Christopher Ferrara has recently written a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on the April 15 (maybe) endgame involving the Society of St. Pius X and the Vatican. It merits a full read, though I will publish excerpts with some of my own commentary here:
Christopher A. Ferrara
On March 16, 2012 an unsigned communiqué from the Vatican Press Office advised that a secret “evaluation” of Bishop Fellay’s secret response to the secret “Doctrinal Preamble,” emanating from the secret proceedings of the Vatican-SSPX conferences, has determined (in secret) that the response is “not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the rift between the Holy See and the aforesaid Society.” Bishop Fellay was “invited to be so kind as to clarify his position so as to heal the existing rift, as Pope Benedict XVI wished.”
We still don’t know exactly what are the “doctrinal problems” in question or what formula would suffice to “clarify” them. That’s a secret. We do know that on the date the communiqué was issued Bishop Fellay met with Cardinal Levada and other officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—in secret, of course—to discuss healing the “rift” between the Society and the Holy See, for the purpose of “avoiding an ecclesial rupture with painful and incalculable consequences...” According to the Italian news agency AGI, during this meeting “a complete rupture was avoided by the Holy See, making it clear that Benedict XVI still expects a recomposition.” But while the rupture was avoided, the rift remains, and according to Vatican Radio “Bp. Fellay is invited to clarify his position, in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI, from now until April 15.”
So, it appears there is a deadline for healing the rift in order to avoid a rupture, by providing a clarification of doctrinal problems so that there can be a recomposition. Notice the curious avoidance of such traditional terminology as “schism,” “heresy,” “profession of faith,” and “return of the dissidents to the one true Church.” Indeed, I have been unable to locate anywhere a Vatican statement to the effect that SSPX espouses any doctrine that is contrary to the Faith or that its individual adherents are not Catholics in good standing (as opposed to the problem of SSPX’s formal “canonical mission” status). The word “schism” likewise no longer appears in Vatican announcements on the SSPX’s current standing.
No, this is simply a matter of providing—in secret—a clarification of the secretly discussed doctrinal problems relating to the Second Vatican Council. Then the rift would be healed, no rupture would occur, and “recomposition” would take place. There is no need for the rest of us to know the details. Actually, there really isn't a need for the rest of us to know the details. Just as one can assume ill-will on the part of some of the hierarchy, one can also assume good-will on the part of others. And unless one wishes to accuse the Pope of ill-will (and I don't think Ferrara does) then there may be very good reasons to be discreet about the process so armchair theologians like myself don't poison the well.
My admittedly cursory review of bulletins from the Vatican Press Office does not disclose such strange proceedings concerning any other individual Catholic or group of Catholics among the billion souls who belong to our Church in crisis. [...]
Nor does it appear that the Vatican is concerned about rifts, ruptures, or recomposition as to the legions of Catholics on every continent, including numerous bishops and priests, who no longer assent to any Church teaching that does not meet with their personal approval. We all know the obvious examples, such as the nearly universal disobedience of the infallible teaching on marriage and procreation. But consider also the refusal of the entire hierarchies of Italy and Germany to adopt the mandated corrections to the errant vernacular translations of the Novus Ordo Missae that plagued the Church for forty years before the Vatican finally ordered the corrections. Nuts to you, Pope!
Then there is that movement of priests in Austria, led by Cardinal Schönborn’s one-time vicar general, Helmut Schüller, which, as Sandro Magister reports, “has among its objectives... the abolition of clerical celibacy and the reintegration into priestly ministry of ‘married’ priests and their concubines.” ... The dissidents have issued a “Call to Disobedience,” [...]
[...] that “they will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and remarried divorced Catholics or allowing lay people to preach and head parishes without a priest.” Schüller openly declares that “many priests are already quietly breaking the rules anyway, often with the knowledge of their bishops,[...] And schisms of this sort abound today.
...The Vatican does nothing, or next to nothing to punish it. But then, we have all heard the neo-Catholic line: Pope [fill in name] fears any direct confrontation with dissenters in the national hierarchies, lest he provoke schisms. Or is it rifts and ruptures?
As to the Society, however, oddly enough there is no fear of provoking a rift, a rupture, a schism, a whatever. They have been given until April 15 to clarify their doctrinal problems. Or else. Or else what? A re-excommunication of the four bishops? How could that be seen as anything but farcical, even by the mass media that have been agitating for the Society’s permanent ostracization in the name of the Council? A declaration of schism? On what grounds? The Society bishops have not even been accused of a refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff, but only a failure to provide a “sufficient” clarification of unspecified and secretly discussed doctrinal problems. The Society hastens to Rome whenever summoned to discuss the matter. How could its conduct possibly constitute schism?
This suggests a paradox: the Society is facing veiled threats of discipline precisely because it obeys and takes such threats seriously. This targeting of the Society reminds me of the rationale for waging war against Iraq in order to “fight terrorism”: the conquest of Iraq was an “achievable objective” even if there were not actually any Al Qaeda camps there. By crushing a petty dictatorship that would offer little resistance, America could pretend to be fighting “the evildoers.”
Perhaps after April 15 something not very pleasant will happen to the Society. Something secret. A heavy canonical mechanism might go bump in the night. Perhaps some sort of ultra-excommunication is being contemplated, as ludicrous as that would be. More likely, however, is that nothing at all will happen. The Vatican will simply go on deploring the rift that could become a rupture, when everyone knows the Society and its adherents are simply Catholics who are being made to jump through hoops that no one else in the history of the Church has ever had to jump through. [...]
