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What the SSPX Reconciliation Means – and Doesn’t Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Sunday, 10 June 2012

Few things make Catholics forget the precept of charity more than discussion of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the traditionalist group of bishops and priests who, due to their opposition to the Second Vatican Council and the ensuing ecclesial turmoil, remain outside the Church’s canonical structure.

Pope Benedict, having played the leading role at the Vatican to restore the SSPX to juridical communion for a quarter century, has made reconciliation with the group a priority of his pontificate. By all accounts, a formal announcement of official recognition for the SSPX is close at hand.

Reconciliation with the SSPX will rank among the great achievements of Benedict’s pontificate with lasting implications for the Church. But in the hysteria that will certainly follow a formal announcement, what is truly important will likely be lost in the Church’s internal partisan politics.

On the right, some traditionalist Catholics will jubilantly declare victory: modernist Rome has returned to its senses by endorsing the true remnant of the faith. On the left, where dinner with Martin Luther is preferable to sharing a Church with SSPX leader Bernard Fellay, some will accuse Benedict of undermining – or undoing – the reforms of Vatican II. Both of these perspectives are false.

Before considering what reconciliation means, it is worth assessing what it does not mean.

First, Benedict is not rolling back Vatican II; his entire pontificate is devoted to advancing it (more on this below). In fact, as I wrote when Benedict remitted the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops, the pope is beating partisan Catholic progressives at their own game: he is making a concrete gesture toward the reunion of all Christians, just as Vatican II called for in Unitatis Redintegratio (a document challenged by the SSPX, in a double irony). What is being undone is not the Council, but the ideology of its false “spirit.”

Second, more clever commentators may play the gender card: the retrograde Vatican is accepting a group of conservative bishops and priests back into the Church as it simultaneously launches an attack on the defenseless nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). No such dichotomy or misogynistic power play exists: Benedict is working to bring both wayward groups – the SSPX de iure, the LCWR de facto – back into full communion with the Church; their differing statuses simply mean differing approaches to reunion.


          Partners in the New Evangelization?

Third, the reconciliation of the SSPX does not mean the “vindication of Tradition” in the way the Society and its supporters understand it: that traditional worship and piety will be restored as the most legitimate expression of the faith. Traditional Catholic theology and practice has already been enjoying a small but vitalizing renaissance throughout the world in religious communities, parishes, and schools who have remained loyal to the pope. A reconciled SSPX will surely add to this growth and vigor; it will not create it anew or give it a lofty status.

What, then, does reconciliation with the SSPX really mean?

First, the “Doctrinal Preamble,” the still secret statement of doctrinal belief that the SSPX must accept for reconciliation, will likely declare – in the most official and authoritative capacity to date – that the entirety of Vatican II must be read and interpreted in light of Tradition. If this is so, then it will not only shape the Society’s future discourse about Vatican II, but also that of the advocates of the “spirit of Vatican II.”

The practitioners of “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” will not go away quietly, but such a declaration will remove their remaining credibility among their readers and students.

Second, as mentioned, the SSPX in full communion with the Roman Pontiff will invigorate traditional Catholic practice and worship, which in turn will contribute to rebuilding Catholic identity in places where it has collapsed. By many accounts Mass attendance at the Society’s chapels in France has grown while regular churches have emptied almost completely.

With the graces that follow from full communion with Rome – and without the invective that has characterized much of the Society’s rhetoric against Rome – the SSPX may become a key player in the New Evangelization, and the Church at large should welcome its contribution.

Third, the reconciliation speaks volumes about the nature of Benedict’s pontificate and the character of Benedict the man. From his lunch at Castel Gandolfo with Bishop Fellay in the first summer of his pontificate, to the lifting of the excommunications in 2009, to the formal discussions with SSPX theologians in the CDF, Benedict, despite the many contrary voices in the Curia, is personally making reconciliation a reality, at his speed and on his terms.

