Vatican says efforts to heal rift with SSPX traditionalists are “encouraging”
An ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic splinter group has provided an “encouraging” response to Vatican demands that they accept non-negotiable doctrinal principles as a condition for their full re-entry into the Church.
The Vatican said on Wednesday it had received an answer from the dissident Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) to the Holy See’s ultimatum a month ago that the group clarify its doctrinal position or risk a painful break with Rome. “The response is encouraging, it is a step forward,” said Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.
He said the Vatican’s doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would study the response, formulate a position and pass its recommendation to Pope Benedict.
The Swiss-based SSPX, which rejects some of the reforms made at the historic 1962 Second Vatican Council, defied Rome in 1988 by illegally consecrating four bishops, triggering their excommunication by the late Pope John Paul.
Last month, the Vatican told the group, which is headed by Swiss-born Bishop Bernard Fellay, that after years of negotiations their response was still “insufficient” to overcome doctrinal problems at the root of the split with Rome. The SSPX says it has about 500 priests and one million followers in 38 countries.
Benedict lifted the excommunications of SSPX bishops in 2009 in a gesture of reconciliation and made some concessions to the group, such as allowing the wider use of the traditional Latin Mass favoured by the SSPX.
The pope values the SSPX’s commitment to Church traditions and wants to avoid their movement creating a permanent schism claiming to be Catholic but outside Vatican control.
The negotiations to heal the rift have been bogged down by agreement on the exact wording of a still-secret preamble to an agreement between the two sides that would enshrine the group’s position on doctrine and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
The 85-year-old Benedict’s opening to the traditionalists has met with resistance in many quarters of the Church, particularly because of the group’s reluctance to hold dialogues with other religions, particularly with Jews.
Many Catholics regard the old mass as nostalgic, rigid and something that turns the clock back on the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which many saw as bringing the Church into modern times.
The return of the Latin liturgy has been controversial even in inter-religious relations. During Good Friday services in the old liturgy, traditionalists still pray that Jews will “recognise Jesus Christ as the saviour of all men”.
The Vatican must also resolve the status of British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, who caused an uproar by denying the Holocaust just before Benedict lifted the excommunication bans on him and the other SSPX bishops.