Pressure groups cannot roll back teachings of Vatican II


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July 16, 2012

The pope is not only the symbol of unity in the Church, he also has the key responsibility for making unity as visible as possible. So Pope Benedict is being faithful to his call in working diligently to restore full unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). No one should want a full schism.

Nevertheless, Vatican officials are right in being cautious and even wary in making agreements with a group that rejects key elements of the Second Vatican Council. The council was not a four-year Church picnic among the bishops and other fathers who participated. It was an extraordinary and effective exercise of the Church's magisterial authority that was guided by the Holy Spirit and whose documents were promulgated by the rightful successor of Peter.

No pressure group has the authority to ask the Church to roll back or water down the teachings of Vatican II. The SSPX has rejected the council's teachings on religious liberty, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, the liturgy and the nature of Tradition. Such rejection strikes at the heart of Vatican II teachings.

Moreover, the ongoing anti-Semitic comments by one SSPX bishop stands as a sign of the trajectory of opinion among those who would reject Vatican II's teaching on interreligious dialogue. It would be a scandal of high degree for the Church to be perceived as tacitly making allowance for such comments. Vatican II's declaration that the Church "deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews" is an unequivocal statement that cannot be compromised.

The leader of the traditionalist society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has said that even if the SSPX is reconciled with the Catholic Church, it would continue to denounce "doctrinal difficulties" in the Church. This is not a sign that meaningful reconciliation is on the horizon. From the Catholic point of view, any doctrinal difficulties lie on the other side.

The Vatican, appropriately, has not spoken publicly in detail about the nature of its doctrinal discussions with the SSPX. However, if the society is willing to accept the teachings of Vatican II, it could be appropriate for it to be allowed to use the pre-Vatican II liturgy and to be governed by what is called a personal prelature.

The society's willingness to accept the conciliar teachings seems, at least from the outside, to be most dubious. If that perception is wrong, reconciliation with the SSPX would be a good and desirable step. But if it is true, then the reconciliation would be phony, one which would only serve to endorse the pick-and-choose mentality to Church teaching that has been rightly deplored in recent decades.