Last October 26 -- for some -- Rome will openedtheological talks on the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) with representatives of the Society of St. Pius X, followers of the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome
"Nam oportet et haereses esse, ut et qui probati sunt, manifesti fiant in vobis." ("For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.") —1 Corinthians 11:19
Doctrinal Talks Begun
The first official theological discussions ever between Vatican officials and representatives of the Society of St. Pius X began on Monday, October 26.
The talks were private and closed to the press.
The reason? So that they can be "extremely honest and frank," I have been told.
The Society of St. Pius X became famous in January this year, when the excommunications of its four bishops, all consecrated without papal permission in 1988 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and immediately excommunicated, were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI.
The "Vatican side" will include Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the new secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission; Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Dominican Father Charles Morerod, secretary of the International Theological Commission and consultor with the CDF; Archbishop Fernando Ocariz, Vicar General of Opus Dei and consultor with the CDF; and Jesuit Father Karl Josef Becker, also a CDF consultor.
The meeting will take place at the Palace of the Holy Office, which is where the CDF is housed. That is the building just to the left of Bernini's colonnade which prior to the Second Vatican Council was known as "The Holy Office of the Inquisition. "
“The conversations will focus on open doctrinal questions and will remain confidential. A statement will be released at the conclusion of the meeting,” Father Federico Lombardi said when the meetings were announced.
After Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the four Lefebvrist bishops, the Vatican issued a statement on February 4, 2009, outlining a series of conditions that the Lefebvrists must meet including “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council” and of the magisteriums of all the Popes since Pius XII.
On March 10, Pope Benedict XVI published a letter to the bishops of world in which he explained the reasons for lifting the excommunication, noting that “until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
Despite this warning, the Lefebvrist bishops ordained a group of priests at the end of June, which prompted a statement from the Holy See’s Press Office reiterating what the Pope said in his letter to the world's bishops.
"I would be very surprised if that happened," one Vatican official said to me this past week. "More likely is a more drawn out discussion, with meetings scheduled every so often for an extended period of time. But anything could happen. It will be up to the participants to decide how to proceed."
How does the Vatican side view the upcoming dialogue? Is one possible outcome the wider use of the "old Mass," which the Society of St. Pius X celebrates exclusively? Could these talks lead to a much wider use of the "old Mass" throughout the Church?
The answer isn't completely clear, but it seems that Rome, under Pope Benedict, is, in fact, profoundly supportive of the old liturgy. This seems evident from in the short but interesting interview below.
The website Messainlatino. it recently published this interview with Msgr Pozzo (the translation is by Gregor Kollmorgen, of The New Liturgical Movement):
Monsignor, a widespread restrictive interpretation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum argues that the papal provision is primarily if not exclusively, directed towards those groups and institutes that were already attached to the traditional form, and is not, by contrast, intended in any way to promote the extraordinary form. But Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos said in London in June 2008 that the Pope would actually like to have the "Gregorian Rite" in all parishes. What is your opinion?
Msgr Guido Pozzo: The Motu Proprio is addressed to all the Catholic faithful who desire the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy, not just to those who, prior to its promulgation, were attached to the ancient form of the Roman rite. Certainly it does intend to accommodate these latter and to heal old wounds, but the purpose of the document is also to allow the spreading of the extraordinary form, for the benefit of those who do not know it yet (being too young to have had it experienced) , or of those who rediscover with joy the Mass of their youth. The ever-increasing spread of this liturgical treasure, the Church's patrimony, can bring many benefits, spiritual and vocational, also through the mutual enrichment between the two forms of the Roman rite.
The Pope's letter accompanying the motu proprio refers to a term of three years, after which reports of the bishops will be collected to assess the situation. That may mean, as some argue, that the liberalization of the old Missal stipulated by the motu proprio is to be understood ad experimentum, or at least that at the end of this evaluation there may be restrictions regarding the the extraordinary form, such as for instance the return to a regime similar to that of the indults of 1984 or 1988?
Msgr Pozzo: The three-year term simply refers to a balance of the first three years of application. If there turn out to be serious difficulties, appropriate remedies will be found, always keeping in mind the essential purpose of the motu proprio.
From many places, obstacles opposed to the implementation of the motu proprio have been reported. We, too, have experienced them... What should an adequate group of lay people who find themselves in such situations of difficulty do to obtain a weekly Mass in the extraordinary form? And in what way can the Commission Ecclesia Dei intervene?
