Posted by Alessandro Speciale
With the news yesterday that the SSPX has finally given an “encouraging” response to the Vatican’s reconciliation offer (though the Lefebvrist superior, Msgr. Fellay, was quick to point out that it’s just a “step” and not a “conclusion” of the process) it seems now possible that the traditionalist group in the next weeks will come back into full communion with the Catholic Church and be given some sort of canonical status – possibly an Opus Dei-style personal prelature – by the Holy See.
It will be the end of a saga that has lasted more than three years and that since its beginning has seen at stake a lot of Pope Benedict’s personal and institutional legacy.
His gamble might pay off and bring a welcome conclusion to the biggest official schism in the Catholic Church since World War II.
But a big question remains: what does the famous “Doctrinal Preamble” say? The Vatican gave it to the SSPX in September to sign, as a precondition to full reconciliation. But its contents are secret, so far, and will only be made public at the end of the negotiations.
Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi has only said that the SSPX has asked for some amendments to the text. These will now have to be reviewed by the Vatican doctrinal office and finally approved by the Pope.
We could, though, take an informed guess at what that text says.
Andrea Tornielli, a well-informed commentator and my colleague at Vatican Insider, believes it basically restates the “Professio Fidei,” the Profession of Faith that is required of officeholders in the Church, from bishops to theology professors and some diocesan officials.
That the Profession is relevant to the document presented to the SSPX is indirectly confirmed by a major article published by the Vatican’s own paper, L’Osservatore Romano, last December. Titled On Adhesion To The Second Vatican Council it was penned by Fernando Ocariz Braña, Vicar General of Opus Dei and a member of the Vatican team who negotiated with the Lefebvrists.
An updated text of the Professio was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1989 and ‘given teeth’ – or canonical sanctions for those who don’t comply – by a Motu Proprio signed by John Paul II in 1998. In both cases, then Cardinal Ratzinger was at the helm of the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
The Profession of Faith states the truths that a Catholic must believe in order to call himself such – beginning with the Creed – but it also differentiates the three “orders of truth that the believer adheres to.”
While the first level applies to things like dogmas relating to Christ, Mary and the sacraments, and the second to principles like priesthood being only open to men and the condemnation of euthanasia, Ocariz says that the most contentious innovations – from freedom of religion to ecumenism – belong to the third level, which requires not so much fully fledged faith but “religious submission of will and intellect.”
This means that one doesn’t need to fully agree with the Council formulation and statements, but one must still give them some kind of assent as they are part of the Church’s teaching: “such matters are received with respect and gratitude, but do not require an intellectual assent in the strictest sense,” explains Ocariz.
This should leave some wiggle room for the Lefebvrists to dissent intellectually, while they still profess their obedience and recognition to the whole teaching of the Church. It would seem that a major part of the Vatican’s strategy hangs on them accepting this.
The matter being so complex and frankly somewhat byzantine, it’s no wonder it took more than three years to try to sort things out. More time might be needed still.
Still, if the reconciliation goes ahead as hoped for by the Vatican, there will be a bigger challenge still: to explain all this to the proverbial ‘Catholics in the pews’ who will struggle to understand why – and how – they are now in full communion with a group who publicly rejects some of their most cherished articles of faith.
What do you think? Please feel free to share your views.