The schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has reacted to a Vatican ultimatum by challenging the conditions Rome set for its return to the Catholic fold. By sending this in a letter, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay partly fulfilled one condition of the ultimatum, i.e. answering by the end of this month. But he did not fulfill the more important other half of that requirement, i.e. that he respond positively. In fact, he told the Vatican that other conditions — to accept papal authority and not criticise the pope — were too vague to be accepted, according to SSPX spokesman Rev. Alain Lorans. As Lorans put it: “You can say he’s not responding, despite answering it.”
This is a clever way of ducking deadline pressure, but it doesn’t answer the real issues. It looked like the Vatican had the SSPX in a corner when the ultimatum of June 4 became known early this week. By wording the five conditions so vaguely that contentious issues such as the new Mass and the Second Vatican Council reforms went unmentioned, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos — the Vatican official dealing with traditionalists — may have thought they might win over the schismatics. Benedict had already taken the first step towards a possible accord last year by liberalising the use of the old Latin Mass that the SSPX has championed as its visible trademark. The ultimatum made a further conciliatory gesture by keeping the explicit requirements to a minimum.
Pope Benedict, 13 March 2007/Osservatore RomanoBut Benedict has his red lines too. Compare the current five conditions to the much more explicit five conditions that SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre accepted in May 1988 (with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) but renounced the following month. The new list of conditions strips away the explicit demands of the 1988 document, but they basically remain implicit — a fact that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed this week.
Fellay clearly saw that and spoke out bluntly against the ultimatum a week ago at an SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota. The eye-catching quote in that sermon was “They just say ’shut up’ … We are not going … to shut up.” He also offered a longer and quite vivid image of two icebergs. The tip of one iceberg is the old Latin Mass and its underwater part stands for Church tradition. The other has the new Mass at its visible tip and the underwater part is a symbol, he said, “of Vatican II and of these modern ideas, what they call the spirit of the Council, which has come in with all these reforms which have almost kicked down the Church.” Referring to the restoration of the old Mass, he said:
“What happens with this motu proprio is as if they would have taken this tip of the iceberg. When we see this, we have the impression, OK, they take the tip, so they take everything which is below. That’s not exactly what they did. They tried to take the tip and to plant it on the other iceberg, the iceberg of the new thing. And so we have two tips and they say it’s only one tip. But if you try to go and see and look under the water, what is below, you will see that they maintain that the only thing you can have below is the new thing.”
So it’s back to a rock and a hard place. Will either side blink? Fellay says he has plenty of time and the ultimatum showed Vatican’s in a hurry. He told Swiss radio RTSI (in Italian, from 17:44) “Maybe it’s wrong to say so directly that I reject, that I totally reject (the ultimatum), that is not true. Rather, I see in this ultimatum a very vague and confused thing … we have relations with Rome that develop at a certain pace, which is really slow … there may now be a chillier period, but frankly, for me, it’s not finished.”
The Vatican conditions may be the best the SSPX can ever get and Fellay has replied positively to one-half of one condition out of a total of five. That’s just enough for him to get semantic and say that maybe it’s wrong to say he totally rejected the ultimatum. Well, he certainly didn’t accept it, or even come anywhere near accepting it. Is he just buying time waiting for the Vatican to blink?
It looks like the Vatican’s turn to reply. What’s next?
Posted by: Tom Heneghan