Bishop Fellay has made courageous steps towards ending the 40-year division

If we really want reconciliation between the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the Holy See, now is the time to pray about it.

According to a report from CWN, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) met on 16th May to discuss such a possibility. The meeting concentrated on the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the SSPX, to a proposed “Doctrinal Preamble” that is hoped could form the basis of a reconciliation. Bishop Fellay signed the Preamble in April, but had suggested some amendments. The CDF’s observations on these will go to Pope Benedict who is expected to make a final decision by the end of this month.

Leaked reports within the SSPX suggest that Bishop Fellay is at odds with his three fellow bishops in the Society over his openness to the Vatican overtures. Could it be that Bishops Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Richard Williamson would rather remain in splendid isolation than return to the fold? Acknowledging these internal tensions, a Vatican statement on May 16th said, “Regarding the positions taken by the other three bishops of the Society of St Pius X, their situations will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.”

Bishop Bernard Fellay CNS photo/Paul Haring

who has himself alluded to the possibility of a split in the ranks of the SSPX over this question, seems a courageous and humble man. Interviewed at his Swiss headquarters on 15th May by the American Catholic News Service, he admitted that certain things “we would have condemned as coming from the [Second Vatican] Council were not in fact from the Council.” Those who have stayed loyal to Rome during the upheavals following the Council have always known that its conclusions and official documents were sometimes wilfully misinterpreted on the ground by liberal churchmen. But for the superior general of the SSPX to accept that the Council itself and what followed it were two separate events is quite something – at least this is the first time I have heard it.

It is also noteworthy that although Bishop Fellay admitted in the interview that he himself would rather “have wished to wait for more time to see things clearer” he accepts that Pope Benedict “wants it to happen now.” In all the years of the “Rome v SSPX” saga, this is the nearest the two sides have come to a firm and lasting agreement. It is understandable that the Holy Father would like to bring reconciliation about before his pontificate comes to an end. And would waiting any longer make things clearer anyway?

Over forty years have gone by already since the SSPX broke away from Rome and records of the dispute must run to volumes. There is something to be said for deciding on closure.
What finally struck me at this interview was Bishop Fellay’s appreciation of the Pope’s purposeful and charitable outreach to the Society. He seemed almost overwhelmed by the Holy Father’s gesture. If the long-lasting fissure is brought to an end, “it [will be] thanks to him and to him alone” the Bishop said. What a wonderful tribute to Pope Benedict: so often portrayed in his time at the CDF as the “Vatican enforcer” and the “Panzer Kardinal” – yet this is the Pope who sanctioned the setting up of the Ordinariate to invite back separated Anglican brethren and who now wants full reconciliation with the followers of the late Archbishop Lefebvre. This is certainly something to pray about right now.