While the Holy See waits for a response from the Lefebvrians, it is prepared to discuss pastoral and disciplinary questions but not doctrinal onesAndrea Tornielli
(La Stampa / Vatican Insider) The letter which the Superior of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, sent in response to the doctrinal preamble presented to him in the Vatican last 13 June, has not yet reached Rome. “The ball is clearly in the Fraternity’s court,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi had said this after the meeting. Everyone was aware that it was unlikely a response would have been sent before the Lefebvrian General Chapter held at the beginning of July. And even though over three months have gone by since the doctrinal document was handed to the Fraternity, the Holy See seems to be in no rush at all.
Following the meeting on 13 June, the Pope chose a new leader for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (the Vatican body responsible for dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X): Archbishop Ludwig Müller replaced resigning cardinal William Levada as Prefect, while Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia was appointed Vice-President of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission. So the figures Fellay will be exchanging views with will not be the same as those he met with three months ago.
The Holy See is well aware of how delicate the situation within the Society of St. Pius X is: it knows about the group that opposes an agreement with Rome, just as it knows about the (not so small) group of priests that does not want to suffer the consequences of the extreme choices of some. There is disquiet in some Lefebvrian districts in Latin America and Bishop Richard Williamson who is awaiting sentence is already on a collision course with Fellay. It is highly unlikely the Vatican will ask the Society of St. Pius X for a response to the preamble before October.
Readers may recall that last June, Fellay received a draft proposal for the canonical normalisation in the relationship of the Society of St. Pius X and the Holy See, by making the Fraternity a personal prelature. He received this in addition to the doctrinal preamble prepared by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by the Pope, containing some modifications proposed by the Lefebvrian Superior himself, some of which he did not fully agree with.
Vatican Insider has learnt that Fellay’s much anticipated response should still be interlocutory and contain certain conditions. If these involve requests that are to do with pastoral matters or discipline, the Holy See is willing to take these into consideration. Some conditions were discussed following the July chapter. The first three were considered “absolute” and were to do with the “freedom to correct the promoters of the errors or the innovations of modernism, liberalism, and Vatican II and its aftermath.” The second condition involved the “exclusive use of the Liturgy of 1962,” whilst the third requires “the guarantee of at least one bishop.” Other less binding conditions included the possibility of having a separate ecclesiastical court of the first instance and the exemption of the houses of the Society of St. Pius X from the diocesan bishops.
Agreement can be reached on most points and the Holy See is prepared to discuss these and incorporate changes in the draft about the future canonical normalisation of the Society of St. Pius X. What are not subject to discussion are the doctrinal issues outlined in the preamble. Lefebvrians are required to accept the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Therefore, although they will be allowed to celebrate mass using the old Missal (an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite), they will still have to recognise that the ordinary form was introduced as a result of the post-Conciliar reform, whose validity and lawfulness is unquestionable.