Or are they a crucial step along the way towards unity?

High-level doctrinal talks between the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and officials at the Vatican started about two and a half years ago, in September 2009. Now, according to Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, the negotiations are almost over, and nothing concrete appears to have been achieved.

Bishop Fellay says that the aim of the talks was to make the faith “understood in Rome” – yet he accepts that the Vatican participants have not changed their minds about any of the disputed issues. Another SSPX bishop, the disgraced Bishop Richard Williamson, described it as a “dialogue of the deaf”, in which neither side went into the discussion with any notion of compromise or of budging on their positions.

On the other hand, Pope Benedict XVI is determined to heal the divisions within the Church. In his Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, he wrote that every effort must be made to achieve unity. The SSPX and the Vatican talking to each other brings the prospect of that unity closer than if there were no dialogue at all. Bishop Fellay himself says the talks were of “capital importance” – even if he is only interested in persuading Rome that he and his SSPX followers are right.

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So, were the negotiations a waste of time? Or were they an important step on the long road towards unity?

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