As Bishop Fellay himself wrote, “The pope has told us that the concern for fixing our situation for the good of the Church was at the heart of his pontificate, and likewise that he was aware that for him and for us it would have been easier to maintain the status quo.” Benedict, a true shepherd, is more than willing to lay down his life and his reputation for the good of his flock.

A number of questions concerning the Society’s status – its future organization, the possibility of a breakaway group that rejects reconciliation – awaits the formal announcement. But when the time comes, it is Benedict himself, not the Church’s warring factions or the secular media, who will provide the proper interpretive lens for this incredible feat.

 
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor of theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY.
 
 
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Comments (25)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, June 10, 2012
"...the SSPX in full communion with the Roman Pontiff will invigorate traditional Catholic practice and worship,..." Thank you for a balanced and well written piece, David. Thank you also for mentioning the SSPX and the LCWR in the same article. The reader is better able to understand the reluctance of the SSPX to rejoin the Church when they would have to sit in the same "pew" with nuns sans habits who, at times, are pro-abortion as well as pro sterilization. Bishops (including Cdl.Ranjith) have already signalled that they want the SSPX to train their priests in SSPX seminaries. My argument for the SSPX is very simple: if attaining Heaven is either Pass/Fail and failing is too horrible to contemplate, then I want my teachers (SSPX/FSSP) to be teaching me and mine what the Church has taught for 2,000 years.
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written by DS, June 10, 2012
Pope Benedict has been portrayed almost universally as a conservative, but he has taken some distinctly progressive steps toward unity. The SSPX dialogue follows a pattern. He also played a leading role in the 1990s in completing Joint Declaration on Justification with Lutherans. The American Lutheran bishop at the time said that "Ratzinger untied the knots." I guess he envisions a church in which Archbishope Fellay and Martin Luther would both be invited to dinner!

To my knowledge, he is also the first Pope to depart from the 2,000 year old tradition of the Latin Church to preside over the regular usage of a single rite of the Mass: on any given Sunday, we now have the Tridentine Rite, the Novus Ordo and more recently the Anglican Rite (partially authored by English Reformers) under the Ordinariate at RC parishes around the world.

This bold template - working tirelessly for doctrinal harmony and recognizing the value of both Catholic and non-Catholic Christian cultural patrimony - will pave the way for a more profound and lasting unity long after his pontificate has ended..
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written by Arnobius of Sicca, June 10, 2012
I trust the Holy Father to do what is right to be sure.

Some of the recent SSPX statements do concern me however because, if I interpret them correctly, the tone seems to indicate the "We won" mindset and claiming the Church "finally" recognized they were right.

I do hope I am misinterpreting that SSPX tone.
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written by Dave, June 10, 2012
God bless our Holy Father! He is doing more, theologically, than has been accomplished in the last five hundred years, and is, in my view anyway, the greatest theologian Pope since Leo the Great or Gregory the Great! He is recovering the great tradition of the Church and exercising the Petrine mission of unity while living the hermeneutic of continuity not only with the Council but with his great and holy predecessor Bl. John Paul II. One might also say that if Bl. John Paul's evangelization was ad extra, Pope Benedict's is ad intra. And what comes after properly shepherding the LCWR, bringing home SSPX and bringing home Anglicans, in their Ordinariate (I expect an Ordinariate, by the way, for SSPX), but rapprochement and reconciliation with the Churches of the East? We are living in the greatest moments of the Church's history -- signalled, too, by the persecution we are enduring. Lest anyone doubt it, the Holy Spirit is active and the Word of God is alive and powerful in the Church and in the world.
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written by Br. Jeremiah Lange, OSB , June 10, 2012
Forgive the lengthy, quote, but these sentiments give me pause when considering any 'reconciliation' with SSPX

Stating that discussions with the Holy See “have allowed us to present clearly the various problems that we experience with regard to Vatican II,” the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X said in an interview that “what has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution.”

“The attitude of the official Church is what changed; we did not,” said Bishop Bernard Fellay. “We were not the ones who asked for an agreement; the Pope is the one who wants to recognize us. You may ask: why this change? We are still not in agreement doctrinally, and yet the pope wants to recognize us! Why? The answer is right in front of us: there are terribly important problems in the Church today.”

Thank you!
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written by Susan Varenne, June 11, 2012
I think the day will come when the whole church will finally recognize and bless Pope Benedict XVI for his holiness, courage, profound Catholic spirituality, and his great intelligence. I am sure that he is a man of deep prayer and open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He has dedicated himself heart and mind, body and soul to his work as pope. It is bearing great fruit. We are blessed indeed to have him.
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written by Dismas, June 11, 2012
The quote cited by Br. Jeremiah from Bishop Fellay's interview concerns me too. In the interview, Bishop Fellay, also continually refers to his founder Lefebvre. He mentioned Lefebvre 6 times and the Holy Father only once. However, it occurs to me that Bishop Fellay is free and even being encouraged to speak while our Holy Father and Curia remain silent. Until reading this article, what concerned me most is the SSPX's many 'double ironies' I see in their positions regarding VCII.

However, in light of this article and our Church's current silence in their regard, I trust that the talks continue, the graces wrought will increase while their invective will continue to decrease.

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written by Karen, June 11, 2012
So long as SSPX does not condemn Richard Williamson and does not accede to the post-conciliar Catholicism, it's like inviting a cobra to live in your basement.
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written by John Sobieski, June 11, 2012
This piece makes it sound as if the SSPX is in schism, while in fact they are not. Also, this regularization of the SSPX's canonical status most certainly represent a vindication for Tradition in the sense that the SSPX means it, i.e., that "the Church is more than the Council."
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written by Peregrinus, June 11, 2012
What the eventual reconciliation will mean for the Church will depend in no small part on how the reconciliation is achieved. If the Society is allowed to return to full communion with the Church without at least acknowledging that its interpretation of Digniatis humanae, in particular, and of all of the Constitutions of Vatican II, in general, is not the only or even the most likely one, then the reconciliation will mean, at best, that another dissenting group, albeit a traditional one, is at least within the Church and, at worst, that a clear defense of the orthodox Faith, developed beyond the liking of some though it be, has been sacrificed for the sake of unity (not a true unity, to be sure). The blog article has already alluded to the bitter irony that will result, if this is the case. I trust, however, that the Holy Spirit will not allow this result to happen.

An irony not mentioned in the article is that the Society is negotiating the terms for reconciliation with one of the very same periti from the Council that it blames for hijacking the Council and, consequently, the modern Church.
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written by Chrysologus, June 11, 2012
"By all accounts, a formal announcement of official recognition for the SSPX is close at hand." I am surprised by this statement. Whose accounts? I think that the future remains uncertain.
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written by Fundamentally Flawed, June 11, 2012
"The notion of an accommodation between Vatican II modernism and Sacred Tradition is fundamentally flawed, because Vatican II is intentionally designed to dismantle the Traditional Latin Mass ... "
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written by Dismas, June 11, 2012
John Sobieski -

I didn't think this piece made it sound like the SSPX is in schism. I thought the piece fairly reiterated the fact they have not yet been fully accepted or regularized, much like the effects that an Apostolic Visitation or Doctrinal Assessment might have on any other group within the Church, such as the LCWR or neocats for instance.

Our Church is much bigger than many things. What distinction are you trying to make about Tradition when you say our Church is much bigger than a Council?

