Thursday, 22 January 2009

SSPX News? Or No SSPX News? (Comment Added)

The Internet is jumping this morning with news of a possible/definite/likely lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX Bishops (as well as the excommunications of their consecrators, LeFebvre and De Castro Meyer) by the Vatican. This story has been around for some time and has been 'definitely today' a few times in the past, however THIS WELL PLACED BLOG seems to be sure and there is much speculation on the New Liturgical Movement, which, again, there has been before.

I am not placed to offer much opinion on this, but a round up of the news and opinions may seem helpful. A mischief maker once tried to make more out of my passing meeting with Mons. Bernard Fellay the Superior General of the SSPX than would be thought possible and yes, I have been invited to 'open days' in their Churches by friends who attend them, where I have prayed for unity before the Blessed Sacrament. If this is cause for scandal, then so be it. The SSPX in Great Britain have recently published THIS STATEMENT which would seem to be general enough until coupled with THIS NEWS from Christopher Gillibrand, noted bon viveur and friend of AW, over at Cathcon. Cathcon also has a list of updated links referring to the excommunication story HERE which is well worth a perusal. The link to Ruth Gledhills blog is there as well.

So what bad timing! Or is it? Does this latest bout of sinful foolishness from Bishop Williamson come entirely as a surprise, after his other recent comments about the world coming to an end and the high probability of the few faithful being martyred? It has long been thought that, unlike his urbane Superior General (who he could hardly bring himself to congratulate on his re-election) Williamson not only enjoys being in schism, he is possibly, it is suggested, ready to split the SSPX again if a rapprochement with Rome is agreed, possibly declaring the See of Peter to be vacant, with predictable consequences. So this latest interview (which refers to the one given in Canada which has seen him being permanently banned from that country for Holocaust denial) would seem planned to provoke outrage amongst ordinary Catholics who may not want to see such a man, connected with such a Society, brought back into the Church.

Furthermore though, why does the Superior General not just ask him to keep silent and retreat further into the Argentinian Seminary which he is Rector of? This begs the question of how many priests of the Society would go back to Rome and under what circumstances and how many would seek to remain, under Williamson (who is an ex Anglican about whom rumours fly, was he turned down for training by both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches? Did he spend time with the London Oratory? Was he 'asked to leave'?) (Update, Fr Ray Blake mentions that he was asked to leave after just a few days at the Oratory). I understand that much movement of clergy has happened recently, to ensure that as many of the SSPX faithful as possible remain under the influence of priests devoted to Mons. Fellay, so this is maybe telling of the Society's hopes for the immediate future although it is also suggested that most priests of the Society do not wish for reconciliation. However Fellay himself has been criticised, as in the above cartoon, for setting impossibly high demands for the Vatican. The issue of VaticanII is a thorny one and I wonder how that will be resolved to the satisfaction of the SSPX. You may recall that a previous SSPX split (one of many, others being the interesting SSPV and the Institute of the Good Shepherd in Bordeaux) involving Bishop Rifan of Campos (who was Castro Meyer's Chaplain at the time of the 'illicit' consecrations) and the resulting Apostolic Prelature in Brazil, but Bishop Rifan was 'forced' to concelebrate in a Novus Ordo Mass. One might wonder at the unity of a Church where concelebrating at a Mass in the Ordinary Form with ones brother Bishops causes scandal.

So what will happen? Who knows and indeed this may be yet another Internet rumour, they seem easy to produce at the moment, but I sense this is not. However, the 'true rumour' of the Motu Proprio 'Summorum Pontificium' took about three years to come about, so we may hear more today or at some unspecified time in the future. I will be living, God willing, a few doors down from the SSPX Priory in Preston later on this year, so will follow progress closely, I hope. An observation, though, would be that the SSPX do not have great numbers attending their Chapels generally. The London Chapel has recently gone from two full Sunday Masses to one busy Mass, Manchester and Liverpool are sparsely attended, Preston does tolerably well, but, whether by accident or design, near every SSPX Chapel I know of is a Roman Catholic Diocesan Church which offers the Extraordinary Form. If there is an eventual readmission of the Society, I wonder how their missions will fare? Sometimes they seem to labour the point of not taking communion in non SSPX Churches rather too much for people comfortable with their Mother Church. THIS ARTICLE also is worth reading as it claims to have news 'from the horses mouth' that the SSPX will not be re-united with the Roman Catholic Church canonically. It is an old article but highlights the ongoing discussion as well as the position of many within the Society, it is worth remembering that the Superior interviewed in this article has since moved on. Maybe after this has blown over, SSPX Priests who hope for a return to Rome will realise that it will not come and join one of the previous groups who rejoined Rome from the SSPX, like the majority of the community at Papa Stronsay.

Further Comment.

Much is being made of this 'news' in the blogosphere. One problem which comes to mind is the predicted terrible media implications if the Pope lifts the excommunication of a holocaust denier and conspiracy theorist. However, the excommunication was not for being either a holocaust denier nor a conspiracy theorist and it is doubtful whether one could be excommunicated for those things. As I said above, the question is, IF the papers allegedly signed by the Pope are released and the excommunications are lifted, will Bishop Williamson stay within the part of the SSPX which wants full integration in the Roman Catholic Church or will he lead a cadre off to sede vacanteland? Either way, the Pope faces bad press whatever he does, either he is welcoming a holocaust denier as a Bishop of the Church or he is beginning the Williamson schism. If the excommunications are lifted and the SSPX are allowed to rejoin Rome, it looks as though it will be the end of the Society at any rate. I cannot imagine them rejoining intact and I cannot imagine that, numerically, they would survive a major split nor can I see them maintaining their Chapels (the one in Manchester is a converted working men's club, some are in Hotel function suites, some are more stable places) after the effects of a split, not least in the number of faithful who would remain in the Society's Chapels.

This, though, is for the future, the lifting of excommunications has to come first followed by talks about bringing the society beck into the Roman Catholic Church. If I were to stick my neck out and have a guess, I would say that the excommunications are not going to be lifted now and if they are, then negotiations for unity will be long, protracted and end at the block of Vatican II. I cannot see how that 'necessity' imposed by the SSPX on talks can be overridden.

Addendum. I mentioned the probability of negative news reports following an announcement like the one suggested above. HERE is a good example from tomorrow's London Times.