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.
Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, chairman of the French Bishops Conference, held a press briefing on Saturday evening on the lifting of excommunications of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). France is home to the largest of the provinces of the dissident group, with around 100,000 faithful of a worldwide total of 600,000. Sitting in a medieval meeting room in Notre Dame cathedral, he defended Pope Benedict’s decision to take the four bishops back into the Roman Catholic Church and indicated the SSPX would have to bend to Church discipline.
Pope Benedict is reportedly planning to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist Catholic bishops who have defied the Vatican for decades by rejecting some central reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Andrea Tornielli, the well-informed vaticanista of the Italian daily Il Giornale, says the decree inviting the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back to the Roman fold should be announced this weekend. If this is true (which, given Tornielli’s track record, it presumably is), the unanswered question now is: who caved?
The arch-traditionalist Catholic Fraternity of Saint Pius X hopes that praying the rosary will help them where repeating their positions has not. The SSPX leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has urged his followers to pray a million rosaries to the Virgin Mary by Christmas “to obtain by her intercession the withdrawal of the excommunication decree.” The SSPX’s founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and its four bishops — including Fellay — were excommunicated when Lefebvre consecrated them as bishops in 1988 against the will of the Vatican.
Pope Benedict’s speech to France’s bishops at Lourdes was a classic example of an “iron first in a velvet glove” address. Delivered calmly and in elegant French, it basically laid down the law to a group that has been among the most critical in the Church of his turn towards traditional Catholicism. It was billed as a meeting but was in fact a monologue. He read it out without hardly ever looking at the 170 cardinals and bishops before him and left right after finishing the text.
The schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has reacted to a Vatican ultimatum by challenging the conditions Rome set for its return to the Catholic fold. By sending this in a letter, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay partly fulfilled one condition of the ultimatum, i.e. answering by the end of this month. But he did not fulfill the more important other half of that requirement, i.e. that he respond positively. In fact, he told the Vatican that other conditions — to accept papal authority and not criticise the pope — were too vague to be accepted, according to SSPX spokesman Rev. Alain Lorans. As Lorans put it: “You can say he’s not responding, despite answering it.”
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.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was at Westminster Cathedral in London over the weekend to lead one of the highest profile celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church’s old Latin Mass here since the 1960s. The Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has been lukewarm about the prospect of the old rite being celebrated alongside Mass in English, so the cardinal’s presence was a clear reminder of what the Vatican wants.
There is speculation in Rome that Pope Benedict might receive about 400,000 (yes, 400,000) Traditional Anglican Communion members into the Roman Catholic Church this summer, after the official Anglican Communion finishes its ten-yearly Lambeth Conference on August 3. Both the Church of England Newspaper in the U.K. and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. have run stories on this. Both sides are subscribers only, so all links here are to reports about them.