Can the Split Be Healed? On What Terms?

Talks Between Rome and the Followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre Continue, But…

“We are probably reaching the end of a phase” — Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of St. Pius X

There has only been one official schism in the Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council. That occurred in 1988, when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the express instructions of Pope John Paul II. That led to the excommunication of Lefebvre and those four bishops, and the schism of Lefebvre and his followers from Rome. Now 23 years have passed.

In the history of the Church, it is often the case that, once a schism endures for a certain time, it becomes less easy to restore full union. Separate ecclesial cultures evolves, positions harden. Reunion postponed is often reunion lost.

Pope Benedict XVI has made it clear that he would like to heal this schism during his pontificate.

And he has taken three dramatic steps in that regard:

(1) he lifted the excommunications on the four bishops by means of a decree from the Congregation of Bishops dated January 21, 2009, stating he took the decision “in the hope of reaching the soonest possible full reconciliation and complete communion” (so they are no longer excommunicated, though their position is not fully regularized);

(2) he promulgated Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007), allowing wider use of the ever new traditional liturgy of the Mass (one of the great concerns of the Society is that the ever new traditional liturgy should be not only allowed, but embraced by the Church)

(3) He agreed, starting on October 26, 2009, to hold theological discussions with the chief theologians of the Society of St. Pius X, to see if an agreement on theological positions could be worked out.

The Vatican communiqué announcing the meetings said the questions to be examined would include these topics: “the concept of Tradition, the Missal of Paul VI, the interpretation of Vatican Council II in continuity with Catholic doctrinal Tradition, the themes of the unity of the Church and the Catholic principles of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions, and religious freedom.”

The meetings take place in the Palace of the Holy Office in Rome, evidently as often as two a month. The Vatican side is led by Monsignor Guido Pozzo, the secretary for the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Also present are three consultors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Dominican Father Charles Morerod, secretary-general of the International Theological Commission; Father Fernando Ocariz, vicar general of Opus Dei; and Jesuit Father Karl Josef Becker.

Bishop Fellay named as representatives of the Society Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta, rector of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix Seminary in La Reja, Argentina; Father Benoît de Jorna, director of the International Seminary of Pius X in Ecône, Switzerland; Father Jean-Michel Gleize, professor of ecclesiology at the seminary of Ecône; and Father Patrick de La Rocque, prior of the Priory of St. Louis at Nantes, France.

Almost 2 years have now passed by since the talks began. What is going on? Is progress being made? Or not?

It is hard to know, as the discussions have been secret, and there have been no official press releases of any substance regarding the content of the talks.

However, here are brief extracts from two recent interviews on the matter: (1) an extensive interview granted by Msgr. Pozzo, to Nouvelles de France, published on June 8; and (2) an interview given by Bishop Fella during a recent trip to Gabon, Africa, published on June 1.



Does the Society of St. Pius X recognize the missal (of Paul VI) as valid and licit?
Monsignor Guido Pozzo: It is the Society of St. Pius X that should be asked that.

Does the Holy Father wish the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to reconcile with Rome?
Pozzo: Certainly. The letter of removal of excommunications of the four Bishops illegitimately consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre is the expression of the desire of the Holy Father to favor the reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X with the Holy See.

The content of the discussions that take place between Rome and the Fraternity of Saint Pius X is secret, but what points do they touch and in what manner do they progress?
Pozzo: The essential point is of a doctrinal nature. In order to reach a true reconciliation, it is necessary to move past certain doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the current fracture. In the ongoing talks, there is a confrontation of arguments between the experts chosen by the Society of St. Pius X and the experts chosen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the end, conclusive summaries of the positions of both parties are written. The themes under discussion are known: primacy and episcopal collegiality; relations between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christian confessions; religious liberty; the Missal of Paul VI. At the end of the talks, the results of the discussions will be submitted to the respective authorized levels for an overall evaluation.

It does not seem conceivable that the Second Vatican Council may be called into question. Therefore, where will these discussions lead? To a better understanding of this?
Pozzo: They concern a clarification of points that detail the exact meaning of the teaching of the Council. It is what the Holy Father started to do on December 22, 2005, by interpreting the Council within a hermeneutic of renewal in continuity. Nevertheless, there are certain objections of the Society of St. Pius X that do make sense, because there has been an interpretation of rupture. The goal is to show that it is necessary to interpret the Council in the continuity of the Tradition of the Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of these discussions for nearly 20 years. Does he still follow the progress now as Pope?
Pozzo: First, there is the role of the secretary, which is that of organizing and taking care of the good development of the discussions. The evaluation of these is the responsibility of the Holy Father, who follows the discussions, with Cardinal Levada, is informed of them, and gives his opinion. The same goes regarding all points with which the Congregation deals.

(Here is a link to the complete interview in the original French:


Fellay: “The contacts continue”

From an interview granted by the Superior General of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, on June 1, 2011, as he visited Gabon:

Allow me to end [this interview], Your Excellency, with two questions. The first is related to the relations between the Fraternity and Rome. Where are you in your contacts? A subsidiary question: can we expect, on a mid- term, a normalization of these relations?
Bishop Bernard Fellay: The contacts continue. We are probably reaching the end of a phase of discussions. This is not yet completely clear. What will happen? What will be the outcome of this phase? This answers the second question. What does Rome foresee for us now? One should not be mistaken: we are truly within the crisis of the Church; it has certainly not ended. What is our fate in this crisis? I believe that, at some level, the Good Lord linked us with this crisis, because we work for the restoration of the Church, but this may still last for a decade, maybe two. It is necessary to have lots of courage and perseverance. This can be resolved tomorrow, this may be be resolved the day after tomorrow. All is in the hands of the Good Lord. Let us all remain simply faithful.

My second question is related to your feeling following the beatification of Pope John Paul II…
Fellay: A very mixed feeling. The impression [that is given is that] of an incredible haste, that disregarded all the rules that the Church herself sets forth before proceeding to these kinds of acts (the Beatification). The impression is of imprudence. One example: when one wishes to beatify or to canonize, what was said and written by the candidate who is called “venerable” is very closely examined. Well, here, the majority of what was written by him is located within the secret archives of the Vatican, which have not yet been opened (for his pontificate). We remain, therefore, uneasy. We fear seeing in this a desire to cement a cause that John Paul II put in place, that he wished to continue throughout his Pontificate, of which he wished to be the apostle.

(Here is a link to the complete text of the original interview in French:


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