Vatican spokesman confirms that the response has been received and marks a 'step forward'

The superior of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) has signed a doctrinal preamble set out by the Vatican as a basis for further reconciliation talks, a top Vatican commentator said yesterday.

Andrea Tornielli, journalist for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, said Bishop Bernard Fellay had signed the document “with some slight modifications”.

The news could pave the way for the traditionalist group to be made a personal prelature, a non-geographical body like Opus Dei whose leader is appointed by the Pope.

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The Vatican has confirmed this morning that it had received the response. Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said it was “encouraging” and marks a “step forward”, according to the Catholic News Service. He said it would be examined “quickly” and passed on to the Pope “within a few weeks”.

French spokesman Fr Alain Lorans told the Swiss news agency APIC/KIPA that “we are still in a stage of studies” and that “not everything is already fixed”.

Mr Tornielli said that Bishop Fellay’s response, delivered to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had been taken as “positive” and contained merely “non-substantial” changes.

Earlier this week Mr Tornielli said that Bishop Fellay had written to bishops and priests of the SSPX reassuring them that “no concessions [would] be asked from the Society that touch upon the faith and that which derives from it”. He said, according to Mr Tornielli, that “nothing of a definitive nature has yet taken place, neither in the direction of a canonical recognition, not in the direction of a rupture, and [the negotiations were] thus in a moment of expectation”.

In November last year Bishop Fellay said that the preamble needed changes before it could be accepted by the SSPX. But last month Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi described the group’s response as “insufficient” and asked it to clarify its position in order to “avoid an ecclesial rupture with painful and incalculable consequences”.

The preamble, according to the Vatican, “states some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the Church.

At the same time, the Vatican have 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.

The talks between the traditionalist group and the Vatican began in 2009 in an effort by Pope Benedict XVI to repair a 21-year break.

The break came in 1988 when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four bishops against papal orders. The excommunications imposed at the time were lifted by Benedict XVI in 2009.

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