Vatican says efforts to heal rift with SSPX traditionalists are “encouraging”

April 18, 2012

(A traditionalist priest prays during an SSPX ordination ceremony in Econe, southwest Switzerland June 29, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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.

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“An ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic splinter group” is a misrepresentation if ever there was one. If Roman Catholic’s who adhere to guidance of many a previous pontiff are going to be regarding as “ultra-traditionalist”, then the “mainstream” catholics need be regarding as “ultra-liberal” and out of touch with Roman Catholic dogmas and many encyclicals of previous popes’.

Posted by matthew673 | Report as abusive

Isn’t the Chruch supposed to pray that all people (including Jews) recognize Christ. This PC culture of ours will dilute the purity of Catholicism. The LAtin MAss should be the de facto Mass for the Chruch.

Posted by CGeoppo | Report as abusive

OK, I’ll bite. How could SSPX be a “splinter” group when as you yourself note in the article they are the ones who refused to go along with the changes brought on by Vatican II. How can you be a splinter group by refusing to splinter off, i.e. veer from traditional practices? Doesn’t that make Rome the splinter group?

Also your mention of SSPX opposition to dialogue “particularly with the Jews” demonstrates a breathtaking superficiality in understanding the nature of the SSPX opposition to Vatican II changes and strongly suggests a cheap attempt at back-handed accusations of anti-Semitism against the group. Bad form, author. Get your facts straight.

Posted by StevenDedalus | Report as abusive

@Steven, You ask how SSPX can be a splinter group, yet you admit to their opposition to Vatican II changes…you excommunicate yourself.

Posted by fredgarvin | Report as abusive

These comments are typical responses of anyone who knows about or follows a subject. I am always disappointed when I read or hear from the media about a subject that I am familiar with. It causes me to wonder why I bother to read about stuff I do not know about. I am most likely to get the wrong story. Williamson did not deny the holocaust but stated that the number of Jews killed were exaggerated.

Posted by jking1962 | Report as abusive