Clock ticking as Vatican calls Catholic rebels’ bluff

June 24, 2008

While most attention on the Godbeat is focused this week on a possible but not probable Anglican schism, the Vatican has started the clock ticking on a real Catholic schism it wants to settle once and for all. And it wants an answer by Saturday (not much Anglican-style muddling through there!). A slow and patient strategy by Pope Benedict to deal with the traditionalist rebels in the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has now reached the endgame phase.

Andrea TornielliAndrea Tornielli (left), the well-informed vaticanista of the Milan daily Il Giornale, has produced two scoops in recent days about an ultimatum the Vatican has presented to the “Lefebvrists”. He first reported in Il Giornale on Monday that the pontifical commission “Ecclesia Dei” had told SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay that the Swiss-based rebel group should accept by June 28 the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the validity of the new Mass (“Novus Ordo”) that replaced the old Latin Mass if it wanted to return to the full communion with Rome that was broken in 1988. Tornielli reported today on his blog Sacri Palazzi the actual conditions as written to Fellay (see Fr. Z’s English translation). If the SSPX accepts them, it can become a “prelature” within the Catholic Church, much like Opus Dei is now. If not, they lost their best chance at rejoining Rome and having any influence on the Vatican.

They have already had considerable influence. Pope Benedict has resurrected the old Latin Mass, one of the main SSPX demands. But that was not actually the heart of the matter. His demand that the SSPX must in return accept Vatican II, including its statements on religious freedom, is the one that sticks in the Lefebvrists’ throats the most. This two-track approach seems to be a strategy to welcome back those traditionalists who really just wanted the Latin Mass, and isolate the harder-line types who rejected Vatican II completely.

Sacri Palazzi blog logoThe conditions, as Tornielli lists them, are written in code to make them as acceptable as possible to the SSPX. So they do not mention accepting Vatican II reforms, but the demand to “avoid the pretence of a Magisterium superior to the Holy Father” and “to demonstrate the will to behave honestly in full ecclesial charity and in respect to the authority of the Vicar of Christ” covers that. Another condition is that the SSPX “avoid any public speech which does not respect the person of the Holy Father and which can be negative for ecclesial charity”. This is effectively a muzzle on SSPX leaders who can be surprisingly critical of the Vatican they say they want to rejoin.

SSPX Bishop Bernard Fellay, 13 Jan 2006/Franck PrevelOnly a few weeks ago, Fellay produced just the kind of outburst that would be banned if he accepts these conditions. In a sermon commenting on Benedict’s visit to the United States, he said: “And now, we have an absolutely liberal Pope, my very dear brothers. He went to this country [the United States] founded on Masonic principles of a revolution, of a rebellion against God. And, well, he expressed his admiration and fascination for this country that has decided to grant liberty to all religions. He went so far as to condemn the confessional State. And they call him a traditionalist? Yes, this is the truth. He is absolutely liberal and absolutely contradictory. He has some good sides, which we hail and for which we rejoice, such as what he has done for the Traditional liturgy. What a mystery, my very dear brothers, what a mystery!”

Father John Zuhlsdorf of the blog What Does The Prayer Really Say?, a sharp observer of such things, wonders if this is a “papal ‘offer you can’t refuse'”. He hopes they will take it and lists a number of ways they could accept it without having to concede too much. But I doubt a group of schismatics fired up by rhetoric like this will be able to swallow the five conditions by Saturday. My hunch, based on talks over the years with the charming Fellay and some of his less flexible associates, is that they cannot unanimously accept this. It will most probably split the leadership, which may be part of Benedict’s approach. Fellay was down in Rome recently to work this deal out. But it’s still unclear which way he will jump.

Any bets in the meantime on what the SSPX will decide? Let us know what you think.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I do not know Tom Heneghan or Andrea Tornielli, but they take the usual and by now extremely moldy argument that the Society is in schism and that this–at this particular juncture, through this historical event without precedence–will be the last chance we have to heal the schism. If they knew how long we have had to endure such condescending offal, they might think twice before writing it.

