A number of readers have asked via email and other means for comments on the latest SSPX developments. I am primarily writing this piece for them.
As I have said numerous times on this blog over the past months, Bishop Fellay is, among many things, a great strategist and politician, though he has recently overreached even in the eyes of his "fan base." Before the official "seal of secrecy" was imposed on the Chapter, he took a vote to rubber-stamp his exclusion of Bishop Williamson from the Chapter. This is curious for three reasons:
1. The very action of excluding Bishop Williamson from the Chapter was, from the beginning, seen as an "executive decision." It was *not* something that Bishop Fellay or the General Council postulated as needing "official approval" from the District Superiors, etc.
2. Why not enclose this as business within the Chapter and the vow of secrecy and hence make the leak a bit more illicit? Addressing this item before the official start of the Chapter made it red meat to be leaked. And if Fr. Lorans and all the rest of the SSPX PR team hadn't learned their lesson from the ongoing "Tradileaks" trend, this was just one more.
3. Despite the fact that Bishop Fellay knew he had a majority of support in the Chapter, this was a way for him, at the outset, at the very beginning, to take the temperature of the Chapter. And it delivered: the verdict was 29-9. Nine clerics were convinced that despite his major public disagreements with Bishop Fellay, Bishop Williamson should have been included in the Chapter. What other assumptions can we make about this unafraid minority?
a) They probably agreed with Bishop Williamson.
b) They were wholeheartedly against a deal, even if Bishop Williamson had not been a chief agitator against one.
c) They were not afraid to stand up to Bishop Fellay. These were men who were not content to rubber stamp the questionable leadership of The Chief Accountant.
What was the most important accomplishment of the (new) Nine? They held off Bishop Fellay's deal. Again. As anyone who has studied history knows, a vocal, focused minority will always win against a complacent majority.
Bishop Fellay, through the usual sham channel of DICI, tried to paper this over by issuing statements that referred to a "profound unity." Indeed, in the normal Orwellian double-speak we've come to expect from these men, we know that this indeed meant a "profound disunity." 25% of the Chapter opposed your decision to exclude Bishop Williamson and were brave enough to register that opposition in formal voting. If 75% is "profound unity" I guess 51% would be "unity." In any event, the numbers are less relevant than the effect: the deal appears to be on hold. I'll get back to that in a moment.
I've also said throughout the "Tradileaks" controversy that there are simply too few within the Traditionalist movement with the wit and intelligence to forge official-sounding/looking documents. (If you are wondering whether these leaked documents are authentic, don't. They are.) It is clear that one of the goals of the Chapter
was to put together a framework by which an official deal could be approved. The major goals were listed: ability to "critique" error, specifically from Vatican II, use of the (already semi-mauled) 1962 books, and the old 1988 Protocol promise of "one bishop." The "desirable but not required" conditions included freedom from the diocesan bishops, a tribunal, and the old 1988 Protocol reference to a majority of the Ecclesia Dei commission coming from the SSPX. Finally, it gave a mechanism for an extraordinary Chapter to be convened to approve a deal. Why create such a mechanism if it wasn't expected to be used?
All of these conditions have Bishop Tissier's fingerprints all over them. It was he who was by the Archbishop's side in 1988 as they negotiated with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger for the May 5 Protocol. It is he who has said recently that he thinks an agreement is "30 years in the future." It is he who created and presided over the SSPX's parallel ecclesiastical tribunal. It is he who would insert such conditions (or at least strongly back them if not introduce them himself) to give himself some sort of surety that the SSPX would not be immediately swallowed up and compromised by the New Religion, although the SSPX is hubristic to imagine that THEY will not be like the FSSP, Campos, etc. They are, to steal a phrase from American Neoconservatives, the "indispensable" congregation. In their own mind, at least. No order or congregation is "indispensable."
There was then a sort of Kabuki theater between Rome and the SSPX PR machine. Rome basically relegated the "no compromise" document from the Chapter as an "internal document" and "awaited an official reply." It's the eve of August, when Italy, and Rome, are on holiday.
If the Vatican had wanted to pick a new fight with the SSPX, it would have been easy enough. A confrontational response might have pointed out that if the traditionalists believe that salvation is impossible outside the Catholic Church, they should be working feverishly to ensure that they are inside, not trifling with the risk of excommunication. Or that for a group that proclaims the Roman Pontiff as the supreme ruler of the Church, the SSPX shows precious little fealty to the Pope. Or that it is presumptuous for SSPX members to compare themselves to the victims of persecution, when they are suffering no hardship that they did not bring upon themselves. But Vatican officials are not making those points. The Holy See is watching carefully, silently—like a loving parent, waiting for an angry child to calm down and a reasonable discussion can resume.
The SSPX surely knows that these talks cannot go on forever. The statement from the general chapter placed heavy emphasis on the importance of reading all Church teachings in the light of the tradition “which, by its teaching authority, transmits the revealed Deposit of Faith in perfect harmony with the truths that the entire Church has professed, always and everywhere.” Here the SSPX invokes the “hermeneutic of continuity” that Pope Benedict XVI has insisted must be the key to understanding Vatican II. This pontificate has opened the door to the discussion the SSPX wants, and now the discussion is taking place in earnest. But this pontificate will not last forever, nor will the Vatican’s patience with these long-running discussions.
So we are where we ended from my last article. We are waiting. And we will see. But the fat lady has not sung. Yet.
For those who continue to use this crisis within the SSPX as an opportunity to re-examine the theological principles of "resistance" to a man one recognizes as the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, I point directly to the SSPX's official statement from the Chapter:
The Society continues to uphold the declarations and the teachings of the constant Magisterium of the Church in regard to all the novelties of the Second Vatican Council which remain tainted with errors, and also in regard to the reforms issued from it. We find our sure guide in this uninterrupted Magisterium which, by its teaching authority, transmits the revealed Deposit of Faith in perfect harmony with the truths that the entire Church has professed, always and everywhere.
Those who revel in repeating talking points always say the sedevacantists are fixated on the Pope. In the quote above we see that the contradiction in the SSPX position goes much deeper. The Society of St. Pius X maintains that an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, the largest one in its history, is not actually part of the "uninterrupted Magisterium" (which we all know, contains zero error) but is actually "tainted with error." No, the SSPX doesn't just take issue with the actions of the men they say they recognize as Pope. They also decide which Councils of the Catholic Church have error. This is not a tenable, logical, or Catholic position.
Something to chew on, at least for the thinkers out there.