Turning SSPX Defiance into Good

Shortly after the first of many meetings between the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in October of 2009, I wrote in my column:

Regardless of whether or not the meetings result in the SSPX arriving at full communion – something each of us should be praying for – it seems that we can expect one of its fruits to be a greater degree of clarity for every Catholic concerning the way in which the Council is to be received. Given the many divisions that exist within the Church concerning Vatican II, the importance of this in service to what we might call a greater degree of “internal unity” cannot be overstated.

Now almost two years later, as this process is nearing completion, I stand by that assessment genuinely excited at the prospect of what lies ahead.

On September 14, 2011, the Vatican Press Office issued a communique containing the following announcement:

“While bearing in mind the concerns and demands presented by the Society of St. Pius X about protecting the integrity of the Catholic faith against Vatican Council II’s ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ with Tradition (a theme addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith maintains that the fundamental basis for [the SSPX] achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See is the acceptance of the text of the Doctrinal Preamble, which was handed over during a meeting on 14 September 2011.”

According to the communique, “The Preamble defines certain doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation [of] Catholic doctrine, which are necessary to ensure faithfulness to the Church Magisterium and ‘sentire cum Ecclesia’. At the same time, it leaves open to legitimate discussion the examination and theological explanation of individual expressions and formulations contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and later Magisterium.”

When the CDF-SSPX meetings were first announced, the Vatican Press Office stated that among the “doctrinal differences” to be studied were such critically important matters as “the concept of Tradition, the Missal of Paul VI, the interpretation of Vatican Council II in continuity with Catholic doctrinal Tradition, the themes of the unity of the Church and the Catholic principles of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions, and religious freedom.”

Now let’s be honest – the SSPX certainly doesn’t own an exclusive franchise with regard to “doctrinal differences” on matters such as these. In fact, when it comes to butting heads with the sacred Magisterium, creating divisions within the Body of Christ and endangering souls through the dissemination of heterodox teachings on faith and morals; etc., the Society can’t even begin to hold a candle to any number of “full communion” progressive organizations that do so from within – media outlets, institutes of higher learning and even some religious orders.

This being the case, the potential value of this “Preamble” (the contents of which are being held in strict confidence, presumably, just for the time being) to the Church Universal is considerable.

While offering little in the way of detail, the Vatican communique does provide some intriguing insight into the degree to which the Holy See is willing to examine the Council’s role – indirect or otherwise – in the Church’s decades-long crisis of faith.

For instance, it seems to plainly acknowledge that certain of the “individual expressions and formulations” found in the Council documents have contributed to our problems by leaving something to be desired in the way of clarity, and as such they require further “examination and explanation.”

Those of us who have studied the Council documents by the light of sacred Tradition can hardly be shocked by such an admission, but what might surprise many is the fact that the Preamble goes on to suggest that “the Magisterium which followed” Vatican Council II also stands in need of greater clarity as well.

Now, this in itself isn’t entirely groundbreaking. The content of the faith is ever open to “legitimate discussion” and further explanation within certain defined parameters (e.g., see the CDF Instruction, Donum Veritatis, On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian). What is noteworthy, however, is that the “expressions” of the Council and the Magisterium that sought to explain it going forward have been so specifically singled out.

Praise God! Surely this is a gift to all of His people!

The presence of any ambiguities in the conciliar text or the Magisterium that followed can represent an obvious challenge for anyone with a sincere interest in “protecting the integrity of the Catholic faith” (as the Preamble says of the SSPX) by interpreting their meaning in continuity with Tradition.

Those of us who so aspire to safeguard the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine, in spite of any mistakes we may have made along the way, are by no means the enemies of Holy Mother Church. One can therefore hope, and indeed easily imagine, that all such people of goodwill will welcome the “doctrinal principles and criteria” offered by the Holy See and embrace them as useful artillery in the mission of defending the faith that comes to us from the Apostles.    

As the experience of the last four decades has clearly demonstrated, however, the greatest danger we face comes at the hands of those who are wont to leverage conciliar ambiguities in order to undermine the integrity of the faith; feeding their insatiable progressive appetites through a relentless attempt to fashion something altogether new – a “conciliar Church” that is barely even recognizable as Catholic. To say that they have succeeded in some considerable measure is an understatement.

No one knows for certain whether or not the SSPX will formally accept the Doctrinal Preamble, but one thing we can be sure of is this – the progressive enemies of the Church who wage war both from within and without will reject its contents out of hand. You see, clarity with regard to doctrinal and moral absolutes is the last thing these individuals want, and already the prospect of seeing their ideological polar opposite, the SSPX, returning to full communion with Rome is making them visibly nervous.

This, my friends, is surely a sign of good things to come should the desired reconciliation actually take place. Let us pray fervently that it does!

So, how will history ultimately judge the Society of St. Pius X? I suppose this will be revealed only after the passage of generations, but even now when so many questions are yet to be answered it occurs to me that the SSPX may very well be looked upon as something akin to the sons of Israel who sold their brother Joseph into slavery:

Yes, they created a painful wound in the family and broke ranks with their patriarch and father, but the Lord took their defiance and “turned it into good” (cf Gen 50:20), that their reunification might ultimately serve “to preserve of His people a remnant, and to keep alive from among them many survivors” (cf Gen 44:7).

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com.