Vatican confirms SSPX is being offered Personal Prelature

By David Kerr

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Superior of the Society of St. Pius X Bishop Bernard Fellay.

The Vatican has confirmed that the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X is being offered the status of a personal prelature as part of a deal to heal the group’s 24-year rift with the Catholic Church.

“Clearly the ball is now in the court of the Society,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said on June 14.

Yesterday afternoon the Society’s superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, spent over two hours in talks with representatives of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Prefect Cardinal William J. Levada.

A June 14 communique from the Vatican Press Office confirmed that during those discussions “a draft document was submitted proposing a Personal Prelature as the most appropriate instrument for any future canonical recognition of the Society.”

A personal prelature is a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. At present, the only personal prelature in the Church is Opus Dei.

The Society of St. Pius X was founded in 1970 by Frenchman Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in response to errors he believed had crept into the Church following the Second Vatican Council.

The Society has had a strained relationship with the Church since Archbishop Lefebvre ordained four bishops against the will of Pope John Paul II in 1988.

The Vatican communique explained that the primary purpose of yesterday’s meeting was “to present the Holy See’s evaluation of the text submitted in April by the Society of St. Pius X in response to the Doctrinal Preamble which the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith had presented to the Society on 14 September 2011.”

Although it has not been published publicly, the doctrinal preamble sets out key elements of Catholic teaching which the Society will have to agree with before re-uniting with the Church. That list almost certainly includes the documents of the Second Vatican Council 1962-65.

The response given to the preamble by Bishop Fellay in April contained some amendments to the Vatican’s original text. In the intervening weeks Vatican officials have been formulating their decision. This process has included personal input from Pope Benedict XVI.

The June 14 communique said that yesterday’s discussions also allowed the Vatican an opportunity to provide “explanations and clarifications” for its decision.

For his part, Bishop Fellay “illustrated the current situation of the Society of St. Pius X” and promised to give a response “within a reasonable lapse of time,” the statement said.

In a separate June 14 statement, the Society said that Bishop Fellay "spelled out the doctrinal difficulties posed by the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Missae."

"The desire for additional clarifications could result in a new phase of discussions," the Society said.

If an agreement is reached, it seems unlikely that all of the Society would follow Bishop Fellay back into the Catholic Church.

Last month the other three Society bishops issued a letter warning that any deal with the Vatican would mean the Society would “cease to oppose the universal apostasy of our time.” They also dismissed Pope Benedict as a “subjectivist.”

Vatican negotiations with each of the Society’s bishops are now being handled “separately and singularly,” the communique said.

It concluded by expressing the hope that “this additional opportunity for reflection” would help bring about “full communion between the Society of St. Pius X and the Apostolic See.”

Updated June 14, 2012 at 12:01 p.m. MDT. Adds specific objections from Society in paragraphs 13 and 14.

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