Msgr Pozzo: The answer is already written in the motu proprio: ask the parish piest and possibly look for a priest ready [to say the old Mass]. Should this prove impossible, it is necessary to turn to your bishop, who is called to seek an appropriate solution. If even this way no satisfaction of the request is obtained, write to the Commission Ecclesia Dei, which, however, deals with the bishops, who are naturally our interlocutors: they are asked for an assessment of the situation, to see what the actual difficulties are and how to find a remedy.
Changing the subject, have you seen the results of the Doxa survey commissioned by Paix liturgique and us?
Msgr Pozzo: Yes, I was given a preview a few days ago. These figures are truly remarkable and encouraging, especially that absolute majority of practicing Catholics who, at least according to the poll, regard the coexistence of the two forms of the Mass in the parishes as perfectly normal. I understand that a copy of the survey has also reached the Holy Father.
Thanks again Monsignor, and keep up the good work.
What does the Society of St. Pius X expect from these talks?
In his most recent "Letter to Friends and Benefactors, " the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, speaks about the upcoming doctrinal talks with the Holy See. Here is the text of the letter, which I publish without further comment, except to bold-face the passage most relevant to the upcoming talks:
SUPERIOR GENERAL’S LETTER TO FRIENDS AND BENEFACTORS #75
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
The enthusiastic response to the Rosary Crusade we encounter throughout the world fills us with consolation and prompts us to take up this theme once again with you. If we are petitioning Heaven with this multitude of Aves, it is because the hour is indeed grave. We are sure of Our Lady’s victory because she herself foretold it, but the events that have been unfolding for nearly a century—since this triumph was announced at Fatima—oblige us to suppose that all kinds of other woes could yet befall mankind before this victory.
Yet the rules given at Fatima by the Mother of God were quite simple: if the world does not convert, it will be punished: “There will be a second war, more terrible than the first.” The world did not convert. And God’s answer was not long in coming. Since the Second World War, the world still has not converted. And if people think Russia has converted, they will have to explain to us in what it has converted, and to whom— economic liberalism?
Almost one hundred years later, we observe that the world has surely not become better; quite the contrary. The war of the unbelievers rages harder than ever, but it has taken an unexpected turn: the demolition of the Church is being carried out especially by subversion, by infiltrating the Church. Our holy Mother the Church is in the process of being transformed into a pile of spiritual ruins while the exterior façade remains more or less intact, thus deceiving the multitude about its real condition. And it has to be admitted that this subversion acquired an unexpected increase of efficacy on the occasion of the Second Vatican Council. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in theology to figure this out; today it is an historical fact.
What part of the responsibility should be attributed to the Council itself? This is a difficult question, but it is clear that this Council was not without effect, and its consequences have been well and truly disastrous. Because of it, the Church fell in step with the world. “We, too, in fact, we more than any others, honor mankind,” said Paul VI at the Council’s conclusion. And the man-centered orientation of Vatican II was harped on by John Paul II. But this orientation is indeed odd for the Church of God, supernatural in its essence, having received from Our Lord Jesus Christ not only its constitution and means, but first and foremost its end, which is nothing else than the continuation of His own redemptive and salvific mission: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.” (Mk. 16:15-16).
And now, here is the tragedy: the divine mission of the Church has been replaced by a purely human one. It is a great mystery that leaves one astounded. Salvation now comes second, to say the least.
Few men—very few men, unfortunately—understand that the terrible crisis of the Church since the Second Vatican Council is a chastisement more terrible than any other, for this time the catastrophe is spiritual: what is wounded, what is noiselessly killed in the midst of an indifference worse than death, are souls. The loss of grace in a soul is the most terrible harm that can happen to it because it makes no noise, it is not felt. And the voice of the watchmen has fallen silent. The call to conversion, to penance, to the flight from sin, temptations and the world has given way, if not to indulgence, then at least to sympathy with the world. There is a real will to make peace with the modern world.
The mission of salvation has given way to a new sort of humanitarian mission; it is a matter of helping men of every condition and religion to live well together on earth.
