Dialogue between the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, and the rest of the Catholic Church appears to have come to a complete stop.
However, hope remains that a full reconciliation is possible in the
pontificate of Francis, even as the SSPX faces a rebellion within its
own ranks that opposes any full unity with the bishop of Rome.
“I think it is safe to say that the discussions are presently in a
state of limbo,” Louis Tofari, spokesman for the U.S. district of the
SSPX, told the Register.
The SSPX, a priestly fraternity of more than 560 priests, operates
without any recognized status in the Church, since losing its canonical
status in 1975.
Pope Benedict XVI jumpstarted a new chapter in trying to
bring the society into a regular state in January 2009, by lifting the
excommunications imposed on the SSPX’s four bishops who were illicitly
consecrated by its late founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988
without papal permission.
However, negotiations between SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and the Vatican broke down in June 2012.
In April 2012, Tofari said, “Bishop Fellay submitted a doctrinal
declaration going as far as possible in the expression of the faith to
reach an agreement. He warned them, ‘If you change one word in this
doctrinal declaration, we can’t sign. Not one word.’”
However, Pope Benedict intervened and ordered a revision to the text
making clear that the SSPX had to accept the full validity of all of the
Second Vatican Council’s documents, including the texts on religious
freedom and human rights that the SSPX rejects as theological “errors,”
and the legitimacy and validity of the ordinary form of the Mass.
No one outside of the negotiating parties has seen Pope Benedict’s
counter-proposal to the April 2012 doctrinal preamble Bishop Fellay
submitted to Rome, or what words were changed, Tofari told the Register.
Tofari explained the SSPX is still open to discussions and wants “full
recognition” of its canonical status in the Church. However, they have
not yet made any formal overtures to restarting that dialogue or
accepting the doctrinal preamble as defined by Pope Benedict.
“At the present time, we have not heard anything from the Holy See or
Pope Francis on continuing the discussions that were begun under Pope
Benedict,” he said.
Bishop Fellay now appears to have abandoned the doctrinal preamble as a
basis for future negotiations, according to a report from an SSPX
British District Newsletter, and he has stated that relations between
the SSPX and the whole Church are back to where they began in the 1970s.
But the superior general now faces a challenge from an internal source
called “The Resistance,” which opposes any reconciliation with the Pope
or what the “Resistance” derides as “apostate Rome.”
The challenge is
not insignificant: The Resistance movement appears responsible for
disseminating on the Internet internal SSPX documents related to the
negotiations, including Bishop Fellay’s doctrinal preamble, in an effort
to derail those efforts.
“The SSPX is going through its own schism right now,” said Peter Vere, a canon lawyer and former SSPX follower.
Vere explained that the expelled Bishop Richard Williamson is the
Resistance’s spiritual leader and has ordered Resistance priests “to
remain in the SSPX until they get booted out.”
Bishop Williamson has denied the Nazis used gas chambers or killed 6
million Jews. He has pushed conspiracy theories of Jewish world
domination, as well as adopted the anti-Semitic blood libel of the Protocols of the Elders of Sion.
A letter attributed to Bishop Fellay’s “first assistant” Father Niklaus
Pfluger (and leaked to the Internet on Resistance websites) rebuked
Bishop Williamson for his “hatred of Jews” and scapegoating them for the
The SSPX publicly apologized for Bishop Williamson’s views in January
2009, shortly after Benedict lifted the excommunications against Bishop
Fellay, Bishop Williamson and the other two SSPX bishops illicitly
ordained in 1998.
Benedict subsequently suspended Bishop Williamson from
the exercise of the episcopal order, after his anti-Semitic views came
The SSPX expelled Bishop Williamson from the society in October 2012,
reportedly in part because of his efforts to undermine the
reconciliation discussions with the Vatican.
The Resistance, which appears heavily influenced by Bishop Williamson’s
views about Jews, may have had some impact on two recent controversial
SSPX actions related to the Holocaust.
In October, the Italian chapter of the SSPX offered its chapel for a
funeral Mass for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, after the Diocese of
Rome denied him a public funeral Mass.
However, in the face of angry
demonstrations, Italian authorities canceled the SSPX’s planned funeral.
A month later, SSPX followers disrupted the beginning of a 75th
anniversary commemoration of Kristallnacht — the 1938 attacks against
Jewish people and their property across Nazi Germany that marked the
beginning of the Holocaust — in the Buenos Aires cathedral.
serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to being elected Pope this
year, Pope Francis personally led the yearly commemoration ceremony
along with his personal friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka.
Approximately 30-40 SSPX followers, some wearing red berets, shouted
the Rosary and distributed leaflets that said “followers of false
gods must be kept out of the sacred temple,” the Associated Press reported.
Tofari said the SSPX protest in Buenos Aires was not aimed at Jews, but was protesting interfaith prayer in the cathedral.
Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish
Congress, said he believed the protesters in the cathedral were closely
aligned with the spiritual vision of Bishop Williamson, who had been
rector of the SSPX Argentine seminary.
“He preached against the Jews and he denied the Holocaust,” Epelman
said. “And those people, those disciples, who were at the cathedral they
went against the ceremony remembering the Holocaust and [were]
Epelman said the SSPX demonstration was traumatic “shock,” especially
for Jewish survivors present who had lived through the Nazi pogrom.
“They were going to light candles to remember their families that they
lost during the war,” he said. “And then they have to suffer again the
same thing that they were enduring before the war and during the war.”
The Church’s theological relationship with the Jewish people as defined by Vatican II in Nostra Aetate
is a sticking point in the SSPX’s dialogue with the Vatican.
the SSPX quietly purged its websites of a number of articles offensive
to Jews in 2009 after Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust denial became
public, and also expelled Father Florian Abrahamowicz, a former superior
of its Italian chapter and another public Holocaust denier.
Reconciliation Remains Possible
Although Benedict is no longer Pope, the door for full reconciliation
is not closed with Pope Francis, Tofari said.
Bishop Fellay, who had
been critical of Pope Francis, calling him a “genuine modernist,” later clarified that he regretted his choice of words, because it gave the mistaken impression he viewed Pope Francis as a heretic.
Pope Francis himself, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,
has signaled that he wants reconciliation within the Church “wounded by
He condemned ideologies within the Church, and
urged all to "offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal
Vere said that theological work to show the SSPX the continuity of the
Second Vatican Council with prior Church teachings continues to advance,
especially with a “benchmark work” on religious freedom by Dom Basile
Valuet, a Benedictine theologian of the abbey of Le Barroux, in France.
He added that Summorum Pontificum, Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio that
confirmed the validity of the extraordinary form of the Mass celebrated
in Latin according to the 1962 Roman Missal, and the reconciliation of
the traditionalist Diocese of Campos, Brazil, and of traditionalist
orders like the Society of St. Vincent Ferrer, also have showed that
Catholics should not give up on the hope of reconciliation between the
SSPX and the Pope.
“There have been real marks of progress,” Vere said. “It is just a
matter of time and prayer and allowing both sides to negotiate outside
of the demands of the instant media.”