Monday, February 18, 2013

Lefebvrians: the last train

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
Feb. 18, 2013

Lefebvrians are given a final chance. The Holy See has asked the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) to accept the agreement proposed by Rome by 22 February, the day the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, so before Benedict XVI resignation comes into effect

. Following the “personal” and highly spiritual letter sent by U.S. archbishop Augustin Di Noia, to the Lefebvrians last December, a new letter dated 8 January has reached the SSPX's Superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay. It would not be correct to call it an ultimatum as such but the document signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, imposes a deadline on the Lefebvrians for the first time. A particularly dramatic move in light of Benedict XVI's shock resignation.

The existence of the letter was confirmed by the abbot Claude Barthe, a careful observer of relations between Rome and the traditionalists, in an interview with Présent on 16 February: Everyone knows by now that the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission sent a letter to Bishop Fellay on 8 January and that he is expected to reply by 22 February, the day of the Feast of the Chair of Peter. This could also be the day the Prelature of Saint Pius X is founded. If it does indeed happen, it would mark the real end of Benedict XVI's papacy: Mgr. Lefebvre's rehabilitation. You can imagine what a clap of thunder that would be and what an effect it will have on March's scheduled events,” in other words, the Conclave.

According to Abbot Barthe, the game is not over yet. It does however seem unlikely that Lefebvrians will agree to sign the doctrinal preamble the Holy See sent to them last June. According to French Catholic daily La Croix, if the SSPX fails to send a reply by 22 February, Rome has the right to appeal to each of the Fraternity's priests directly, without first going through their Superior, Fellay, extending individual invitations to them to re-enter into communion with Rome. The first reactions of the Lefebvrian clergy, however, indicate unanimous support for their Superior.

Readers will recall that last June, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, delivered the final version of the doctrinal preamble to Fellay, along with a proposal for a Canonical settlement which involved transforming the SSPX into a personal Prelature.

The document required Lefebvrians to recognise that the magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Tradition, that the Second Vatican Council agrees with Tradition and that the post-conciliar liturgical reform promulgated by Paul VI was not only valid but legitimate as well. These conditions were discussed during the Fraternity's General Chapter in July 2012, but no response came from Rome. Lefebvrian leaders gave various statements and interviews in which they implied that it was difficult for them to accept the conditions laid out by the Holy See.

Will the Pope's resignation speed things along? It's hard to tell. Conditions as favourable as the current ones and a Pope as willing to reach an agreement as Benedict XVI will certainly be hard to come by. If the SSPX rejects the Holy See's proposals, the new Pope will have to decide on what to do next.

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