ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The head of the pontifical commission in charge of overseeing talks between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is saying Pope Francis is forging ahead with re-unification. And a respected Vatican journalist seems to be confirming the imminent reunion.
In an interview published Friday, Abp. Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, discussed the ongoing talks between the Vatican and the SSPX, noting that the Holy Father is urging a positive and constructive attitude in dialogue.
"Today, we can say that the approach has progressed, and one can be confident that canonical recognition of the SSPX will soon be achieved in the legal form of a personal prelature," he explained.
Marco Tosatti, writing on his blog Monday, seems to be confirming Pozzo's indications that reunion may be near.
"Reliable sources claim that the Society of St. Pius X and the Vatican are just a step away from an agreement," he wrote. "In fact, according to some, only the signatures remain; and they're waiting for Bp. Fellay to give the finishing touches on the SSPX's internal situation and reaching out toward the big step: the total and official return, as a personal prelature, of Lefebvre [and his followers] to Rome."
Rome's dialogue, which Pope Francis hopes to continue in a "friendly atmosphere," takes into account the SSPX's reservations about Vatican II. "Bishop Fellay stated in an interview last year that the SSPX reserves the right to point out the ambiguity and the mistakes it believes are apparent, but that the final authority, the misunderstandings and the critical points to clarify and dispel, rests with Rome."
"Moreover, during the last 40 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has often intervened to clarify, clarify and correct certain misinterpretations or misunderstandings of the doctrines of the Council," Pozzo said. "I do not see why this work of clarification and the answers to doubts and reservations which are brought forward with an ecclesiastical and non-polemic spirit cannot be carried forward."
If agreement is reached between Rome and the SSPX, it will be a momentous achievement, mending a division that began almost 30 years ago in Econe, Switzerland.
Asked about rumors that the SSPX will be headquartered in Rome at the church of Santa Maria Immaculata all'Esquilino, Pozzo responded, "I think it is self-evident that the possible transfer of a rectorate church or a church in Rome to the priestly fraternity presupposes the full reconciliation and formal legal recognition on the part of the Holy See."
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, has since shot down the rumors as false. Tosatti notes that the headquarters will likely instead be at the Immaculate Sisters of the Via Monzi, a former boarding school, with a church on the street.
A personal prelature has been offered to the SSPX since a 2000 meeting with then-head of Ecclesia Dei Cdl. Darío Castrillón Hoyos. The progress towards full canonical recognition of the society by the Vatican has gained momentum, following the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. This motu proprio opened greater access for priests to say the Traditional Latin Mass.
In a March 3 homily given in Poland, Fellay said, "All that exists now is that the SSPX be recognized around the world. The faithful also will be part of this prelature with the right to receive the sacraments and hear the teachings from the priests of the Society."
"This prelature is a structure that will not be under the authority of local bishops, but will be autonomous," he clarified.
Another major step toward reunion took place in 2009, when Pope Benedict rescinded the excommunications of the bishops involved: Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay and the three others. One of the bishops, Richard Williamson, has since re-incurred the penalty of excommunication by likewise ordaining bishops without papal approval. He has also since been expelled from the SSPX for alleged disobedience to the superior general.
In 2015, Bp. Athanasius Schneider of Azana, Kazakhstan, made visits to two SSPX seminaries, indicating hopes that the Society would achieve canonical recognition. As recently as late February, he also remarked that all the texts of Vatican II were not infallible, dogmatic statements and that the re-integration and canonical recognition of the society by Rome will serve the joining of "good forces" within the Church.
Pozzo addressed problematic interpretations of Vatican II in his Friday interview. "[If] an interpretation or an understanding or practice of the Second Vatican Council is proposed that is a discontinuity or break with Catholic doctrine," he commented, "this interpretation must be rejected as false or inadequate."
"The problem is therefore not the Second Vatican Council as such, but a certain way of understanding, applying and practicing the Council, the so-called 'spirit of the Council,'" he explained. "Pope Benedict XVI Has spoken of a 'true council' and a 'virtual council,' the latter being the fruit of the mass media, the modernist currents of theology, in other words the 'conciliation ideology' that superimposed the genuine mens of the Council's Fathers."
The most recent major step taken towards regularization of the SSPX was the extension of faculties for hearing confessions by Pope Francis at the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. While the faculties were originally expected to expire at the close of the year, the Holy Father announced in November 2016 that the faculties would remain open indefinitely.
Ecclesia Dei is a pontifical commission created by Pope St. John Paul II in response to the four unauthorized episcopal consecrations carried out in 1988 by the late founder of the SSPX, Abp. Marcel Lefebvre. Priestly societies that say the Traditional Latin Mass are sometimes called Ecclesia Dei communities because of their approval by the same commission. These include the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).
The standing offer for the SSPX is to become a canonically recognized personal prelature, meaning the society will operate without geographical restrictions and will report directly to the Holy See rather than to a diocesan bishop. Currently, the only existing personal prelature in the Catholic Church is Opus Dei, which is not an Ecclesia Dei community.
Acceptance of a personal prelature by the SSPX has raised a question of concern over a possible bait and switch on the part of the Vatican. Bishop Schneider has replied to these speculations that the Church is not a secular or political institution but a supernatural one, and that what is needed is trust in the Providence of God.
"Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession and maternal support of Our Lady of Fatima, whose hundredth anniversary we are celebrating this year," Pozzo said with regard to the hope of reunion with the Society.