Speaking to his general audience on January 28, 2009, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that his gesture in lifting the excommunications of the SSPX would be followed “by the hoped-for commitment on their part to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council .”

In February 2009, following the commentaries of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf and George Weigel , I devoted some time to considering the disagreements between the Pope and the leading voices of the Society on the matter of Vatican II’s articulation of the principle of “religious liberty” and the relationship of civil and religious authority (See: Pope Benedict, the SSPX, and the dispute over Religious Freedom and Church-State Relations , Against The Grain , February 22, 2009).

While the Pope has counseled that the Second Vatican Council can be appreciated as a vehicle for renewal of the Church ” if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic ,” I see precious little evidence that the SSPX is interested in doing so. On the contrary, the SSPX has expressed the conviction that


  • “these texts [of Vatican II] themselves emanates, under the sweet appearance of kindness and dialogue, the stench of naturalism, of the corruption of the Faith” ( The Angelus , April 2003).

  • that to employ the proposed hermeneutic of continuity places one in danger of “[renunciating] the principle of non-contradiction, logical rigor, correct thinking”—such is the gulf between “the traditional vision of the relation between Judaism and the new heterodox conception of Judeo-Christian “dialogue”; the condemnation of religious liberty and liberalism by the Syllabus and the new Catholic-liberal conception of politics” ( Si Si, No No , August 2008).

  • that “to read Vatican II in light of Tradition is not to read it correctly. It means to bend, to twist the texts” ( Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX February 2009).


There is little doubt that the CDF will touch on these matters when it begins the much-anticipated doctrinal discussions with the SSPX. (I wonder, will Fellay revisit his condemnation of “the perfectly liberal” Pope’s own remarks lauding religious freedom during his historic visit to the United States (“a country founded upon Masonic principles, that is, of a revolution, of a rebellion against God”)?

In the meantime, it comes as no surprise that the SSPX has announced it will go ahead with plans to ordain 21 priests in America, Germany and Switzerland, despite opposition from local bishops ( Catholic Herald June 12, 2009).

“Such unauthorized ordinations,” notes Time ‘s Jeff Israely , “are indeed reminiscent of what led to the schism in the first place”:

In this specific case, the Lefebvrites want to decide who becomes a priest of the Catholic Church, an authority that for centuries has rested solely in the hands of local bishops, who derive their authority from the Pope himself. One senior Vatican official says that the Pope’s unilaterally reaching out to the Society, even with many outstanding issues unresolved, has emboldened rather than humbled the breakaway flock. “They thought all concessions had to come from Holy See,” he says. “But they are [now] going to have to admit their own obedience to authority.”

For further analysis and discussion, see Get Religion and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf .

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