If indeed Rome has offered Bishop Fellay anything really “new,” we shall of course hear about it in due course. But I doubt–as all the faithful who stay with the Church through the Society should doubt–that there is anything new under the sun. No, I don’t think so. Rome is offering again a prelature, and that all the Society need do is accept Vatican II and the validity of the New Mass to enter into “full communion” which is the Pearl of Great Price (!). What right-thinking person could turn down such an agreement?

They pretend in their current farce that by criticizing Vatican II and the Novus Ordo we are criticizing the pope, as in the pope’s person. But this we have never done. We rather recognize the right to criticize the actions of the pope because the are objectively sinful and scandalous to the faithful. We criticize Vatican II because it has gone against the faith that was always preached and practiced for 20 centuries. We criticize the Novus Ordo because it is an amalgam of the most liberal Protestant liturgies. We understand that by criticizing so we do not detract from the pope’s person or his office, but rather we uphold the papacy while upholding the faith for which it was instituted.

This traditional Roman Catholic (and I hardly think I am alone) will certainly NOT take the offer. It is poison. All we need to do is accept Vatican II? Vatican II will be interpreted in the light of Catholic Tradition–not this new “living tradition.” This will happen at some future date when Rome has condemned again the tenets of modernism and the Holy Office can sift the decrees of Vatican II–probably during Vatican III. Do not give me bread infested with bubonic plague when I ask for the Blessed Sacrament. And do not tell me your Ordinary Rite is at all Ordinary in my Church. It was heretically composed and illegally imposed, and it will die as all purely human things will die. It is possibly valid (depending on circumstances), but certainly not Catholic.

No, the Society of St. Pius X cannot and will not accept an agreement of this kind when there is no agreement whatsoever in doctrine. When Rome is again preaching the Roman Catholic faith, then the Society will submit to Rome.


Posted by Gandalf | Report as abusive

Mumbo-jumbo, power games, and facile demands from an ex brown shirt?

Just proves my belief that the Catholic church is morally bankrupt.

A church riddled with bigotry, hypocrisy, spite, malice, greed, control freakery, persecution and clandestine plotting and dark machinations.

Deus ex machina? No. God has nothing to do with it. God, if he existed, would have smited the Catholic church long ago.

The Catholic church is principally a money-making organisation with an empire of poor subscribers who are robbed of their freewill to use, for example, condoms.

It also promulgates persecution of homosexuals and anyone who does not agree with their churches edicts.

They also deny priests rights to get married or even to be homosexual. Like they smell the coffee?

No wonder with a disreputable history drenched in the blood of the people the church has had murdered, vicitimised and tortured. One of the Catholic church’s favourite punishments for those who denied its supremacy, was to be tossed screaming onto a huge bonfire – sometimes sevaral poor souls at a time.

It also supported slavery and gave a nod of approval to the German fascist government – even after it knew about the death camps.

Popes are used to getting their own way, as any dictatorial king would be.

And that is what the Catholic church is all about: a kingdom run by big money and a divide and conquor ethos.

Anyone who is or is thinking of being, a Catholic, should have their head examined!

And as for Tony Blair…

Posted by The Truth Is… | Report as abusive


You write about some supposedly “extremely moldy argument that the Society is in schism.” There is nothing moldy about an argument that fits the situation. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines schism as:

a. a formal division within, or separation from, a church or religious body over some doctrinal difference.
b. the state of a sect or body formed by such division.
c. the offense of causing or seeking to cause such a division.

Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 after ordaining four bishops (including Bishop Fellay) against the orders of the Vatican. The Vatican confirmed they had been excommunicated. The deeper reason for the split was the SSPX’s refusal to accept the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

What part of this does not fit the definition of schism?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

To add to the confusion, Cardinal Hoyos constantly says that the SSPX are not ‘in schism’, but later on calls them ‘schismatic in nature’.

Yeah, my expression exactly, “huh?”

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive