents can still reach me via the email on my Blogger profile.
Good night, Jesus, Mary and Joseph bless you, and God be with you.