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The Holy Office and the SSPX

Yesterday Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X met with Cardinal William Levada at the offices of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and was presented with a “doctrinal preamble” for the Society’s consideration and, hopefully, eventual assent.  After the meeting the CDF released a communiqué regarding the meeting.  Here is the most pertinent paragraph:

Given the concerns and requests presented by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X regarding the integrity of the Catholic faith considering the hermeneutic of rupture of the Second Vatican Council in respect of Tradition – hermeneutic mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI in his Address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005 -, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes as a fundamental basis for a full reconciliation with the Apostolic See the acceptance of the Doctrinal Preamble which was delivered in the course of the meeting of September 14, 2011. This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the sentire cum Ecclesia, while leaving open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.

Notice the reference to Pope Benedict’s Address to the Roman Curia of December 25, 2005 (specifically its rejection of the “hermeneutic of rupture”), as well as the last sentence.  That is the money quote.  It annunciates several things:

  1. The doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine,
  2. That these are necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magistierium and the sentire cum Ecclesia (to think with the Church),
  3. Openness to legitimate discussion of the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium.
Thus, the description of the preamble is completely consistent with the 2005 address in which Pope Benedict said the following:

. . .  with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council:  if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

Notice here, as well, that this openness to “discussion” and “dialogue” does not seem to imply an invitation to debate the legitimacy of the Council or its documents.  Certainly, it does not suggest that the Church is making a concession on the question of rupture. Pope Benedict is sticking to his guns on the matter of the hermeneutic of continuity and reform.

Bishop Fellay’s post-meeting interview, in fact, confirms this:

Today, for the sake of objectivity, I must acknowledge that in the doctrinal preamble there is no clear-cut distinction between the inviolable dogmatic sphere and the pastoral sphere that is subject to discussion.  The only thing that I can say, because it is part of the press release, is that this preamble contains “certain doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine, which are necessary to ensure faithfulness to the Church’s Magisterium and to “sentire cum Ecclesia” [thinking with the Church]. At the same time, it leaves open to legitimate discussion the examination and theological explanation of individual expressions and formulations contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and of the later Magisterium.”  There you have it;  no more and no less (emphasis from the SSPX website).

Clearly Pope Benedict is emphasizing continuity and nowhere does he or the CDF make the proper interpretation of the Council dependent on the discernment between infallible doctrine and pastoral directives.  Clearly there is a distinction, but one could hardly expect the pastoral thrust of the Council to be rejected by the very Magisterium that has defended it. Obviously, this is the hope of many, but, of course, this is the crux of the problem.

Here is one interesting comment from Fr. Z’s blogposton the subject:

 I think, if this all works out, the SSPX will be an influence on the rest of the Church. There are many in the Institute of Christ the King and Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (et al!) who personally reject all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, but have been afraid to say so. This would open up a huge door, essentially allowing a “pro-choice” position on Vatican II without fear of suspension.

One can only wonder if the comment reflects the reality of the situation within traditionalist organizations that officially profess to accept Vatican II.  In any case, “pro-choice” is an interesting choice of words.  This tendency to hope for some loophole for Conciliar rejection goes way beyond what has been so far revealed about the “doctrinal preamble.”  No surprise there.