Is official Catholic reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X possible? More importantly, is it desirable?
Writing in the Washington Post, Melinda Henneberger thinks that news of a possible reconciliation with the SSPX is simply “bad news.” This is shortsighted, and overlooks the crucial importance and efficacy of prayer.
Reconciliation is an essential part of Christianity, and rebellious Catholics who are sincerely willing to reform, have always been welcomed back by the Church. To reject the possibility of reconciliation with the SSPX under any circumstances would be untrue to the nature and mission of Christianity.
That said, and in fairness to the Society’s critics, one wonders whether the SSPX feels the need to reform anything about itself. They do have free will, and have not always exercised it well. Since the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society over 40 years ago, it has been averse to constructive criticism. This was one of the many reasons Lefebvre– against the expressed will of Pope John Paul II–consecrated four new SSPX bishops in 1988, provoking a schism, his own excommunication, and those of others directly involved. Whenever someone has tried to point the Society in the right direction, its leadership has instead pointed to open (liberal) dissent tolerated elsewhere in the Church. This is indeed a scandal, and it is right that faithful Catholics resist it, as many have –though without engaging in acts that provoke schism and excommunication.
Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunications, in hopes of healing the divide, provided certain Catholic teachings are finally accepted by the Society, is well-intentioned, and we can only pray it bears good fruit, in light of continuing concerns.
The Society’s recent statement, courtesy of its American branch, that religious liberty is a “false notion” was disconcerting, to say the least; and undercut the American bishops fight to uphold a proper understanding of it. Furthermore, the presence of anti-Semitic sentiments within the Society has been well-documented, and efforts by the leadership to combat them have been far from reassuring. Is eliminating this dark subculture part of the ongoing discussions in Rome? One hopes so. If an agreement is announced, and such sentiments were to rise again, from a “reconciled” group, it would cause severe embarrassment for the Holy See, and provoke countless “I told you so’s” from skeptics and critics.
At the very least, any agreement should include a powerful and clear-cut repudiation of such offensive thinking, once and for all, and willingness to discipline any SSPX priest who promotes it.
It should be mentioned–since it often is not–that many traditional-minded Catholics are appalled by the sin of anti-Semitism, and never followed the SSPX into schism. Moreover, some of its former supporters have already reconciled with the Holy See on their own, and without incident. Hence, a path toward genuine reconciliation, if the SSPX wants it, is readily available.
Imagine what a blessing it would be for the Church, were a large and vital group of reformed Catholic traditionalists–freed from harmful ideas and fully accepting Vatican II (rightly interpreted) and the Novus Ordo–were to fully reconcile with the Church, and not do anything to betray the Vatican’s good faith, once re-united. They could do so while retaining and preserving the traditional Latin liturgy, and a strong sense of Catholic identity and tradition. That would be a boon for orthodoxy everywhere.
Whether that transpires, however, is a huge “if,” and depends largely upon the humility and good sense of the Society going forward. Given their history, this would likely require a significant change of heart, but with God, as Christ reminds us, all things are possible.