I am a traditional Catholic who very much supports the work of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right was founded in 1990, two years after the cataclysmic episcopal consecrations and excommunications of 1988. Two years after the failed attempt at an agreement between Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre of the SSPX, two years after the founding of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which started as a group of former SSPX priests who broke off in response to the illicit consecrations. Unlike the Fraternity, the Institute was not a break-off group of the SSPX, but rather formed independently of the drama of 1988. The founders of the Institute were proteges of the late, great Cardinal Siri of Genoa, a Bishop near and dear to the hearts of traditional Catholics for many reasons.
In charitable moments, SSPX members and their supporters refer to the Institute, the Fraternity, and other such Vatican-approved groups of traditional Catholics as "Ecclesia Dei" communities, after the motu proprio of John Paul II in 1988 that, among other things, formed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), to oversee the so-called "indult" for the traditional Mass (that was really not an indult at all, as was confirmed in 2007 in Summorum Pontificum-- but I digress).
With this in mind, DICI, the media-arm of the SSPX, published an interview with Bishop Fellay, the General Superior of the Society. In it, His Excellency discusses the current situation. As always, I am impressed by Bishop Fellay, who seems God-sent to lead the Society in this hour. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and measured, as usual. I strongly encourage everyone to read this interview here, as it gives news and real reason for hope.
There is just one thing, one discordant note, that I cannot let pass without comment. Here it is:
DICI: Will there be a difference in your relations with the Ecclesia Dei communities?
Bishop Fellay: The first difference will be that they will be obliged to stop treating us as schismatics. As for future development, it is clear that some will draw closer to us, since they already approve of us discreetly; some others, no. Time will tell how Tradition will develop in this new situation. We have great expectations for the traditional apostolate, just as some important personages in Rome do, and the Holy Father himself. We have great hopes that Tradition will develop with our arrival.
Now, of course, I suppose there are some persons who support the Ecclesia Dei communities who may consider the SSPX to be in schism, despite the lifting of the excommunications by Rome, and even statements to the contrary by Vatican dicastery officials before then. And I suppose that there are some persons who support the SSPX who consider the Ecclesia Dei communities to be traitors or sell-outs, or not traditional at all, despite the often heroic effort to preserve the ancient liturgy and Catholic doctrine in a spirit of humble submission to the Church's lawful pastors, without much support from those same pastors.
However, I personally know many, many people on both sides of this coin who who see the opposite groups as complementary, on-the-same-side-of-tradition, brothers-in-(spiritual)-arms who are two separate movements of the same great cause. I will not venture to give percentages to those who view our counterparts positively, as opposed to negatively, and perhaps I am naive. But I will say that most people I have met within the Vatican-approved groups, and most people I have talked with in the SSPX camp, take the positive view. We have enough enemies without poking each other in the eye.
Furthermore, as any regular reader of this blog knows, I fully support the reconciliation already under way, and apparently so close to fulfillment, between the SSPX and Rome. The Church would benefit by their unbesmirched status, and, just as importantly, so would they. I often hear from SSPX supporters that "if it weren't for the SSPX (or Archbishop Lefebvre, or both), there wouldn't be any traditional Mass, any "indult", any Summorum Pontificum, any maintenance of Catholic tradition," etc. Well, in a sense that is likely true, but it does leave a lot out of the equation, and also presumes a bit that can never be proven. How do they know that, for instance? It is a supposition.
We can guess, but never know, what would have happened if Archbishop Lefebvre had not consecrated the bishops without permission. Who knows, but some greater thing would have happened? Perhaps profound humility, and obedience to an inexplicable or even unjust prohibition, would have lead to a quicker resolution, or quicker restoration. We simply cannot know. Christ in Gethsemane submitted His will to that of the Father, though it cost Him everything. And His disciples whom he accompanied on the way to Emmaus were scandalized at His apparent defeat. But we know how that turned out. I believe that those of the SSPX acted in good faith as they saw it. I believe those of the traditional groups who disagreed also acted in good faith as they saw it. If we are in the Fatima times, as I think likely, what better proof of the diabolical disorientation within the Church than that of brothers who ought to be natural allies but instead are estranged?
And here is one speculation that may not have occurred to SSPX supporters: Perhaps one of the reasons why reconciliation is so close is due to the twenty year apostolate of these Ecclesia Dei groups, who provided an example to those within the official Church structure (and I mean Bishops and priests, as well as the faithful) that the Mass-- and the practice-- of tradition is nothing to fear and is even a draw to conversions and to vocations. That it remains not just alive, but vital and relevant (and, as is obvious to anyone not on drugs, far superior to the Mass made by committee that was foisted on us in 1969). Perhaps the fact that it scares the you-know-what out of liberal bishops, priests, "nuns" and laymen made it a very good thing to attract well-meaning Catholics beyond the reach of the SSPX? Maybe, the very obedience-without-doctrinal-compromise of groups like the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest showed the hierarchy that such a situation was possible? Scoff if you will, but I can make assumptions as well as anyone else. What pull would the traditional Mass have had on the Church if no one "inside" the Church was actually celebrating it? If it had been the sole property of the so-called "schismatics" of the SSPX? I think to ask that question is to answer it.
And so, though I get the perfectly understandable "pride" (in the good sense) of the SSPX'er who says, hey, give us some credit for preserving the Mass of all ages, it must be noted that there is danger of Pride (in the bad sense) if by that one means that the SSPX saved the Mass in a fundamental sense, denying God's sovereignty, or even worse if the SSPX "saved" the Church.
Because, as Monsignor Wach often says, "We do not save the Church. The Church saves us."
Along these lines, as I have written before, there is a great need for humility on all sides as we pray for a good understanding between the Holy Father and the SSPX.
The "traditional apostolate", as Bishop Fellay calls it, began in A.D. 33. But even in its more recent form, it was carried on in many places since 1962, 1969, 1984, 1988, 1990, 2007, or whatever other date one may select. The restoration of the Mass, the liturgy, the Sacraments, and the Church has only one author, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Maria, Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis!