I think that the entire situation with the SSPX has been a great test for those who only get their news from 1-2 sources. For those of us who use a multiplicity of voices to read the mosaic of the story, the narrative is fairly consistent, though it has had some real surprises. For others who don't, they may find themselves on the edge of their seats, lurching from one news story to the next. With about a week to go before the General Chapter, at which this issue will probably be resolved definitively, I think it is helpful to clarify a few things once more.
1. Bishop Fellay has been pushing for a practical deal since the thought-shift in the leadership that the doctrinal impasse should not prevent a canonical agreement. He has sent out District Superiors to back him both explicitly (Bishop Fellay "alone" can decide these matters, we cannot be "88-ers," and "stay off the internet") and implicitly. This really can't be denied.
2. Surprisingly (at least to this commentator), several SSPX priests have spoken out. Now, keep in mind that there are over 600 SSPX/SSPX-affiliated priests worldwide so even if we go by a very generous count of 25 "resistors," that's 4%. Four percent. Even if we triple that number and say that represents the number of laypeople attached to those priests, that's 12%. Hardly a threatening number. I'm sure that Bishop Fellay, who is an accountant by trade, had these numbers within his "margin of error" for those who might resist him. And as I've said in all my articles prior to this one - by what theological principles do SSPX priests or faithful resist a "deal" with Rome? Is this man the Pope or not? We hear the word "Modernism" so often that we forget that it is a heresy. Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer, in the sermon he gave in the Phillippines some weeks ago now, referred to Benedict XVI as Modernist numerous times. So has Bishop Tissier, both in print and in sermons. So, if he is a Modernist, he is a heretic. And yet, for these clergy, there is no big deal that the man they consider Pope is a heretic in their eyes. No longer the tedious "formal/material" distinctions. They call him a heretic outright, but for them, no consequences for such a label. In these priests' world, resistance is their guide. There will never be an agreement with Rome because in their world, they are right and Rome is wrong. They will never address the enormous theological problem that they are implying that the Universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church (not simply a Pope) can err.
3. Those priests who have spoken out have been disciplined. This is not at all surprising. Bishop Fellay's iron-fisted moves have been behind the curtains for many years so now that everything is out in the open a lot of people are understanding the dictatorial way in which he runs the SSPX. Some poor lost souls consider "dictatorship" the same thing as "leadership" and completely think that just because the religious life involves following orders that all those orders make sense and have some purpose. No. Sometimes they are pointless and wrong. Sometimes they are beyond the scope of the constitutions of that order.
4. The intervention of the three bishops prevented the publication of a deal prior to the General Chapter. While it was an open secret that there was opposition from some of the bishops no one could possibly have anticipated the wiki-leaked letter.
5. Bishop Fellay does need the support, not necessarily the approval, of the District Superiors. The meeting at Albano last year was to have private one-on-one meetings to gauge support. The General Chapter was to run the Superiors through the new structure of the SSPX in the proposed deal, not to take a sham vote to see if they "approved" of his actions. Bishop Fellay doesn't care if the Superiors agree or approve. He has over and over brandished his power, all the while diminishing his authority. He is hurting himself.
6. One devastating way in which he showed his power and diminished his authority was in the denial of ordinations to some deacons (those from the Dominicans/Capuchins) while they were on Ordination retreat! The families were there; it's just like a wedding! It's totally out of order to do something like that. And yet people still nod their heads in approval. Trads, wandering in the wilderness for so many years searching for Papal authority, yearn to give unconditional obedience to somebody, anybody, because they can't give it to their Papa (even if they won't admit that they are practically-speaking, sedevacantists), and so as each move is made by Bishop Fellay they simply say, "obey," while completely missing the irony that this is what they have not done for 40 years.
7. The General Chapter will, in all likelihood, announce a deal one way or the other. Whatever may have been announced in the media or by DICI about a "rejection" by Bishop Fellay, the reality is that prior to the last meeting in Rome, Bishop Fellay was building an oral agreement. Those in business know that often a deal is sealed prior to the final day of signatures. The deal is put together in words, in conversations, in handshakes. Then you take it back to your investors and shareholders and get signatures. So too here, Bishop Fellay has been constantly dealing "in good faith" with Rome, assuring them that he could get his "shareholders" in line with the deal. Given public disclosures of resistance, Rome is a bit shaken, but adjusted by saying that this agreement will only apply to Bishop Fellay, and that the other 3 bishops will be dealt with separately. Just because there seems to be a current stall does not mean the momentum has stopped. Trads have conflated a constant flow of news stories with momentum. The General Chapter was always going to be the time and place for the rubber stamping of this deal any way, so while the announcement of a deal may have been thwarted, the momentum of getting it done has not been.
8. Bishop Williamson has been excluded from the Chapter for "inciting rebellion," but Bishop Tissier has not. Bishop Tissier has been vocal about not doing a deal - in one sermon he said it might be 30 years before one could be done. Will he be banned? Lots of people understand that the SSPX is all Bishop Fellay knows - as he was the little boy who grew up in Econe. But Bishop Tissier was one of the seminarians who went to the Archbishop to tell him to open a seminary. The SSPX is Bishop Tissier's life, and he is fighting desperately to save it and what he thinks it is from all who would change it. I've said before that I think he will go along in the end, but I do not deny that I have been (pleasantly) surprised by his actions, words, sermons, and interviews in the last few weeks.
9. If there is not a deal, there very well may be punitive measures from Rome. This could include fresh excommunications, suspensions, special instructions to laypeople about penalties for attending Mass with the SSPX, etc. Bishop Fellay has hinted at this in previous comments.
10. Bishop de Galarreta's long condemnation of the Doctrinal Preamble should silence all those who, until now have blissfully said, "but we haven't even SEEN it." An SSPX bishop has seen it, and hated it.
For those of us in America who (lamentably) overthrew our rightful king and commemorate this on July 4th every year, it is a holiday of all sorts of reflections as we head into the time of the SSPX General Chapter. Reflections about power and authority, and the difference between them. And hopefully, a chance to meditate on our theological principles (not mere sentiment) on which we base our current approach to our Faith.