Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome Home, SSPX?

Moving quickly along the wires comes word that, "within the coming days," the Holy See will lift the excommunications of the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X, whose illicit ordinations in 1988 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre placed the top rank of the lead traditionalist group in formal schism.

The tag-team of Italy's most reliable Vatican scribes -- Il Giornale's Andrea Tornielli and Il Riformista's Paolo Rodari -- have both reported that a decree banishing the sanctions is "ready" and slated for imminent release.

In his dispatch, Tornielli wrote that the pontiff is slated to use the "formula requested by [Bernard] Fellay" -- Lefevbre's successor at the Society's helm, with whom the newly-elected Pope met in summer 2005. Rodari added that the decree is to come from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, signed by its president, Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio, at the Pope's expressed behest.

If executed, the development would bring to a close years of false starts and daunted hopes on the part of the Holy See, which has actively pursued the Switzerland-based group in the hope of reconciliation. The timing of the leaks -- and reports that the decision will likely be released before Sunday's 50th anniversary of John XXIII's decision to call what would become Vatican II -- is enough to raise eyebrows; best known for its adherence to the pre-Conciliar Missal or Tridentine Mass, the SSPX has, over time, objected to the Council's teachings on religious freedom, the nature of the church, ecumenical dialogue and Nostra Aetate's reboot of the church's stance toward Judaism.

The Society has maintained that the 1962-65 gathering was a "pastoral" assembly as opposed to a dogmatic one, with one of its bishops, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, going so far as to call for the church to "erase" the Council.

"You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work," the cleric said in a 2007 interview with The Remnant, a traditionalist journal.

Two of Benedict's more distinctive moves on Peter's chair -- 2005's programmatic speech centered on the concept of a "hermenutic of continuity" and Summorum Pontificum, the 2007 motu proprio relaxing restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal -- bore the prominent stamp of seeking to satisfy the Society's qualms over returning to full communion.

The Vatican-Econe negotiations long overseen by Rome's lead delegate to the traditionalist communities, Columbian Cardinal Dario Castrillion Hoyos, the last major effort at reconciliation fell apart last summer after the Society reportedly gave no response to a series of conditions proposed by the Holy See, including its assurances that it would avoid "the pretext of a magisterium superior to the Holy Father" and "avoid any public intervention that does not respect the person of the pope and that could 'be negative for ecclesial charity.'"

The most likely scenario for a reconciled SSPX would seemingly involve the formation of a personal prelature or apostolic administration for the group, whose 700-plus chapels and six seminaries are spread across the globe. The Society counts close to 500 priests and 200 seminarians in over 60 countries.