A Note on Renewing SSPX/Rome Talks

Some people have asked me what I think about the recent news concerning Cardinal Gerhard Mueller’s invitation to the Society of St. Pius X’s Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, for “an informal meeting to review the relations between the SSPX and Rome.” Mueller’s chilly attitude toward the Society is a matter of public record, and certain members of the SSPX have been less-than-thrilled with some of Mueller’s more exotic theological speculations. (There is a brief overview of the dustup which occurred in some traditional circles over Mueller’s appointment to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) at the  Sancrucensis web-log here.) However, events can change attitudes pretty quickly. While some traditional Catholics fretted over the possibility that Mueller would import his private theological views into the CDF, the reality is that he has become the frontline defender of the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage. On the need to put down Cardinal Walter Kasper’s mad proposal to split doctrine from praxis with respect to civilly divorced-and-remarried Catholics is one area where Mueller and Fellay undoubtedly agree.

Of course that fundamental area of agreement is not enough, or so it would seem. Mueller and other Vatican officials, including our former pontiff Benedict XVI, seem to believe that acceptance of the Second Vatican Council in its totality is an intractable condition for regularizing the SSPX’s canonical status. But what does “acceptance” mean? And why should the Society face such pressure to “accept” every jot and title of Vatican II when so many “orthodox” members of the Church routinely eject or radically reinterpret parts of the Council which does not along with their particular world views? The SSPX does recognize that Vatican II happened, of course. It also recognizes that a vast majority of the conciliar texts are either unproblematic or can be interpreted in a thoroughly traditional manner. For the life of me I can find nothing upsetting or even quibble-worthy with respect to Bishop Fellay’s version of the “Doctrinal Preamble” which, presumably, the Society was willing to accept back during its earlier discussions with Rome. (A leaked version of that Preamble is available online here.) If only more Catholic theologians, apologists, and leaders were willing to apply such interpretive principles to the Church’s magisterium.

Some folks are expecting bad things to come out of the Mueller/Fellay meeting. I expect very little from it. I would not be at all surprised if the audience is little more than a meet-and-great with some updating on where the SSPX “is” with respect to what is going on right now in the Church. It’s no secret that Fellay, and other members of the Society, have been uncomfortable with aspects of Pope Francis’s pontificate. (An increasing number of non-traditional Catholics have been as well.) The harsh and seemingly unjust treatment of the Franciscans of the Immaculate has raised the red flag that officials in Rome are not prepared to allow a “springtime for tradition” to blossom in the Church. What does that signal to the Society? That it remains unwelcome or that it’s needed now more than ever?