But really: How is it that none of the notorious ringleaders of the now pandemic dissent from faith and morals have been summoned to the Vatican for talks to “clarify” their “doctrinal problems”? Why is it that not one of them has been given a deadline to “clarify his position, in order to be able to heal the existing rift”?
The answer lies in what all the dissidents have in common: they all adore Vatican II. Exactly. None of them has any “doctrinal problems” with the Council. Exactly. Quite the contrary, the Council gives them transports of joy. They celebrate the Council as the Magna Carta of their liberation from Tradition. Exactly. Their “doctrinal problems” concern only some aspect of what the Church constantly taught and believed before the Council. You know: defined dogmas, that sort of thing.
Whether the Council can fairly be characterized that way is not the point. The point is that the dissidents swarming all over the Church today perceive it that way and therefore accept it unreservedly. Thus, all of the (true, but beside the point) breath and ink spent on talking about how it isn't the Council itself but rather what the Council has been (mis-) interpreted to be that is the issue is just a colossal waste of energy. It is the ultimate academic question. We know what has happened since 1962 and we know what major event began the auto-demolition. Hence there is no need for urgent invitations to the Vatican. Their response to the Council is quite “sufficient.” But the Society’s response to the Council is “not sufficient.” The Society must clarify its position respecting the unclear conciliar texts according to a “hermeneutic of continuity” to which the Pope constantly refers but which has never been provided.
The Council, the Council, the Council. The Council is all that matters. That is why the Society alone faces a deadline of April 15 to avoid an “ecclesial rupture with painful and incalculable consequences.” Evidently, from the Vatican’s perspective there is nothing painful or incalculable about the social apostasy of the Western world over which bishops and priests have been presiding since—well, since the Council. And now the bishops see that there are few left to go with them to the Colosseum built by the secular governments they aided and abetted for decades.
Permit me to suggest some matters that might more properly belong in the Vatican’s “not sufficient” file. Perhaps the Vatican authorities will establish some deadlines for addressing these matters[...]:
· “Not sufficient”: the faith of many millions of Catholics, including rebellious bishops and priests, who no longer care what the Popes or the Councils have taught perennially regarding matters of faith and morals on which they have made up their own minds to the contrary.
· “Not sufficient”: a Roman liturgy that, as the Pope said when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, has “collapsed” because of a “break in the history of the liturgy” whose “consequences could only be tragic.”
· “Not sufficient”: the Catholic hierarchy’s defense of “hard sayings” in the face of popular rejection of them, and its feeble-to-nonexistent witness against the soft tyranny of the modern nation-state, to which Churchmen have completely surrendered according to the program of “dialogue,” “ecumenism,” “religious liberty” and the “opening to the world” that Vatican II inaugurated—reflecting the “doctrinal problems” the Society has been called upon to “clarify.”
· “Not sufficient”: the effort to rid the dioceses of homosexuals, heretics, heretical catechisms, and depraved “sex education” programs.
· “Not sufficient”: the absurd attempts to effect the “consecration of Russia” while deliberately failing to mention Russia, because Vatican bureaucrats think it imprudent to honor the request of the Virgin Most Prudent. Now, while I agree the Consecration should be done, this is a matter of private revelation just the same. The biggest and most important private revelation ever, but private just the same. I wouldn't put this on the same level as the liturgical destruction, for example. As an aside, if you think the Consecration has been done, read Antonio Socci's "The Fourth Secret of Fatima".
· “Not sufficient”: an overall condition of the Church in which, after more than forty years of “conciliar renewal,” vast numbers of nominal Catholics exhibit what John Paul II described as “silent apostasy” and much of the hierarchy exhibits what Sister Lucia of Fatima called “diabolical disorientation.”
· “Not sufficient”: the Vatican’s disclosure of the Third Secret in 2000, which lacks the Virgin’s explanation of a vision as ambiguous as the documents of Vatican II. Hee, nicely put. Again, though a matter of private revelation, I agree.
And, finally, there is the Vatican’s entire approach to the Society of Saint Pius X. The Society should be regularized immediately—unilaterally and unconditionally, with permission to operate independently of bishops who are singing the praises of Vatican II as they close schools, suppress parishes, evade or defy Summorum Pontificum, cozy up to “gay Catholic” groups, administer the Blessed Sacrament to public heretics, and grin like fools as they throttle the life out of the Church.
Only a Catholic revival like the one produced by the independent, papally supported monasteries of Cluny can restore the Church now. The Society is poised to take a leading role in such a revival. To deny them that role solely in order to continue dickering over the ambiguities of a Council nobody seems to be able to clarify is not sufficient. I agree with the proposal of instant recognition of the SSPX, but they are not spotless in their conduct throughout this crisis. A little humility in the face of criticism--even if much is unjust-- would go a long way. Let us pray that the Pope will bring this ridiculous
spectacle to an end for the good of the Church and the world.
I do not agree with Ferrara in every respect, nor do I think this is a comprehensive take on the subject. But I do think it is impossible to deny that he makes some very good points, especially as it concerns disparate treatment and Rome's (so-far) unwillingness to define the boundaries of the "hermeneutic of continuity". At some point, the line must be drawn between those who are Catholic in reality and those who merely wear the title to better effect the destruction of faith from within. If Rome can countenance the presence of the majority of its own religious orders and the hierarchy within her bosom, it can countenance the Society.