The English leader of a breakaway traditionalist group has said that he wishes to be reconciled with the Catholic Church.
Bishop David Bell, 41, is head of the Society of Pope Leo XIII, which upholds the pre-Vatican II teachings of the Church, particularly the older form of the Tridentine Mass. The society claims to have 73 bishops and 500 priests, and to be responsible for congregations totalling 8.5 million people.
In the eyes of the Church Bishop Bell’s ordination as a bishop is valid but illicit; he was ordained by bishops with the Apostolic Succession and has passed this on to other bishops he has ordained, but all of this is without the sanction of the Catholic Church.
A report in the Italian newspaper La Stampa last week said that Bishop Bell, who calls himself Archbishop of London, had prepared a “curse” against Bishop Mario Meini of the Diocese of Fiesole, Italy, but he said that this was incorrect.
“I issued a decree of anathema because he said I wasn’t a bishop. Only the Holy See can make such a declaration,” he said.
Bishop Bell met Pope Benedict XVI at a Wednesday audience in June 2011 and kissed his hand. “How did I meet the Holy Father? I asked,” he said, stressing that he applied to meet him as head of the Society of Pope Leo XIII.
He said that he accepts the infallibility of the Pope. “We don’t speak out against the Holy See,” he said, emphasising that doctrinally they are close to the Church. “As far as we are concerned there’s very little difference at all,” he said. The one important point is the Tridentine Mass, which Pope Benedict has brought to greater prominence in the Church.
Bishop Bell confirmed that the Society of Pope Leo XIII is “in talks” with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “The Holy See has held private talks with illicit bishops for hundreds of years,” he said.
He accepted that if they were to come back into full communion they would have to accept the authority of the Church. “We intend to bend, to work more closely with Rome,” he said. He said that talks had already been held with officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He said that if and when he would accepted back he will be a titular bishop only, without any episcopal power within the Church, and accepts that “my hands will be tied unless or until the Holy See decides otherwise”.
“It is a long journey and will take a long time,” he said.