A few days ago, the estimable @JamesMartinSJ wondered how the Vatican could still be talking with the Society of St. Pius X about bringing that schismatic group into the fold. If you want a clue, listen to the entire talk in which the Society’s Superior General, Bernard Fellay, identifies “the Jews, the Masons, the Modernists” as enemies of the Church.
Speaking at a conference in Ontario on December 28, Fellay provides a blow-by-blow account of his experiences with Rome over the past year. Students of the papacy from 11th century on will not be surprised by the portrait of intrigue, mixed signalling, and vying-for-authority in the oldest bureaucracy in the world. Fellay, a Swiss who speaks precise, idiomatic English, is a suave fellow, and he knows how to wield a stiletto.
He tweaks the Vatican with the fact that SSPX is getting more priestly vocations than various Western European countries, with data that priests no longer believe in the Real Presence, placing the blame on Vatican II and the new Mass. He’s got inside the present pope’s head, he believes, and perhaps he has. “Tradition” as represented by SSPX is just an extreme version of the retrenchment Catholicism of the Ratzingerian program, and those with the program find congenial much of what the SSPX stands for.
Fellay’s open opposition to Vatican II is an embarrassment, to be sure, but these days not so much of an embarrassment as his trinity of enemies. This harks back to the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s, when a Jewish officer in the French army was falsely accused of spying for the Germans. Then, the right-wing Catholic Action Française denounced Dreyfus’ supporters as a “Judeo-Protestant-Masonic conspiracy.” In Fellay’s world view, the the “modernists” who embrace Vatican II are effectively Protestants.
These are the enemies who, Fellay claims, have been most opposed to Rome recognizing the SSPX. Certainly Jewish organizations have expressed serious concerns about recognition of an organization that has included a prominent Holocaust denier and which is eager for a return to traditional Catholic views of Jews and Judaism.
That this Jewish Question is sensitive even within the SSPX is suggested by Saturday’s statement from its USA branch insisting that Fellay was using the term “enemies” merely in the technical sense of anyone opposed to the mission of the Catholic Church–and that his comment “was aimed at the leaders of Jewish organizations, and not the Jewish people, as is being implied by journalists.” I’m not so sure about that, inasmuch as those he called “people who during the centuries were most opposed to the church” do not seem limited to leadership.
Be that as it may, Fellay gives no indication of wanting to compromise his beliefs in the slightest, and is more than prepared for the Church to take its time before coming around to his position.
The problem is in Rome, not in us, and the problem is that you have the modernists who would like to finish the story of the society with a condemnation, and you have some people who still hope that we’ll get to something. I frankly don’t know how it will be possible.
Blogging over at dotCommonweal, my colleague David Gibson argues that it may ultimately “be irrelevant whether the SSPX or some of its elements return to Rome. The larger goal has been achieved.” That goal, according to David, is to make those formerly on the right fringe of the Church (e.g. Opus Dei) now seem like “sensible centrists.”
Meanwhile, this little tempest has succeeded in eliciting a statement from the Vatican. “It is impossible to speak of the Jews as enemies of the Church,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “The Church is deeply committed to dialogue with Jews.”
But on the principle of “no enemies to the right,” the Church seems no less committed to dialogue with SSPXers.