Catholic World News News Feature
Traditionalist leader, Vatican prelate spar after meeting September 01, 2005
The traditionalist Catholics of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) could be reconciled to the Holy See if they would recognize Vatican authority, according to an influential Roman prelate. But a leader of the SSPX said that the Vatican should take the first step.
Cardinal Francesco Pompedda, the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, made his comments to the Italian daily La Stampa after Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the traditionalist group, met with Pope Benedict XVI.
Full communion with the Lefebvrists can only be achieved “if the SSPX submits itself to the legitimate authority of the Pope” and recognizes the validity of Vatican II decrees, the Italian cardinal said.
He added that the traditionalists should explicitly recognize “the validity of papal elections form the death of Pius XII up until today.” Cardinal Pompedda observed that some traditionalists have questioned the validity of papal elections during that period.
“If those points are accepted, then the Latin Mass will no longer be a problem—as John Paul II has already conceded,” the cardinal said. The SSPX has asked for a “universal indult” that would recognize the right of Catholic priests throughout the world to celebrate Mass in the Tridentine rite.
Cardinal Pompedda argued, however, that “the real problem is not the Latin Mass.” He said that the SPPX was founded upon “an attitude of condemnation of the Second Vatican Council.”
Although the meeting between Pope Benedict and Bishop Fellay has generated new optimism about a possible reconciliation, Cardinal Pompedda said that he did not perceive a “new climate between the two parties.” He said, instead, that there is now “hope that the SSPX will really take the steps” that are necessary to reconcile with the Vatican. The cardinal explained that “it was not the Holy See that created the division,” but the defiance of the traditionalist groups. Only an end to that defiance will heal the schism, he said.
Father Franz Schmidberger, the principal assistant to Bishop Fellay at the SSPX, gave a very different interpretation of the situation to another Italian daily, Il Giornale . He said that the SSPX is already in communion with the universal Church, because “we consider outselves in union with the Church and her tradition, with the rite that has been celebrated for centuries, with all the saints in heaven."
The SSPX priest said that when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four traditionalist bishops in 1988 in defiance of the Holy See, precipitating the break with Rome, the act was “necessary for the good of the Church.” The traditionalist group remains committed to working for the good of the Church, “not to destroy or divide,” he said.
Father Schmidberger, who accompanied Bishop Fellay to Castel Gandolfo for the August 29 meeting with Pope Benedict, said that the discussion was “very positive.” He reported that when Bishop Fellay emphasized the Lefebvrists’ love for the Church, the Pope replied, “That is very important.” Father Schmidberger concluded that with the meeting, “We have begun the necessary process to heal deep wounds.”
The discussion with Pope Benedict did not center on specific difficulties, the SSPX aide revealed. “We spoke about the crisis in the Church,” he said. The Pope completely agreed with the traditionalists that there were many grave abuses within the Church, he said. But they did not entirely agree on the sources of the problem. From the SSPX perspective, Father Schmidberger said, the problems can be traced to “deformations born out of Vatican II, and a certain way of understanding ecumenism and religious liberty.” Father Schmidberger brushed aside questions about the canonical steps that would be necessary for a reconciliation of the SSPX with the Vatican; a proper juridical solution could easily be designed, he said, if the deeper issues were resolved. He said that the first step toward reconciliation should come from Rome, in the form of “liberalization of the use of the Missal of St. Pius V”—that is, the traditional Mass.