There is no doubt that everything connected in the message of the Blessed Virgin of Fatima, what is referred to as the Secret of Fatima, has not yet come to an end. Certainly, what we are living is per force part and parcel of the events that will end one day, eventually, with the triumph of Mary. What will happen? How will we recognize it? In any case, it will at least entail the conversion of Russia according to the very words of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1917 at Rome, the foes of God were celebrating the 200th anniversary of Freemasonry and the 400th anniversary of Protestantism with parades of special violence against the Holy See. The demonstrators boisterously proclaimed the reign of Satan over the Vatican and the Sovereign Pontiff. Maximilian Kolbe, still a seminarian, witnessed these painful events and said:
This mortal hatred of the Church, of Christ, and of His Vicar on earth is not just an outburst of misguided individuals, but rather a systematic action that proceeds from the principle of Freemasonry: the destruction of all religion, but especially the Catholic religion. [Pisma Ojca Maksymiliana Marii Kolbego franciszkanina, Niepokalanow, maszynopsis, 1970; English tr. from The Immaculata Our Ideal, by Fr. Karl Stehlin (Warsaw, 2005), p. 39]….
Is it possible that our enemies should deploy so much activity so as to attain superiority while we stay idle, or at best apply ourselves to prayer without getting to work? Might we not have more powerful arms—the protection of Heaven and of the Immaculate Virgin? The Immaculata, victorious and triumphant over all heresies, will not yield to the advancing enemy if she finds faithful servants obedient to her command: she will bring off new victories even greater than can be imagined. We have to put ourselves like docile instruments into her hands, employing all lawful means, getting the word out everywhere by the diffusion of the Marian press and the Miraculous Medal, and enhancing our action by prayer and good example. [Testimony of Fr. Pignalberi reported during the process of canonization] .
He founded the Militia of the Immaculata just a few days after the October 13th apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, when the great miracle of the sun took place. It was in fact on October 16, with six fellow seminarians, that he consecrated himself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the purpose of leading the whole world to God by the Immaculata.
One cannot but be struck by the affinity between the message of Fatima and the response of the Polish Franciscan while reading his act of consecration:
O Immaculata, Queen of heaven and earth, Refuge of sinners, our most loving Mother, to whom God deigned to entrust the entire order of mercy, behold I, N., an unworthy sinner, cast myself at Thy feet and humbly ask Thee to deign to accept me completely and utterly as Thy property and possession; and do with me as it pleases Thee: all the faculties of my soul and body, my entire life, my death and my eternity. Dispose of me as Thou willst, so that what has been said of Thee might be fulfilled: ‘She will crush the head of the serpent,’ and also, ‘Thou alone hast vanquished all heresies throughout the world.’ Make of me an instrument in Thy immaculate and merciful hands, which serves Thee, in order to increase reverence for Thee as much as possible in so many fallen-away and lukewarm souls. Thus the benevolent reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will spread more and more. For whatever place Thou enters, Thou shalt implore upon it the grace of conversion an d sanctification, for all graces come to us from the Sacred Heart of Jesus only through Thy hands. [Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe, new ed. (Rome: ENMI, 1997), Vol. I; Eng. version, The Immaculata Our Ideal]
Very dear faithful, it is in this same spirit that we launched the Rosary Crusade. But prayer is only a part of it: let us not forget the other two very important elements, penance and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By mortification, we wish to make reparation for the insults given to Mary, and in union with her sorrowful Heart we wish to associate ourselves as closely as possible to the sacrifice of the Cross of our Lord, because by it our salvation is effected. Thus we are at the heart of the message of Fatima: “God wishes to introduce devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Perhaps not enough emphasis is given to this aspect, which seems to us even more important than the consecration of Russia and which is the second condition indicated by Mary to the pope for her triumph: consecrate Russia and promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart.
In this month of October we are going to enter into a new phase in our relations with the Vatican, that of the doctrinal discussions. What is at stake is very important, and we recommend them to your prayers. Undoubtedly that also is a part of our Crusade, and obviously this intention is included in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary we all desire. That also completely outstrips all our own powers, and it would be folly pure and simple to undertake such an enterprise were it not sustained by the power of the supernatural means such as prayer and penance.
We do not want to conclude this letter without also thanking you for your generosity, which enables our work to develop throughout the world. There is one thing, though, that slows us down: the harvest is abundant, but workers for the harvest are lacking. Our Lord has already said it and has shown the remedy: pray for vocations! How we should like to come to the aid of all the faithful who only have the Mass once a month, or only on Sundays, unable to benefit from normal pastoral care… Yet the good Lord has gratified us this year with 27 new priests, and we expect an even slightly larger number next year. But even that is not enough, so great is the demand worldwide.
You are deeply thanked for all your efforts. May God reward you with the abundant graces and blessings we implore on you all, your families, your children. May Our Lady of the Rosary, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, protect you.
On the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, October 11, 2009.
+ Bernard Fellay