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Are Vatican-SSPX talks heating up?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 20, 2010

The notorious Bishop Williamson sees no realistic hope for an agreement between the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the Vatican. He makes his point in deliberately provocative language: “Either the SSPX becomes a traitor or Rome converts or it’s a dialogue of the deaf.”

Is Bishop Williamson’s pugnacious statement an indication that the talks between the SSPX and the Vatican are headed nowhere? On the contrary; I think it’s a sign that they are moving along nicely.

According to the French-language Roman news agency I Media, there have been “secret” talks between Vatican officials and SSPX representatives, apart from the “official” talks that have been duly reported to the press. If that report is accurate—and I Media has a very good track record for accuracy—then a back channel has been opened, allowing for even faster work toward reconciliation.

But not everyone wants reconciliation. There are hardliners within the SSPX, who oppose any potential compromise with Rome. Bishop Williamson is among them. It was always unlikely that Williamson would be reconciled; it seemed inevitable from the outset that if the SSPX reached an accommodation with the Vatican, Bishop Williamson would lead a breakaway faction, denounce the SSPX leadership, and remain separated from Rome. In that light, his statement (“the SSPX becomes a traitor or Rome converts”) can be seen as a threat, more than an analysis.

Rome isn’t going to “convert.” The Holy See will remain what it is: the central teaching authority of the Catholic Church. The Vatican will not renounce the teachings of Vatican II. So Bishop Williamson will not be satisfied. Therefore, by his logic, an agreement will mean that the SSPX has turned traitor, leaving Williamson and his supporters as the only remaining “true believers.” He has set the stage for his own rebellion against a group that might be preparing to end its own rebellion against the Vatican.

Now why would Bishop Williamson issue such a threat, and set up such a scenario? The most plausible reason, I suggest, is that he knows the SSPX and the Vatican are moving quickly toward a reconciliation. He’s trying to derail the process. The coarse intensity of his statement signals a measure of desperation on his part. That, in turn, could be a signal that a reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX is much closer than we realize. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 23, 2010 12:34 AM ET USA

    Pope Benedict's actions have been striking in their velocity and in their conformity to claims traditional Catholics have been making for decades. They have stunned even the most optimistic, and future historian's will marvel at the astonishing blitzkrieg reforms. He believed that the Church needed a spiritual bolus, and quickly. The Holy Father received over 1 million Rosaries from SSPX families in 2006. How many mainstream Catholics even know how to say their Rosaries? Watch and pray...

  • Posted by: - Jan. 20, 2010 7:57 PM ET USA

    Hopeful indeed! However, let's not gloss over, "The Vatican will not renounce the teachings of Vatican II." Virtually everybody, including the Pope, now concedes that not every word in Vatican II documents prudentially perfect--there were errors, as one would expect from both Church teaching and history. Just no binding errors concerning faith and morals. Thus there have already been renouncements of sorts concerning specific passages...which I suppose could be considered "teachings."