FaithWorld

UPDATE: SSPX to ordain new priests despite Vatican warning

econe-1The Vatican warning to the ultra-traditionalist SSPX not to ordain new priests this month without Roman approval had no discernible effect on the rebel Catholic group. Soon after the Vatican declared the ordinations would be illegitimate, Father Yves Le Roux, rector of the SSPX’s St Thomas Aquinas seminary in Winona, Minnesota, said the ordination of 13 new priests there would go ahead on Friday.

“Absolutely. We are doing it,” he told our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella by telephone. “This is something the Vatican feels it has to say. It’s a political statement but the reality is totally different.” (Photo: SSPX ordains deacons in Écône, Switzerland, 3 April 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

The SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen, in the German state of Bavaria, declared its intention to go ahead with its June 27 ordinations in a statement posted on its website on Monday (here in German original and in English). It argued that Pope Benedict’s decision in January to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops was a “confidence-building measure for the coming theological discussions with representatives of the Holy See” meant to thrash out an official position in the Church for the SSPX.” Further ordinations are due at the SSPX headquarters in Écône, Switzerland on June 29.

Defying a papal warning against ordaining new priests before its official status was clarified seems to be the opposite of a confidence-building measure on the SSPX’s part. As the BBC’s David Willey put it in his report from Rome tonight, Pope Benedict “gave them an inch and they took a mile.”

So the SSPX has thrown the ball back into the Vatican’s court. The Vatican statement said “the ordinations should still be considered illegitimate” and “doctrinal and, consequently, also disciplinary questions still remain open.” That leaves open the option of a further reaction from Rome, or possibly from Regensburg Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Or there might be no reaction, just that curious Vatican silence that caused it such trouble after the Regensburg speech and the readmission of the Holocaust-denying SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson. That would leave the narrow issue unresolved and pose wider questions about Pope Benedict’s leadership.

Vatican throws down gauntlet to ultra-traditionalist SSPX

bollettinoThe Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet to the ultra- traditionalist Society of Saint Piux X (SSPX), which planned to ordain 27 new priests this month without approval from Rome. A statement by the Vatican press office today declared that the ordinations would be illegitimate. The four SSPX bishops were only readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church in January after 20 years of excommunication. If they go ahead and ordain the priests anyway, they could risk being disciplined — possibly even excommunicated — again.

The SSPX claims its fidelity to the old Latin Mass and rejection of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reforms represent authentic Catholicism as opposed to the “modernism” practiced in the world’s largest church since then. It has also claimed to be loyal to the pope, although this was always hedged with reservations about his authority because of the doctrinal dispute over Vatican II. Having won its bishops’ readmission without making any concessions, it looked set to test the limits again by ordaining priests without Vatican permission.

The Vatican statement quoted a March 10 letter by Pope Benedict to Catholic bishops saying the SSPX did not have any official status within the Church and would have to negotiate it in discussions with Rome. “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church,” he wrote.

SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again

mueller-regensburgThe 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.

Pope clarifies Vatican stand four days after lifting SSPX bans

(Photo: Pope Benedict at his weekly Vatican audience, 28 Jan 2009/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict clarified a crucial point in the Vatican’s dispute with the rebel traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) during his regular weekly audience today. Apart from the issue of Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust, which has angered Jewish leaders and caught most of the headlines, the decision to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops raised serious concerns among many Catholics because it seemed to signal a departure from reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council. Specifically, by lifting the bans without demanding the SSPX bishops first recognise all Council reforms, it looked like Benedict was not trying to defend these Church teachings against their most implacable critics. Benedict has long been a champion of a conservative re-interpretation of the Council so any concessions he makes to the SSPX go beyond the narrow issue involved.

The Second Vatican Council was a major and complex event (well explained in the new book What Happened At Vatican II by Georgetown University Professor John W. O’Malley pictured at right). Its reforms include the opening to Jews, Muslims and other religions and a commitment to religious freedom. They replaced earlier teachings that Jews were Christ-killers, that all other faiths were deeply in error and that democracy and the separation of church and state were modernist aberrations. Many Catholics would not be able to recognise their own Church if it went back to those notions. Some would even leave if it did.  But the SSPX officially rejects these reforms as grave errors and it refused to agree to them as a pre-condition for having the excommunications lifted.

The fact that Benedict agreed to lift the bans without gaining this concession from them (which the Vatican was demanding as late as last June) prompted speculation that he would fudge this condition in the negotiations due with the SSPX to regularise their status within the Church. SSPX Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay fuelled this suspicion by writing a triumphant letter to his followers clearly stating he had not made this concession (the Vatican statement was not clear on this point). Statements from the Vatican in reaction to the uproar about Williamson have been curiously defensive. Church officials have said his views were unacceptable and not related to the excommunication issue. Those statements were fine as far as they went. But they never shifted to the offensive and said, “And what’s more, we’ll demand that they sign up to all Vatican II documents.” The whole episode led Catholics to ask, as did blogger David Gibson, “Why so much for this group?”

