Catholic World News

SSPX-Vatican problems hinge on authority of Vatican II

July 24, 2012

A letter from a leading official of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and an interview with the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have confirmed that the authority of Vatican II remains the obstacle to reconciliation between the traditionalist group and the Holy See.

In a July 18 letter to district superiors, Father Christian Thouvenot, the secretary-general of the SSPX, revealed that the group had set certain conditions for signing the “doctrinal preamble” that would allow for regularization of the SSPX. First among these conditions was the insistence that the SSPX would remain free to “correct the promoters of the errors or the innovations of modernism, liberalism, and Vatican II and its aftermath.”

Father Thouvenot’s letter also said that the SSPX had demanded the right to use the traditional liturgy exclusively. That condition seems to present no major problem to the Vatican, since Summorum Pontificum allows for the use of the traditional liturgy.

However, the determination of the SSPX to “correct” the teachings of Vatican II could pose a major problem in continued negotiations with the Vatican. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, the newly installed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated flatly: “The assertion that the authentic teachings of Vatican II formally contradict the tradition of the Church is false.”

In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Muller said that he remains hopeful for a successful reconciliation with the SSPX. He explained that different texts of Vatican II hold different levels of teaching authority, and distinctions should be made between pastoral pronouncements and authoritative doctrinal statements. “Whatever is dogmatic can never be negotiated,” he said.

The archbishop allowed that there is ample room for discussion of how the Vatican II documents should be properly understood. With reference to the future of talks with the SSPX, he said: “The purpose of dialogue is to overcome difficulties in the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.”

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  • Posted by: - Jul. 25, 2012 11:32 AM ET USA

    The Church has conceded that between various texts of the Second Vatican Council there are “gradations” of teaching authority. This is the crux of the matter. SSPX is correct that many of the changes in Church teachings and interpretations resulting from Vatican II run counter to Catholic tradition and in retrospect have proven to be a variant of secularism and enormously detrimental to the Church. These sweeping “modernization” changes were introduced and pushed through by a cadre of powerful and influential secularists within the Church leadership and intelligentsia. The question now with SSPX is are these problematic secular changes official or not? Are they tied directly to the true Council (official Council teachings) and therefore “authentic”, or are they lower “gradations” of teaching authority or perhaps mis-interpretations of the Council’s authentic pronouncements? If nothing else SSPX is serving a critically needed function in forcing the Church to reexamine Vatican II, its reforms, and the resulting overall impact on the Church. There is much truth in SSPX’s contention that Vatican II failed on many fronts and that there remains “novelties of the Second Vatican Council which are tainted with errors”.

  • Posted by: demark8616 - Jul. 25, 2012 3:42 AM ET USA

    “The Church’s magisterial authority cannot be frozen back in time in 1962 – the Fraternity should get this clear. But those who put themselves across as great defenders of the Council should recall that the Second Vatican Council encapsulates the Church’s entire doctrinal history. Whoever wants to obey the Council must accept the faith professed over the centuries and cannot sever the roots which give the tree life." Pope Benedict XVI letter of 2009 to the bishops.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jul. 24, 2012 9:07 PM ET USA

    I am most curious as to just what the SSPX thinks they are going to "correct." Vatican II was really very much like a courageous parent giving a fledgling teenager the car keys for the first time. I will always maintain that the keeping of Vatican II is much more difficult than the keeping of Vatican I. Once the eagle knows how to fly there is no putting him back in the nest.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Jul. 24, 2012 7:52 PM ET USA

    Really - what kind of enhancement are you looking for? Solid Catholic education is availabble if you really are interested in learning more deeply about your Faith and the Church. The laity is more involved than ever before. "It's easy to be Catholic," a good priest once told me, "it's just easier not to be...". Christ's Church exists for the Salvation of souls; the one true path to ultimate truth, beauty, freedom, and Love. Nothing has changed regarding living the life.

  • Posted by: Jim.K - Jul. 24, 2012 7:02 PM ET USA

    "First among these conditions was the insistence that the SSPX would remain free to “correct the promoters of the errors or the innovations of modernism, liberalism, and Vatican II and its aftermath.” Perhaps they would like to be appointed "Pope" as I believe this all comes under his jurisdiction.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jul. 24, 2012 6:41 PM ET USA

    I think the SSPX have every right to be concerned about how Vatican II has been implmented and interpreted. The Council was certainly valid but has it's implementation--including the Novus Ordo Liturgy, altar girls, the loss of gregorian chant, lay people giving out Communion, banal politically correct translations of Scripture and a loss of the sacred in art and architecture--been really what Vatican II called for? What happened was a revolution in the Church and we want answers.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 24, 2012 6:09 PM ET USA

    There appears to be a reiteration of an interesting new theme. Rome has opened some doors. The SSPX has toned it down in official statements despite continued resistance in the areas of religious liberty and ecumenism. The statistics speak for themselves. The Holy Father is clearly concerned for souls. The candor on both sides is vital to an enduring reconciliation, and the posturing is certainly not for the "thin-skinned." There is hope for the future, but continued prayer is indispensable.

  • Posted by: ronaldruais1947 - Jul. 24, 2012 5:51 PM ET USA

    My concern is the promise of Vatican II to better utilize the laity. Even the USCCB's Pastoral letter "Our Hearts Were Burning Within" promised an enhanced role for and education of the laity. Neither promise has been kept. So from my perspective it is not a matter of correcting Vatican II documents it is a matter of enforcing the enactment of their documents. Just publishing a document is not enactment.