The Vatican has given the traditionalist Society of St Pius X a formal “doctrinal preamble” listing several principles they must agree with in order to move toward full reconciliation with the Church.
US Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the statement to Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the society, during a meeting at the Vatican that lasted more than two hours.
Although the Vatican did not give the society a deadline, leaders are expected to study and sign the preamble “within a few months”, according to Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
The cardinal and bishop also discussed possible “elements of a canonical solution” for the society after “the eventual and hoped-for reconciliation”, according to a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting.
Fr Lombardi said: “Today the most likely solution would be a personal prelature,” which is a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. It is led by a prelate, who is appointed by the Pope; currently the Church’s only personal prelature is Opus Dei.
The document given to Bishop Fellay to sign “states some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the Church, said a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting.
At the same time, the statement said, the preamble leaves room for “legitimate discussion” about “individual expressions or formulations present in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the successive magisterium” of the popes who came after the council.
Fr Lombardi would not respond to questions about specific Church teachings and developments listed in the preamble, but said Church tradition has always held there are varying degrees of Church teaching; some require an absolute assent while others are open to interpretation.
The talks were launched in late 2009 in an effort by Pope Benedict XVI to repair a 21-year break with the society. The Pope said that full communion for the group’s members would depend on “true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council”.
The Vatican statement did not mention any of the specific areas where Bishop Fellay’s group has said the Catholic Church and the popes since the Second Vatican Council had broken with true Catholic tradition. They object to the reform of the Mass, to much of the Church’s work in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and to the council’s stand on religious freedom.
Bishop Fellay had said his society went into the talks aiming to show the contradictions between the Church’s traditional teachings and its practices since Vatican II. That is “the only goal that we are pursuing,” he had said, adding that the dialogue with the Vatican is not a search for compromise but “a question of faith”.
In addition to the society’s rejection of many Vatican II teachings, members also objected to the beatification of Pope John Paul II and, particularly, to Pope Benedict’s convocation of another interreligious meeting for peace in Assisi.
Pope Benedict cleared the way for reconciliation talks with the Society of St Pius X in early 2009 when he lifted the excommunications of Bishop Fellay and three other society bishops ordained against papal orders in 1988. The Vatican said the dialogue was designed to restore “full communion” with members of the society, which was founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The Vatican said the talks were to focus on the concept of tradition, liturgical reform, interpretation of Vatican II in continuity with Catholic doctrinal tradition, Church unity, ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions, and religious freedom.
The Vatican and the society appointed a commission to discuss the issues and members met eight times between October 2009 and April 2011, the Vatican said.
The meetings “reached the aim of clarifying the respective positions” of the two sides, it said.
COMMUNIQUE CONCERNING THE SOCIETY OF ST. PIUS X
VATICAN CITY, 14 SEP 2011 (VIS) – At midday today the Holy See Press Office released the following communique concerning the postion of the Society of St. Pius X:
“On 14 September at the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the congregation and president of the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’; Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer S.J., secretary of the congregation, and Msgr. Guido Pozzo, secretary of the pontifical commission, met with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, who was accompanied by Fr. Niklaus Pfluger and Fr. Alain-Marc Nely, respectively first and second assistant general to the society.
“Following the appeal of 15 December 2008, addressed by the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the Holy Father decided to remove the excommunication against the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. At the same time, he approved the opening of discussions with the society in order to clarify doctrinal problems and to heal the existing rift.
“In order to put the Holy Father’s instructions into effect, a joint study commission was set up, composed of experts from the Society of St. Pius X and from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who met in Rome on eight occasions between October 2009 and April 2011. Their discussions, which aimed to identify and study the essential doctrinal difficulties in the controversial issues, had the result of clarifying the positions of the two sides and their respective motivations.
“While bearing in mind the concerns and demands presented by the Society of St. Pius X about protecting the integrity of the Catholic faith against Vatican Council II’s ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ with Tradition (a theme addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith maintains that the fundamental basis for achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See is the acceptance of the text of the Doctrinal Preamble, which was handed over during a meeting on 14 September 2011. The Preamble defines certain doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation Catholic doctrine, which are necessary to ensure faithfulness to the Church Magisterium and ‘sentire cum Ecclesia’. 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 later Magisterium.
“At the same meeting, certain suggestions were made for a canonical solution to the position of the Society of St. Pius X, with a view to achieving the desired reconciliation”.