VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is laying down clear parameters for the Society Of St. Pius X (SSPX) before they can be accepted into full communion with the Church.
In a June interview for the German publication Herder Korrespondenz, the prelate stated that if one "wants to be fully Catholic, one must recognize the Pope and the Second Vatican Council."
The SSPX, a priestly group founded by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, has expressed serious reservations about the documents of Vatican II, and has also acted in defiance of directives from the Holy Father, including offering the sacraments illicitly in its various chapels.
In 1988, Abp. Lefebvre ordained four bishops in disobedience to orders from Pope John Paul II. This resulted in the automatic excommunication of the four bishops, until 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI, in an act of good will, lifted the excommunications. Even so, Pope Benedict made clear the SSPX has "no canonical status" and that "its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church."
Since then, the SSPX has been in talks with the Vatican in the hopes of an eventual reconciliation and return to full communion with the Church.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis made several hints that the SSPX could come into full communion soon. In the French-Catholic publication La Croix, the Holy Father said the SSPX are "Catholics on the way to full communion" and that there is "good dialogue and good work taking place."
Pope Francis also met with Bp. Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, in a private audience last month. The Pope said after the meeting that Fellay is "a man with whom one can dialogue."
In Pope Benedict's March 2009 letter clarifying the role of the SSPX, he explained that the reasons for the split were doctrinal in nature and not simply canonical or legal:
The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. ... In order to make this clear once again: Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers — even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty — do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church. ... In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei — the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope — to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes.
For the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis declared that SSPX priests are granted faculties to absolve sins in the confessional.