On April 1 this year, reports emerged that the Superior General of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) was welcomed with open arms at the Vatican by the man some regard as the most liberal pope of all time.
No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s story; the summit actually took place. Even more remarkably, the meeting was described by traditionalists as “very positive”. There was good reason to be incredulous. The SSPX is a traditionalist group that fiercely oppose the changes brought about following the Second Vatican Council. Their leader Bishop Fellay was so disappointed with the recent apostolic exhortation that he said it made him weep.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis is adored by secular commentators and during his time as Pontiff has fast-tracked the canonisation of the architect of Vatican II, [Pope] John XXIII, with whom he is regularly compared. It is difficult to imagine much common ground between Bishop Fellay and Francis, and yet the Pope has taken constructive steps in order to bring the estranged SSPX back into full communion with the Church.
Francis’s sympathies existed long before he was elected Pope. When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and members of the SSPX applied for visas to work in the country, he vouched for their Catholicity to the Argentine Government, reportedly saying: “You are Catholic – it is evident.”
But the big gesture of inclusion came when Pope Francis announced that during the Year of Mercy, contrary to former rules, Catholics would be able to receive absolution from SSPX priests. In a letter last year, he wrote: “This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one.”
As Fr John Zuhlsdorf pointed out: “If the Holy Father is willing to go this far with the priests of the SSPX, is it hard to imagine that this merciful concession might not be extended beyond the Year of Mercy? I would like to think so.” He then observed, in an analogy with American history: “If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps Pope Francis is the Pope who will reconcile the SSPX.”
Perhaps. After all, Rorate Caeli, a blog that is not usually overflowing with optimism about Francis, was positive about Bishop Fellay and Francis’s meeting last week. It reports that during the meeting “the Pope confirmed that the SSPX was Catholic in his eyes. He confirmed that he never would condemn it, he confided that he wishes to expand the faculties of the SSPX, starting with the authorisation of its priests to validly hear Confession. Finally, during the talks in Rome, Bishop Fellay was encouraged to establish a seminary in Italy.”
The question still remains as to why Francis is so keen to extend the hand of friendship. Paul Vallely, author of Pope Francis: Untying the Knots: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism, says Francis’s approach is typical of his inclusive character: “He wants everyone inside the Church and inside the conversation … Being welcoming to the SSPX is part of his openness.”
Austen Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer, agrees: “Like his predecessors, Pope Francis takes very seriously his mission of restoring the unity of the Church. Orthodox, Anglicans, SSPX – wherever there has been a split, he will try to heal it … Extending the SSPX’s faculty of Confessions is one area where he sees they can do something together – and create space for the Holy Spirit to act. That’s how he sees his task as Pope.”
Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, notes that traditionalists and SSPX are on the outskirts of the Church. He said: “Pope Francis has shown a particular interest in this important work of the Petrine Office, in relation not only to the SSPX but also to the ‘Patriotic’ Catholics of China, and the Orthodox …
“There is also a parallel between Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass and others found on the ‘peripheries’ of the Church, since as Pope Benedict remarked they have been treated as ‘lepers’, and suffered real marginalisation. The reasons for the attitude pushing them to the margins is increasingly difficult to understand, and clearly not shared by Pope Francis.”
The fact that so many liberals warm to Francis makes some traditional Catholics uneasy. But if Francis really is today’s pin-up for “progressive” Catholics, he is certainly teaching them a thing or two about how to be genuinely inclusive, and this includes welcoming traditionalists. Click here to read original
We did discuss the possibility – likelihood even – of a speedy recognition of the Society back in February click here to read that previous post. Despite all the scandals, notably the recent Exhortation, it seems that Pope Francis is still well disposed towards the SSPX. The key question is… why?