Saturday, 28 June 2008

Is This the End?

Just some idle speculation for you this morning, airing my thoughts in public to see what you think (and the things you think!). Today, as many of you will be aware, is the deadline for a deal which the Vatican is offering Mons. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX and well mannered gentleman who has, on the occasions I have met him, impressed me greatly. He is to reply today, if indeed he chooses to reply which I am informed he may not, as to whether the Society which he heads wishes to enter into full communion with Rome once more and, crucially, have the excommunication orders on the Bishops lifted. Now, there is great debate as to whether the instruments of excommunication are valid or not, but that to one side, this is an important day. Of course, the SSPX has always claimed devotion and obedience to the Holy See (Rome, not Canterbury) and the Holy See has always claimed the SSPX, which was a regular society in the Church, enjoys a close relationship with them. That said, if the Pope were to order them to come back and renounce their stand with the authority of his position, it is very unlikely that the SSPX would heed that call, so there is a certain amount of political manoeuvring going on here as well.

The society split from the Roman Church when Mons. Lefebvre, their founder, refused to accept the will of the Church as expressed by the Second Vatican Council made up of the Prelates of the world and the Pope. The details are less important than this fact, that they said 'no' and stood their ground, a position which I find myself naturally sympathetic to, in some ways. He then, with Bishop Castro Mayer (who appeared with his chaplain, Fr Areas Rifan), consecrated, illicitly but validly, four Bishops, who still hold the only four such positions in the Society today and have themselves ordained many Priests. Now, the raison d'etre of the SSPX is to train Priests in the Old Rite and to ordain them to serve in that rite. Nothing else, as their documents will tell you. Of course, their irregular position has meant that they have had to then serve in their own Chapels and Churches, rather than being integrated into the Church worldwide, as would have been the intention. This has created something of a siege mentality in the Society and strong bonds of brotherhood which have allegiances within themselves, creating a somewhat incestuous situation which has ties to all four Bishops, who have radically different views on some issues.

Mons. Fellay will probably realise that the Society itself will split if some 'go back to Rome', possibly with those of the Sede Vaticanist position able to crowd around one of their Bishops, which would greatly discredit the Society as a whole and lower their standing in Rome. But will not Ecclesia Dei, the Pontifical Council for the old rite Religious and priestly groups not protect them? Theoretically, yes, but the very fact of their dispersal, one could argue the very fact of their fulfillment of their original charism, would weaken them greatly, for all SSPX Churches and Chapels are within already existing Parishes, some of whom are deeply hostile to their existence and it would be ludicrous to suggest that these have any long term future, particularly under the present Pope's insistence on the Old Rite being more widely available in the existing Parishes. Add to this the hostility of local Ordinaries to the Society and the end of years of fighting, personally, I cannot see how their future would echo their past. Maybe, in fact, under the present Pope, their time has come. I will stick my neck out here and say that i think today will see no response from them, for they will want to see the next Pope in, to see what his stance will be. By then, it may be too late or, indeed, if things change, they may experience a sudden influx of traditionalists seeking a safe haven. What a choice.