German-speaking bishops insist SSPX accepts opening to Jews

Catholic bishops in the German-speaking countries have been especially outspoken in demanding the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), whose four excommunicated bishops were welcomed back into the Church on Saturday, must explicitly accept Second Vatican Council documents assuring respect for the Jews. The Vatican had been demanding full acceptance of Council documents for years, including in a compromise it offered last June but the SSPX rejected it. As far as is known, it was not part of the deal that has now led to the bans being lifted. The issue has hit the headlines because one of the four, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, openly denied the Holocaust in an interview on Swedish television broadcast last week. (Photo: St. Peter’s Basilica, 5 Feb 2005/Tom Heneghan)

The German Bishops Conference noted the four bishops, whose dissent against Rome mostly concerned its rejection of the Council reforms including a modern liturgy and recognition for Judaism and other religions, must now discuss their future status in the Church with Vatican officials. “We have the clear expectation and make the urgent request that the four bishops and the Society announce unmistakably and credibly their loyalty to the Second Vatican Council and especially the declaration ‘ostra Aetate,’ said a statement by Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, its main official for relations with Jews. Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, is the cornerstone of the post-Council opening to Jews, Muslims and other religions.

Munich’s Archbishop Reinhard Marx said Williamson’s comments were “unspeakable, unacceptable…” and added “Every denial of the Holocaust must be punished harshly.” In a statement, he noted the Vatican would now negotiate the conditions of the four bishops’ return into the Church. “There is no doubt that the decisions of the Second Vatican Council are binding for that.”

Unanswered question about “suicide tourism” in Switzerland

Undertakers remove body of assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs“Suicide tourism” in Switzerland exerts a morbid fascination on the media. The assisted suicide group Dignitas, which opened in 1998, is rarely out of the news, especially in Britain (here are some of the latest stories on Google). In a rare interview last March, its founder Ludwig Minelli said it had helped 840 people to die to date, 60% of them Germans.

Another “right to die” group, Exit, gets less attention abroad because it only deals with Swiss citizens. But it seems to be just as active, if not more so. Founded in 1982, it says it gets 150-180 requests for assisted suicide annually.

There have been several polls showing general public support for these groups — the latest one says 61 percent of the Swiss approve of assisted suicide. But until recently, there has not been any serious study of the people who seek these groups out. Are there patterns in the types of people or their reasons for ending their lives this way?

Swiss government speaks out against proposed minaret ban

The minaret of the Mahmud Mosque in Zurich, 23 May 2007/Christian HartmannDisputes about building mosques in Europe can get quite heated, snarling both opponents and proponents in bitter and emotional debates such as the Cologne mosque controversy we’ve written about here before. The far-right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and some allies recently gathered enough signatures to force a national referendum on whether to ban the construction of minarets there. But while the anti-mosque movement has used oft-heard charges that minarets represent Islamic power that threatens law and order, the Swiss government has come up with an unusually detailed 49-page report opposing the ban. It combines legal and political arguments with such detail and precision that it could become a reference for pro-mosque/minaret arguments elsewhere in Europe.

The anti-minaret movement is getting support in some small Swiss towns where Islamic centres want to build minarets. Minarets already stand in some big cities like Zurich and Geneva and they would not be effected by the proposed constitutional amendment that simply says “The construction of minarets is forbidden.”

The government sent the Justice Department report to parliament with a simple cover letter urging the deputies to reject it. Here is the text (in German) and a summary (in English). Among the objections it laid out in lawyerly detail were that the proposal:

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

Euro 2008: do Catholic countries have the edge?

The Euro 2008 flag flutters near Zurich’s Grossmünster church, 25 May 2008/Arnd Wiegmann“Do Catholic countries have better football players?”

I was surprised to see this headline on the Austrian Catholic website kath.net today… and even more surprised to see they seemed to mean it seriously.

“A look at the participants in the final round of the European football championship in Switzerland and Austria suggests this,” kath.net writes in a report from Vienna. “In seven of the 16 participating countries, Catholics are clearly in the majority: Poland (95 percent of the population), Spain (92 percent), Italy (90 percent), Portugal (90 percent), Croatia (77 percent), Austria (69 percent ) and France (51 percent). Only one Protestant stronghold confronts them, Sweden. Of the 8.8 million inhabitants of the northern European country, 80 percent are Lutherans.”

Poland’s team with coach Leo Beenhakker (C) attends Mass in Bad Waltersdorf, 6 June 2008/stringerThere’s no hint of analysis of why this should be relevant, or mention of the personal faith — or lack thereof — of the players on these national teams. This purely statistical view (sports fans love stats, don’t they?) goes on to point out which participating countries have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants (Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands).

Faith factors at play in two European elections at the weekend

Two general elections on Sunday made it an interesting weekend on the religion&politics beat in Europe. Put simply, a pro-Catholic party lost in Poland and an anti-minaret party won in Switzerland. There was no link between the two votes and religion was not the main issue in either. But the faith factor was in the air and it highlighted two trends at the crossroads of church and state in Europe.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (L) in church with brother Lech (R) and Lech’s wifePoland’s Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost his election despite strong support from the powerful media empire of right-wing Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, whose outlets include the controversial Radio Maryja that critics call xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech , Poland’s president, have enjoyed support from older Poles and many clerics because of their fervent Catholicism. But Jaroslaw’s government got mired down in infighting and picked fights with the European Union, Germany and Russia. The Polish bishops, sensing the Church was being used for political purposes, told priests not to use the pulpit to endorse any candidates.

The Polish Catholic Church played a major political role before 1989, standing as an alternative to the Soviet-backed communist government in Warsaw. Since then, however, democracy, economic growth and European Union membership have changed the country profoundly. The close ties between some conservative political parties and the Catholic Church faded in most of Europe years ago and are fading now in Poland, even while a majority of Poles still attends church regularly.