Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), met for more than two hours with officials of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith yesterday.
The Vatican did not immediately issue a statement on the meeting, part of ongoing talks aimed at reconciling the breakaway group with the Catholic Church. The society’s founder, the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected some teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the modernising reforms instituted in its wake, was excommunicated for ordaining Bishop Fellay and three other bishops without papal permission in 1988.
In April, Bishop Fellay submitted to the Vatican his second official response to a “doctrinal preamble” outlining what the Vatican said were “some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the Church, presumably including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
The bishop’s reply was studied by the cardinal-members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, ultimately, by Pope Benedict XVI.
The cardinals and the Pope had studied Bishop Fellay’s first response, which was submitted in January, and later issued a statement saying his position “is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the fracture between the Holy See and the society”.
While Bishop Fellay has been generally positive about the possibility of reconciliation with Rome, leaked letters show that the society’s three other bishops have had serious reservations about the process.
In May Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said: “In consideration of the positions taken by the three other bishops of the Society of St. Pius, their situation will have to be treated separately and individually” from the effort to reconcile with the SSPX as a whole and with Bishop Fellay.
“It is not that this is a process that necessarily will reach a solution that embraces all the positions” found among all the SSPX members, Fr Lombardi said.
Pope Benedict’s latest efforts to bring about reconciliation with the traditionalist group began when he lifted the excommunications incurred by Bishop Fellay and the other SSPX bishops after they were ordained without papal permission. The Pope also established a Vatican committee for doctrinal talks with society representatives in 2009 and drafted the “doctrinal preamble” to explain the “minimal, essential” elements on which the society would have to agree for full reconciliation, Father Lombardi had said.
When the Vatican’s doctrinal discussions with the society began in 2009, both sides said the key issues to be discussed included the concept of tradition in general, as well as the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the liturgy, the unity of the Church, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and religious freedom.