SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again
The ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops recently readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, looks set to push the envelope with Rome again by ordaining 21 new priests in three different countries on June 27.* Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, the German diocese where the SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen plans to ordain three of those men, has declared the planned ordinations a violation of Church law and has urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with them. He told Bavarian Radio on Sunday that he hadn’t heard back from Rome yet and would bring up the issue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) personally on his next monthly trip there.
*CORRECTION: Not all will be ordained that day — 13 priests will be ordained in Minnesota on June 19.
(Photo: Bishop Müller, 21 Sept 2007/Michael Dalder)
In the subtle ways of the Vatican, a non-response from Rome to a bishop’s query is like the yellow signal on a traffic light. It’s neither yes nor no, in that vague way that says if it’s not openly forbidden, one might be able to live with it, but, uh, we don’t want to put that in writing, so over to you. The question now is whether the Vatican will opt to live with this latest challenge to its authority.
The Vatican has made several concessions to the SSPX, the biggest being the lifting in January of the 1988 excommunications of its four bishops. This meant they were back in good standing as Catholics, but they had no official function as bishops and therefore (presumably) should not use their episcopal privileges without permission from their ecclesiastical superiors. But once the uproar over the Holocaust denials by SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson died down, the SSPX announced it would go ahead with the planned ordinations — three in Zaitzkofen, 13 at the St Thomas Aquinas Seminary at Winona, Minnesota and the rest at the SSPX headquarters at Ecône, Switzerland. “The benevolent act of the Holy See cannot be interpreted as a desire to asphyxiate the Society of St. Pius X,” it said in a statement.
Pope Benedict, in an extraordinary mea culpa letter after the uproar over Williamson, called the lifting of the excommunications a “discreet gesture of mercy” and “a gesture of reconciliation.” He then asked: “Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole?” He said that welcoming back other rebel communities had “changed their interior attitudes” and “enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole.” So Benedict seems to see the lifting of the excommunications as a magnanimous gesture that would be matched by more flexibility from the steadfast SSPX.
(Photo: Pope Benedict, 7 June 2009/Max Rossi)
In an June 1 interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Müller said he contacted the Zaitzkofen seminary after learning of the planned ordinations. “I told them the ordinations violated canon law and that, in such a precarious situation, one must let Rome say how to proceed … One must simply suspend everything until this society’s position in canon law is cleared up. In the letter the society wrote to the pope in January, it said it fully accepted the pope’s primacy … they are not prepared to accept the consequences.”
On Bavarian Radio, he said the CDF “should say, in a theologically clear way, that both those seeking and those performing the ordinations are not acting legally and the ordinations are therefore not allowed, even if they are formally valid.” He said he wanted to ask the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada, about this.
Do you agree with Bishop Müller that the SSPX decision to proceed with the ordinations is a provocation? Should the Vatican put its foot down and insist these bishops show the respect for authority that they pledged in their appeal for the excommunications to be lifted? Or should Rome let them go ahead, in the interest of healing the only schism resulting from the Second Vatican Council?