I was tempted to begin this column by saying that Traditionalist hearts began to beat a little faster last fall when formal talks with Rome began, talks that might lead to a rapprochement between the Society of St. Pius X and the Catholic Church. But I really do not believe their hearts beat any faster at the prospect of communion with Rome. They are dug in and will likely never come back, short of Vatican II being totally repudiated and their leader, Bernard Fellay, being elected Pope Marcel I.
The talks have broken down, as almost anyone could have predicted.
The Society was begun in anger and suspicion, some of it justifiable, no question about that. It was born at the dawn of the crazy 1970s when the wheels seemed to be coming off everything, the Church included.
Vatican II had happened and was almost immediately hijacked and perverted by the progressives. The liturgy was uprooted and in some cases even debased. Priests and nuns started disregarding their vows and even began canoodling with each other. Some French seminarians in Rome went to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and asked what they should do.
He directed them to an acceptable Swiss seminary and then founded his own, along with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X for the seminarians who studied with him. He even received official sanction for all of this. But that did not last long. Within a few years, approval was withdrawn, as were Lefebvre’s faculties, meaning he could no longer perform the sacraments, including ordinations. All of this, he ignored.
In 1988, at the age of 81, without Vatican approval, he ordained four bishops so that his work could go on after he died. For this, he and the four were formally excommunicated. John Paul II said these acts constituted acts of schism. Three years later, Lefebvre died without being reconciled with the Church.
Fellay of SSPX: “ . . . making the Catholic faith understood in Rome”?
You might say obstinacy and arrogance were born in the bone of the Society. Or even that they are the twin charismata of the Society.
The heart of their complaint is that the Church has been taken over by Modernists and has become little more than Protestantism. No little thing that. The documents of Vatican II are the cause of much of their consternation. They reject most if not all of the Council. They certainly reject the teaching on ecumenism and also on religious freedom. Lefebvre himself worked on the religious freedom document and was one of a tiny handful of more than 2,000 bishops to vote against it.
The Vatican has maintained contact with the Society, including at the papal level. Paul VI met with Lefebvre, as did John Paul II. And Benedict XVI met with his successor, Fellay, in 2005. A few years later the Vatican lifted the excommunications of the four bishops, including Fellay, as a way to lay the groundwork for talks that should lead them back to the Church.
Those formal talks began last fall. You can see from Fellay’s comments that the talks were doomed from the beginning. A few weeks ago, on the Society’s own website, Fellay says, “We hope to tell Rome what the Church has always taught and thereby to show the contradictions between this centuries-old teaching and what has been done in the Church since the Council. This was the only goal that we are pursuing.” He goes on to say, “It is a matter of making the Catholic faith understood in Rome and trying, why not, to make it understood even more throughout the Church.”
Did Fellay really think he would set the Church straight about what the Church really teaches? And that at long last the dreaded Vatican II would be renegotiated and even done away with? Or that the Bishops of the schismatic Society would at long last be seen by the Church as they see themselves, that is, as the only authentic Magisterial teachers of the Catholic faith?
In 1996, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska issued excommunications of anyone in his diocese belonging to certain groups that he said were “totally incompatible with the Catholic Faith.” Along with Planned Parenthood, the Freemasons, and Catholics for a Free Choice, Bruskewitz fingered the Society St. of Pius X. I asked a wise and grizzled traditionalist in New York about this and he said with rising indignation, “Because they’re Protestants!” There are, in fact, thousands of traditional Catholics who quite properly avoid and even shun the Society of St. Pius X.
Did Traditionalist hearts beat faster at the prospect of formal talks with Rome? No. Not by a long shot. The leaders – and maybe most of the lay followers – of the Society of St. Pius X are dug in and quite happy to be so. They rejoice in their rebel chapels and are satisfied with their illicit sacraments. Most of all they are happy, perhaps even giddy, in their disobedience. Their hearts did not beat faster at the prospect of communion with Rome because, like the dissenters who emerged after the Council, they believe it is Rome who is not in communion with them. These guys are not coming back any time soon. If ever.