Every nuance matters

Reading the March 16 Vatican Press Release concerning the SSPX

Today the Vatican issued a press release entitled “Meeting Between the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, March 16, 2012” in the original French and an Italian translation. An independent English translation is posted below.

The Vatican Information Service (VIS) translation, although accurate, omits all honorific titles, appears to have been produced hurriedly, and lacks nuance. One example: it says that the Doctrinal Preamble “defined” certain doctrinal principles, etc., a technical term that is much too forceful to convey the meaning of the French verb énoncer, “to enunciate”. (The CDF expressly allowed for the possibility of modifying the wording of the Preamble.)

The chronology in the Communiqué is telescoped: Bishop Fellay’s response, proposing modifications to the Doctrinal Preamble, was sent to the Vatican in December. The CDF replied requesting clarifications, which were duly sent later that month. The “response … that arrived in January 2012” is therefore presumably at least the third attempt by the General Superior of the SSPX to state their position with regard a doctrinal basis for reconciliation with the Holy See.

The procedural details in paragraph 3 of the Communiqué are significant. This was not a vote by a panel of judges. The CDF, made up of cardinals and theologians, examined the SSPX response and probably summarized its findings in writing, but it acted only in an advisory capacity. The Pope, having taken their findings into consideration, has the authority to make the judgment about this doctrinal matter. The paragraph ends by referring to the SSPX indirectly as “the aforesaid Society”. The legal phraseology is a pointed reminder that there are canonical as well as doctrinal questions involved in the CDF-SSPX talks; it also prompts the reflection that, although the Society has chosen St. Pius X as their patron saint and invokes his doctrinal authority, it is only a society of priests that was formed after Vatican II during the pontificate of Paul VI.

Even though the Society’s response was deemed inadequate, the final paragraph in the Communiqué leaves the door open. The SSPX Superior General was invited “À bien vouloir clarifier sa position”, “to be so kind as to clarify his position”. This is a typical French formality at the conclusion of a bureaucratic document, but the expression can also mean “really to try to clarify his position,” implying that now is not the time for maneuvering.


MARCH 16, 2012 

During the meeting on September 14, 2011, between His Eminence Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, a Doctrinal Preamble, accompanied by a Preliminary Note, was delivered to the latter, as the fundamental basis for achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See.  This Preamble spelled out certain doctrinal principles and criteria for interpreting Catholic doctrine that are necessary to ensure fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium and sentire cum Ecclesia [the proverbial “thinking with the Church”].   

The response of the Society of St. Pius X to this Doctrinal Preamble that arrived in January 2012 was submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for their review and was then forwarded to the Holy Father for his judgment.  In compliance with the decision by Pope Benedict XVI, the evaluation of the response of His Excellency Bishop Fellay was communicated to him by a letter delivered to him today.  This evaluation notes that the position that he expressed is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the rift between the Holy See and the aforesaid Society.  

At the conclusion of today’s meeting, out of a concern for avoiding an ecclesial rupture with painful and incalculable consequences, the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X was invited to be so kind as to clarify his position so as to heal the existing rift, as Pope Benedict XVI wished.  

[00366-03.01] [Original French text at the Vatican website with an Italian translation]

[English translation by Michael J. Miller, M.A. Theol., who has reported on the CDF-SSPX doctrinal discussions (2009-present) for Catholic World Report. His most recent piece on the discussions, “So Near and Yet So Far”, appeared on Feb. 28, 2012.]

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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.