Catholic World News News Feature
Pope to meet traditionalist leader August 26, 2005
Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior-general of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), on August 29, to discuss the prospects for reconciliation between the Vatican and the schismatic group.
Although the Vatican has not yet confirmed plans for the meeting, officials of the Roman Curia have unofficially acknowledged the accuracy of reports within the SSPX about the coming meeting.
According to those reports, Bishop Fellay will meet with the Pontiff and with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos was charged by Pope John Paul II with the task of seeking to restore unity with the traditionalists. Bishop Fellay will be accompanied to the meeting by Father Arnaud Sélégny, the secretary-general of the SSPX. The talks will take place at the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
The SSPX was founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, an outspoken defender of the Latin Mass and critic of Vatican II statements on religious freedom. Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 after he ordained four new bishops for the traditionalist group in defiance of a Vatican ban.
Bishop Richard Williamson, the director of an SSPX seminary in Argentina, disclosed plans for the meeting with Pope Benedict in an internet newsletter. Bishop Williamson, the leader of a hard-line faction within the traditionalist group, made it clear that he was unhappy with the prospects for the meeting.
In a July interview with an SSPX publication, Bishop Fellay said that when he met with Pope Benedict, he would ask the Pontiff to authorize the universal use of the Tridentine mass. He also said that he would ask the Pope to retract the decrees of excommunication against Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops he consecrated. Bishop Fellay added that these two requests would be the starting point for discussions with the Holy See. He added that traditionalists would also wish to discuss doctrinal issues, but the freedom to celebrate the Latin Mass would be a concrete step forward, bringing about an immediate "change of atmosphere and spirit within the Church."
Most traditionalists were encouraged when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger-- who is known for his sympathy toward the Latin Mass -- was elected Roman Pontiff. But traditionalist critics like Bishop Williamson question whether it is possible to reach accord with any Pope who upholds the teachings of Vatican II.
Talks between the Holy See and the SSPX have been marked by frustration, with each prospect for reconciliation thwarted by the adamant opposition of hard-line traditionalists within the schismatic group, or progressive prelates in Rome. Serious negotiations began in 2000, when Pope John Paul launched a drive for a reconciliation during the Jubilee Year. But despite several rumors of an imminent accord-- and a separate agreement that restored full communion between the Vatican and another breakaway traditionalist group in Brazil-- the talks to date have been unfruitful.
Pope Benedict XVI is well placed to conduct negotiations with the traditionalist group. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he engaged in last-minute talks with Archbishop Lefebvre, in an unsuccessful bid to forestall the rupture in 1988. In 2002, he corresponded privately with Bishop Fellay in another bid to resume the theological dialogue.