A new chapter—or maybe just subchapter—has been opened in the historically fraught relations between the Vatican and Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). According to communiques from both Rome and the SSPX’s General House, a friendly meeting between Cardinal Gerhard Mueller (Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and Bishop Bernard Fellay (SSPX Superior General) took place earlier today. The SSPX’s press release states the following: “During this cordial meeting, doctrinal and canonical difficulties were discussed, and the current situation of the Church was mentioned. It was decided to continue the discussions in order to clarify the points of contention that remain.” That doesn’t say a whole lot, but that’s to be expected at this early stage in the game.
Though I haven’t looked, I am sure certain “traddie” message boards are on fire with speculation over what transpired today. Is a Rome/SSPX deal near? Will Fellay “sellout” the Society? How many weeks of Eleison Comments decrying the meeting can we look forward to? And so on. It is early days, and I doubt either side in this ongoing discussion is all that eager to say too much. What is promising about this meeting is the fact that it splashes cold water on the theory that the SSPX/Rome relations effectively came to an end with Benedict XVI’s abdication and that we were only months away from fresh excommunications being issued against the SSPX’s three remaining bishops and its nearly-600 priests. While I have a hard time imagine that the CDF under Mueller is prepared to relax its doctrinal demands on the Society, who knows? There is still a lot of room for a compromise to be reached and, besides, is a firm doctrinal statement from the Society even necessary for regularization? As several commentators have pointed out before, the SSPX, by and large, accepts far more of the Second Vatican Council than many liberals who, sadly, remain in good standing with the Church. Religious liberty, ecumenism, and the Novus Ordo Missae remain obvious bones of contention between Rome and the SSPX, but are those hills really worth dying on? Why shouldn’t the Society have the right to raise questions about these and other ongoing matters in the Catholic Church?
There will always be folks who don’t want the Society regularized for their own ideological reasons, but so what? Liberal Catholics don’t like the SSPX for obvious reasons. Neo-Catholics don’t care for the Society either, though mainly because the Society, along with other traditionalists, have been raining on the neo-Catholic triumphalist parade for decades. Fr. Zuhlsdorf, a moderate traditionalist (albeit one with some very wrongheaded economic ideas), has offered up his thoughts on the Mueller/Fellay meeting here. He also kindly acknowledged the Society’s recent efforts to witness against the so-called “black mass” that was recently staged in Oklahoma City. That’s a good sign. If the Church is going to stand on two feet again, she will need the SSPX’s assistance. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the latest statistics the SSPX has put out. “By their fruits you shall know them.”