Thursday, June 26, 2008

In "Last Best Offer" for Reconciliation, Rome Puts "Expiration Date" on SSPX

In this week's top inside-ball story, the Holy See awaits the response of the Society of St Pius X to a set of five conditions intended to further smooth the path toward the breakaway group's reconciliation with Rome.

With the Society's answer due by month's end, Monday also happens to mark the 20th anniversary of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's ordination of four priests as bishops without Vatican sanction -- the fallout of which saw the traditionalist group's top rank excommunicated for schism and, in an effort to keep as many of its faithful within the fold, the Holy See's first major concession of the indult for the Tridentine Mass.
The conditions were communicated by letter to the head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has conducted an on-again, off-again dialogue with the traditionalists for several years.

One of the conditions set forth in Cardinal Castrillon's letter was that the society respond favorably by the end of June. Vatican sources said the deadline indicated some Vatican impatience with the dialogue that began in 2000 and has yet to yield results.

The Vatican offer was first reported by the Italian newspaper, Il Giornale, and followed a meeting June 4 between Cardinal Castrillon and Bishop Fellay.

Vatican sources confirmed that the reconciliation proposal included the possibility of establishing a "personal prelature" or a similar canonical structure for the society, which would allow the society a certain autonomy.

Last year, Pope Benedict XVI widened the possibility for use of the Tridentine rite, the form of Mass used before the Second Vatican Council. That was a long-standing request of the society.

But Bishop Fellay has continued to criticize the Vatican on other matters, and has expressed his society's continued opposition to several teachings of Vatican II.

In April Bishop Fellay said the time was not right for reconciliation with the Vatican, because church leaders have not taken steps to reverse the "crisis" introduced by Vatican II.

One source said the new Vatican offer signaled that the Vatican was not willing to continue dialogue with the traditionalist society indefinitely. There was some hope, but not much optimism, that the society would accept the proposal, he said.

The conditions laid out by the Vatican were:

-- A commitment to a response that is proportionate to the generosity of the pope.

-- A commitment to avoid any public intervention that does not respect the person of the pope and that could "be negative for ecclesial charity."

-- A commitment to avoid "the pretext of a magisterium superior to the Holy Father" and to not present the society in opposition to the church.

-- A commitment to demonstrate the will to act honestly in full ecclesial communion and in respect of the pope's authority.

-- A commitment to respect the date, fixed for the end of June, to respond positively. This deadline is described as a "necessary condition" for the preparation for a reconciliation.
Earlier this morning, citing audio from a sermon given last week by Fellay in Minnesota, Reuters quoted the SSPX superior -- no stranger to the bold statement -- as saying that "Rome is telling us, okay, we are ready to lift the excommunications, but you cannot continue this way.

"So we have no choice..." the cleric continued, "we are continuing what we've done.

"They just say 'shut up' ... we are not going ... to shut up."
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Paris Catholic daily La Croix: "The pope wants to extend his hand so they can return, but for that to happen, this offer must be received in an attitude and spirit of charity and communion."

Lombardi did not spell out the consequences of rejecting the offer, but Il Giornale's well-informed Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli wrote: "Such favorable conditions for a return to full communion will in all probability not come again."