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written by JOHN, June 11, 2012
wHY DO WE WANT THEM BACK AT ALL IS MY QUESTIN,THEY LEFT AND WANTED TO STILL DO A lATIN mASS LET THEM GO
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written by Dan, June 12, 2012
Where do people like Karen above get ideas like this? SSPX people are some of the nicest people I've ever met, and I've come to know a lot of them. They're very down-to-earth, proud to be Catholics and devoted to the Faith. They don't believe anything that is contrary to the Faith. To me, it's baffling.
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written by Chris, June 12, 2012
"The entirety of Vatican II must be read and interpreted in light of Tradition." Yes!!!!!
It wasn't the SSPX who left the Church...it was certian liberal rupturists who left them.
Authority has not been used and misused in the Church.
So evrything that is NOT in coninuity must go. Most of the rubbish we have had to just accept is not Vat II but a distortion hiding behind the staus quo.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 12, 2012
“the 2,000 year old tradition of the Latin Church to preside over the regular usage of a single rite of the Mass: on any given Sunday”

This tradition is a canard. Of the 120 French dioceses, only a minority (56) ever adopted the Tridentine Rite, the remainder relying on the exception in Quo Primum in favour of rites that could show 200 years continuous use. Of those, eight subsequently reverted to their own ancient uses, at least for the capitular mass, after editing and printing of their service books, for the 200 years was calculated to the date of the bull.

The Gallican rites persisted until the reorganisation of the French dioceses under the Concordat of 1801. With Lacordaire’s restoration of the Dominican order in 1843, the Dominican rite was once more used in France.
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written by Dismas, June 12, 2012
One of the biggest canards or double ironies I see in the more radical or fundamentalist adherents of the traditional Rite is all the accusation and finger pointing. Am I to believe that the confiteor (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) only applies to certain members of our Church?

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written by Pipina, June 12, 2012
To disobey the Pope is a very very serious sin, whatever the reasons Lefevbre & co thought entitled them to do so (Luther had his own, too). The first thing I expect from them is repentment.
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written by SSPXer, June 12, 2012
The SSPX will be regularized. All those who have maintained a hard line have already been sent to remote outposts, and those who have spoken against the "agreement without an agreement," have been silenced or expelled from the SSPX. The entry will indeed be triumphant. But in a short time, when the priests of the SSPX teach you what the Kingship of Christ really means for the Church and society, you will be demanding its suppression: "Let their blood be on us and on our children!"
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written by Father Canu, June 12, 2012
“Few things make Catholics forget the precept of charity more than discussion of the SSPX”
So let's stop discussing and start praying.
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written by SSPXer, June 13, 2012
Charity toward the SSPX is not forgotten. It is, for the most part, feigned. Those who have stood with the SSPX for many years know that all too well. Hence, their distrust. So, while the prescription to pray is legitimate, as it always is, charity also demands that the truth be put forward clearly. When the discussion hits too close to home, there are always siren calls to "pray". The conciliar Church is very good at that, and now the SSPX has learned to play the game with its own faithful. While I disagree with many of the comments made here, I do not perceive a lack of charity among those posting, only a disagreement that is making many people uncomfortable. But perhaps, in our anaesthetic culture, that is exactly what is necessary: "Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword." (Matthew 10:34)
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written by Dismas, June 13, 2012
Be assured of my continued daily prayers and sacrafices offered for our Holy Father's intentions and our Church.
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written by Pipina, June 14, 2012
M. Lefebvre was excommunicated for an offence clearly tipified in the Code of Canon Law: ordaining bishops while suspended "a divinis". A bishop must ALWAYS obey the Pope, even if he privately thinks he's wrong. The scandal and bad example of these rebellious priests have done the Church a lot of harm.
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written by Johannim Ben Yisroal , June 23, 2012
YES, it will happen sooner than later, the Fraternal Society of Saint Pius X and this Pontiff WILL reconcile, probably before the summer of 2012 closes. The chorus of condesending, arrogant ,liberal "progressives?" will then begin anew. The oh so progressive distorters of the Vatican council 2,the innovators the happy clappy clown, balloon, doritto, puppet Mass crowd of depleted 1960's "liberals will most assuredly mess their nappies, and scream a schrill lament, it will be messy. Shalom Benedict 16th Baruch HaShem Amen. A real Pope, a man with guts and conviction---Shalom

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