2-February-2006 -- Catholic World News Brief |

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POPE, CURIA TO DISCUSS RECONCILIATION WITH SSPX

Vatican, Feb. 02 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI will meet with leaders of the Roman Curia on February 13. The top item on the agenda for discussion, according to an Italian media report, will be the Vatican efforts to achieve a reconciliation with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

During the first meetings of the conclave at which Pope Benedict was elected, several prelates suggested that it would be useful for the Pope to hold occasional "cabinet meetings" with top Vatican officials. The February 13 meeting will be the first such general consultation. The Vatican has not announced plans for the meeting, nor given any indication of the topics that could be discussed. The Pontiff could be seeking opinions on a wide variety of subjects.

However, the Italian daily Il Giornale reports that the main topic will be the SSPX: the traditionalist group that broke with Rome in 1988 after its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, ordained three new bishops in defiance of Rome's orders. The Vatican responded to those illicit episcopal ordinations by excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre and the three bishops he ordained. Now, according to Il Giornale, the Pope wants to discuss the possibility of rescinding those excommunications. That move could eliminate a source of tensions in the continuing talks between the Vatican and the SSPX, aimed to restoring the traditionalst group to full unity with the Holy See.

Pope Benedict will also discuss his own inclination to allow broader use of the pre-conciliar Roman Missal, Il Giornale reports. The SSPX clings exclusively to the old, or Tridentine, rite. Since 1984, the traditional Mass has been allowed in Catholic dioceses only with the permission of the local bishop. Pope Benedict might eliminate the need for priests to obtain that permission, according to Il Giornale. The Italian newspaper said that it had obtained its information from Church officials directly involved in the talks between the Vatican and the SSPX leadership.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who is president of the Ecclesia Dei commission established by Pope John Paul II to coordinate the Vatican's pastoral outreach to Catholic traditionalists, has declined to comment recently on talks with the SSPX. However, an informed Vatican source has confirmed, in talks with the I Media news agency, that the Vatican will soon hold an important meeting to discuss a plan "the eventual reconciliation of the Church with the SSPX." That disclosure seems to match the Il Giornale report regarding the February 13 meeting.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the SSPX, has recently given indications that substantial progress has been made in the latest negotiations with Rome. "The discussions have been lengthy, but there have probably been the most fruitful that we have had to date," he told reporters at a press conference in Paris on January 13. The SSPX leader said that the talks were aimed toward the "regularization" of the status of the traditionalist group.

At that press conference, Bishop Fellay said that traditionalists were particularly delighted by Pope Benedict's address to the Roman Curia last December 22, in which the Pontiff discussed the proper interpretation of Vatican II. "One can readily see that the Holy Father is trying to put the Council in a new light," the SSPX leader observed. Traditionalist leaders have frequently complained that the teachings of Vatican II are a radical departure from prior Catholic traditions; in his December 22 the Pope inveighed against the notion that the Council created a "discontinuity and rupture" in Church teaching, arguing instead for "a hermeneutic of reform, renewal, and continuity" with Catholic tradition. That papal address, and several subsequent statements by Curial officials, seemed to be worded deliberately to encourage traditionalist Catholics. At the same time, Bishop Fellay and other SSPX leaders have issued statements respectful of the Vatican, avoiding the direct criticism that has often marked the group's statements in the past. The careful framing of public statements by both Vatican officials and SSPX leaders has encouraged observers to believe that negotiations toward a reconciliation are advancing rapidly.

At the Vatican, informed officials now speak of rapprochement with the traditionalist group-- in terms that suggest a gradual movement toward reconciliation, but not a final resolution. "It is too early" to speak about a "decisive" reconciliation, one official maintained.

While reporting that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos and Bishop Fellay exchanged "positive" message in January, a Vatican source adds that there remains "too much opposition" within the SSPX to expect a full reconciliation in the immediate future. Both Vatican officials and SSPX stalwarts have also expressed concerns that their counterparts are using deliberately vague language, to avoid the firm commitments that the other side wants.

The February 2 Il Giornale report says that Cardinal Julian Herranz has predicted the eventual creation of a new apostolic administration for traditionalists. (Cardinal Herranz, as the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, is the top Vatican official on issues involving the interpretation of canon law.) In an agreement announced in January 2002, the Vatican created an apostolic administration in Campos, Brazil for another traditionalist group, recognizing the leader of that group as a bishop.

Questioned about that possibility in January, Bishop Fellay replied: "I am almost sure that it [an apostolic administration] will be granted to us." But Bishop Fellay added that the creation of an apostolic administration would not resolve all of the desires of the SSPX. "We do not want to be Catholics who separated apart," he said, explaining: "We are not asking for the old Mass just for ourselves, but for everyone." Last August 29, Pope Benedict received Bishop Fellay in a private audience at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Afterward, informed officials said that the talks were cordial and productive, and the Vatican press office suggested that a resolution would be achieved "within a reasonable time," with the two sides "proceeding step by step" toward reconciliation. Bishop Fellay sounded an even more positive note. "Rome wants to go quickly," hs aid. "But we are not so sure."

The SSPX leader explained his reluctance to accept a quick reconciliation. "If we sign today," he disclosed, "not all of our faithful would follow us." A hard-line faction within the SSPX, led by Bishop Richard Williamson, has indicated that it is likely to oppose any reconciliation with the Holy See. Based in Switzerland, the SSPX had 441 priests at the end of 2004. The traditionalist society is now active in 59 countries, and runs 6 seminaries. The SSPX is particularly strong in France. About one-third of the society's priests serve there, and the traditionalist group estimates that 100,000 French Catholics attend Mass at SSPX chapels.

Pope Benedict, who was involved in unsuccessful last-minute talks with Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, aimed at averting a split, has always hoped for a restoration of full unity with the traditionalist group. In 1985, three years before the final break, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said: "We must all work for reconciliation, as much as possible, and use every opportunity for that purpose."

At the same time, Cardinal Ratzinger, then working in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned traditionalist leaders that they must accept the teachings of the Church. He said that there is "no future of a position of fundamental rejection in respect to Vatican II."

The ideological rejection of Vatican II is illogical in itself, Cardinal Ratzinger remarked, since traditionalists who profess to uphold the inerrant authority of the magisterium cannot reject the magisterial teaching of the Council and the post-conciliar Pontiffs. "Why the popes up to Pius XII, and not afterward?" he asked. In the 1980s, Cardinal Ratzinger told Archbishop Lefebvre that he could not make his fidelity to the Holy See contingent, applying his obedience only to the teachings that he found congenial. Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he hopes to make the same point to Archbishop Lefebvre's followers.

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