Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Has the Vatican shut the door on the SSPX talks? Not likely

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 08, 2012

You may be reading, on various other sites carrying news of the Catholic world, that the Vatican has announced an end to talks with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Not so.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told a German interviewer that the Church would not negotiate away the content of the Catholic faith. More specifically, he said that all Catholics—including members of the SSPX—are bound to accept the teachings of Vatican II. (That’s not news, by the way. The Church has required acceptance of the teachings of Vatican II since…well, since Vatican II.) So the door is closed only to those who adamantly refuse to accept Vatican II. If that describes some members of the SSPX, then they have closed the door; Archbishop Müller didn’t.

The essential problem in the Vatican-SSPX talks is the interpretation of Vatican II. Those who see Vatican II as revolutionary—and such people can easily be found on both ends of the Catholic spectrum—would interpret Archbishop Müller’s statement as a sign that there is no hope of reconciliation. Pope Benedict has insisted that the Council can only properly be understood in continuity with the entire history of Catholic thought. Therein lies the key remaining conflict. Already the Vatican has conceded that many Council statements are open to interpretation and debate. Can the SSPX come to see Vatican II teachings within the “hermeneutic of continuity,” as a genuine expression of the teaching magisterium?

At the moment there are no formal talks scheduled between the Vatican and the SSPX. But that too is quite understandable. The Vatican apparently has not yet received an official response from Bishop Bernard Fellay to a formal offer of reconciliation. If there are to be further doctrinal discussions, they would be scheduled only after the SSPX responds to the offer that is now on the table.

There’s yet another reason to recognize that the stories circulating during the past few days have been inaccurate: The Church never closes the door on anyone. It may be true that the extraordinary push toward reconciliation, undertaken at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, has now run its course. But if SSPX leaders make their own bid for reconciliation—whether it is in a few months or a few years—they will surely find the Vatican ready to listen.

A great deal has been said in recent weeks about the impasse in Vatican-SSPX talks. But nothing—repeat, nothing—has been said officially. The prelates in positions of authority, such as Bishop Fellay and Archbishop Müller, have been careful in their public statements, making no final declarations. Those statements have often been interpreted (and over-interpreted) by other observers, who may have their own axes to grind. All such analyses should be handled with care.

Since the last round of Vatican-SSPX talks, the only official action took place in July at the SSPX general chapter, which approved “the necessary conditions for an eventual canonical normalization.” Those conditions were approved, remember, after the SSPX received the formal offer from the Vatican, with whatever requirements it included. Thus, after the last word from Rome, the formal response from SSPX was a discussion of how to continue talks—and, still more important, to conclude them.

The bottom line: There are plenty of people who would like to think—and perhaps like you to think—that the Vatican-SSPX talks are dead. The people actually conducting the talks evidently think otherwise. In any sort of negotiations, the toughest statements are often issued just before an agreement is reached. It’s entirely possible that’s what is happening here.

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 - Oct. 23, 2012 8:52 PM ET USA

    Rorate has learned and can confirm that Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and co-consecrated by Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer on June 30, 1988, in Écône, Switzerland, for the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX) has been removed from membership in said society by its Superior General, and can now be considered a former member... -Rorate Caeli

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 16, 2012 8:21 PM ET USA

    "The prolonged period of separation has led certain members to confusion in theology. Deep down, these persons set faith in opposition to law, as if union with the pope, the primacy of the pope, were just a minor question of law. Separating the legitimacy of the pope from the Faith, and reducing his legitimacy to a merely juridical question, is a sign of great danger. Finally it comes from a Protestant view of the Church... The papacy belongs to the domain of Faith." -Fr. Pfluger SSPX

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 09, 2012 7:25 PM ET USA

    It is clear that both sides have not written this off. The irony is that contrary to conventional wisdom the SSPX does understand the Faith, and Bishop Fellay in particular understands the indispensibility and the vitality of the papacy. The bishop of Rome is the Vicar of Christ absolutely and necessarily. The "hermeneutic of continuity" will almost certainly require a more precise definition for a reconciliation to occur. Is this too much to ask in these tremendously troubled times for souls?

  • Posted by: demark8616 - Oct. 09, 2012 2:38 AM ET USA

    "The bottom line: There are plenty of people who would like to think—and perhaps like you to think—that the Vatican-SSPX talks are dead." Hear! Hear! So it guess is that some people (especially those who consider themselves Traditional)perceive a 'return' to Rome as a confirmation that they are/have been somehow 'in the wrong'- not a cosy feeling!