By David Kerr
The breakaway traditionalist group, the Society of St. Pius X, could be offered the status of a personal prelature within the Catholic Church if it agrees to some core Church teachings outlined at a Sept. 14 meeting in Rome.
During the two-hour meeting, the Superior General of the Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, was presented with a statement of principles or “doctrinal preamble” by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Leveda.
The document outlines points of doctrine that the Vatican needed clarified before finally healing the decades-long rift between the two sides. One Vatican insider told CNA that the overall offer made to the Society during the meeting was “very generous indeed.”
The Holy See has not given the Society a deadline to sign the agreement, but Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said he expects a decision “within a few months.”
He also said that if all goes well, the likely status of the Society of St. Pius X would be a personal prelature—a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. At present, the only personal prelature in the Church is Opus Dei.
Fr. Lombardi refused to give details as to the exact issues outlined in the doctrinal preamble. But he did explain that while some Church teachings require absolute assent others are still open to debate and discussion.
This could give the Society room to continue debating the legacy of the Second Vatican Council but from within the Catholic Church. The Society tends see some aspects of the Council as breaking with Church tradition on matters related to religious freedom and liturgical practice.
“This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and sentire-cum-Ecclesia (thinking with the mind of the Church),” said a Sept. 14 communiqué issued by the Vatican.
“While at the same time leaving the theological study and explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it open to legitimate discussion.”
The Society of St. Pius X has had a strained relationship with the Vatican since its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve, consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II in 1988. Archbishop Lefebrve founded the Society in 1970 as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.
In 2009, Pope Benedict remitted the excommunications of the Society’s bishops and set talks in motion aimed at restoring “full communion.” The Pope said at the time that to achieve full communion the members of the Society would have to show “true recognition of the Magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council.” Today’s talks are the culmination of that process.