After indications of progress toward reconciliation earlier this year, the head of the Society of St. Pius X stated Wednesday that canonical recognition is not what the priestly society primarily seeks.
“The Society of Saint Pius X, in the present state of grave necessity which gives it the right and duty to administer spiritual aid to the souls that turn to it, does not seek primarily a canonical recognition,” Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, wrote in a June 29 communique.
He added that the SSPX “has a right” to canonical recognition “as a Catholic work.”
The society “has only one desire,” he said: “faithfully to bring the light of the bi-millennial Tradition which shows the only route to follow in this age of darkness in which the cult of man replaces the worship of God, in society as in the Church.”
Bishop Fellay’s statement was issued after a June 25-28 meeting of major superiors of the SSPX.
He stated that “in the great and painful confusion that currently reigns in the Church, the proclamation of Catholic doctrine requires the denunciation of errors that have made their way into it and are unfortunately encouraged by a large number of pastors, including the Pope himself.”
Recalling the motto of St. Pius X, “to restore all things in Christ”, Bishop Fellay said that this “cannot happen without the support of a Pope who concretely favors the return to Sacred Tradition.”
“While waiting for that blessed day, the Society of Saint Pius X intends to redouble its efforts to establish and to spread, with the means that Divine Providence gives to it, the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He added that the SSPX “prays and does penance for the Pope, that he might have the strength to proclaim Catholic faith and morals in their entirety.”
By doing this, Bishop Fellay stated, the Pope will “hasten the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that we earnestly desire as we approach the centennial of the apparitions in Fatima.”
The bishop’s statement also recalled that the purpose of the SSPX “is chiefly the formation of priests.”
The SSPX was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 to form priests, as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Church after the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Holy See became particularly strained in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of Pope John Paul II.
The illicit consecrations resulted in the excommunication of the bishops involved. The excommunications of the surviving bishops were lifted in 2009 by Benedict XVI and since then negotiations “to rediscover full communion with the Church” have continued between the Society and the Vatican.
In remitting the excommunications, Benedict noted that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”
The biggest obstacles for the Society’s reconciliation have been the statements on religious liberty in Vatican II’s declaration Dignitatis humanae as well as the declaration Nostra aetate, which it claims contradict previous Catholic teaching.
There were indications in recent years of movement towards regularization of the priestly society, which has some 590 priest-members, including a memo apparently meant for circulation among its leadership.
The Feb. 19 memo from Fr. Franz Schmidberger had said it “seems the time to normalize the situation of the Society has come.” The priest is a past superior general of the society who is now rector of its seminary in Germany.
He said the Vatican had been “gradually lowering its demands and recent proposals” regarding the society’s position toward the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Mass which was implemented after it.
Although the group would be likely to “return from its ‘exile’,” he said, it would expect further discussion and would not be silent in the face of what it considers to be errors.
The priest’s memo noted the society’s need for licit consecration of any future bishops.
Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary for the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, spoke about interactions with the society in an April 6 interview with La Croix. The archbishop, whose commission is responsible for discussions with the society, said that discussions over the last few years have led to “an important clarification” that the Second Vatican Council “can be adequately understood only in the context of the full Tradition of the Church and her constant Magisterium.”
He said certain questions can remain “subject to discussion and clarification.”
In April 10 remarks to pilgrims in France, Bishop Fellay said that he saw “profound change” in the society’s relationship with the Vatican. He suggested Church leaders would not force them to accept the Second Vatican Council, having met with Pope Francis and Archbishop Pozzo April 1-2.
In 2015 the Holy See delegated a cardinal and three bishops to visit the seminaries of the SSPX. They were sent to become better acquainted with the society, and to discuss doctrinal and theological topics in a less formal context.
And Pope Francis announced in a September 2015 letter on the Jubilee Year of Mercy that during the jubilee year the faithful can validly and licitly receive absolution of their sins from priests of the SSPX.