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The Holy Office and the SSPX

By September 15, 2011September 16th, 2011Benedict XVI, Fr. Angelo Geiger, Latin Mass, Religious Liberty

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.

Fr Angelo

Author Fr Angelo

I am Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, and a priest for more than twenty years. I am now studying in Rome for my licentiate in Theology.

More posts by Fr Angelo

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Tantumblogo says:

    I don’t know who “Wolfeken” is, although I have seen him comment for some time on Fr. Z’s blog, but I am fairly skeptical of his comment. Having been attached to a traditional community for some time, I suspect there is a fair number who may reject Vatican II in toto, especially among the laity, but I’m less convinced that many priests in FSSP or any other groups with an attachment to the TLM and Tradition feel similarly. I think they, like many of us, would like to see Vatican II in the light of Tradition, but have a hard time doing so. There simply hasn’t been enough exegesis, if you will, on Vatican II in the light of Tradition to really get a firm grasp for some of the more……..I’ll use the term, problematic………statements and sections of the recent council. It’s simply been hard to reconcile much of what has come from VII, irrespective of the ‘hermeneutic,’ with Tradition. Perhaps this new environment will foster the development of that study of Vatican II to clarify the documents and produce a solid theological, philosophical, and liturgical framework to tie VII with Tradition. That is certainly my prayer.

    Personally, I favor Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s recommendation, along with Msgr. Gherardini and others, to produce a syllabus of errors or some sort of Magisterial document which formally examines VII in the light of Tradition, reviewing those ‘rupture’ trends which have developed, defining them and rejecting them formally. But, any such attempt could be fraught with danger – it would have to be done exceedingly carefully and under total submission to the Holy Spirit.

  • Fr Angelo says:

    The following is from a source that needs to be watched, but the information is factual. It provides a bit of context that might help to assess what is actually happening:

    Though introduced to considerable fanfare, the talks appeared to stall in 2010 when Fellay gave a controversial interview in which he said that for the traditionalists, the aim of the sessions wasn’t finding compromise but rather explaining to the Vatican the “contradictions” between eternal Catholic teaching and the innovations introduced at Vatican II.

    That interview apparently produced some tension at the final session in April 2010. Speaking on background, a participant told NCR that at one point Pozzo, who chaired the meetings, asked one of the Vatican delegates if he’d like to contribute something. The delegate reportedly replied: “Bishop Fellay has said that the purpose of these talks is for the society to explain what it means to be Catholic. Do I actually need to speak?”

    In the same interview, Fellay also said that two new stumbling blocks to reunion had emerged: the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom traditionalists considered excessively liberal, and Benedict’s plan to host an interreligious summit in Assisi, Italy, this October.

    Just before the last session of talks in April 2010, one of the Vatican participants said on background that he had quietly spoken with Levada about whether the time had arrived to pull the plug, given what he saw as a lack of movement on the traditionalist side.

    Most signals suggest that little has changed in the last year to suggest a new concession by the traditionalists is in the offing.

    For instance, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, superior of the Society of St. Pius X in Italy, recently said, “The canonical situation in which the society presently finds itself is a result of its resistance to the errors that infest the church.”

    Consequently, reconciliation “does not depend on us, but on the hierarchy’s acceptance of the contribution that tradition can make to the restoration of the church,” Pagliarani said in an interview published in English Aug. 13 on the society’s Web site.

  • Tantumblogo says:

    Fellay certainly did make those statements. I was unaware of the statements of the SSPX superior in Italy, but I’m not surprised. It’s essentially what the Society has been saying for decades. Given that, it’s quite generous of the Holy See to extend some kind of offer, but perhaps what it amounts to is a final attempt, but if the ‘preamble’ requires full acceptance of VII without much or any question, then I’m skeptical that SSPX will accept. You seem to allude to more wiggle room than that above, but I don’t know – I could easily see another split, with some in SSPX accepting this offer and some not.

    Thanks for the updates! You need to come back to Greenville, TX again, Fr. Geiger! Or to Mater Dei in Irving! May God bless you and your apostolate!

    • Fr Angelo says:


      I agree with you. I was not implying more wiggle room. I think the blogs, and Voris, for example, are expressing far more optimism than is warranted. I don’t see anything in the communiqué that goes beyond what Pope Benedict said in 2005. The SSPX’s expressed position is hardly reconcilable with that. The communiqué’s expression of the openness to discuss the meaning of certain statements of the Council does not in any way appear to be a concession on the infallible doctrine/pastoral opinion distinction.

  • SeiboNoKishi says:

    Saint Joseph Chaste Spouse of Mother of God, terror of daemons pray for us,
    Saint Michael Archangel defend us in the day of battle(…) !
    Jesus i trust in You!
    Blessed always Virgin Mary, Holy Mother of God Immaculate Conception, Queen of The Rosary and Scapulars, assumed to Heaven Body and Soul, Mediatrix of all graces, Sorrowful Mother Co-Redemptrix said in Fatima, 1917 : “pray The Rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world”
    “In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph”.

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