Vatican may reconcile differences with excommunicated St Pius group


AS HAS been long predicted, the Holy See appears to be ready to re-embrace the Society of St Pius X, the traditionalist group founded in 1970 by the controversial French bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was ultimately excommunicated.

A Holy See statement earlier this week confirmed that the current leader of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, had met Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In essence, the Holy See statement seems to indicate that at some future time, the Lefebvre movement will be re-incorporated into the Catholic Church, probably through the creation of a personal prelature, a sort of non-territorial diocese status currently held only by Opus Dei.

This week’s announcement comes three years after Pope Benedict XVI unwittingly prompted a huge international controversy, even jeopardising relations between the Catholic Church and Jews, when he lifted the 1988 excommunication of four St Pius bishops. It emerged that one of those pardoned, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust-denier.

At the time, the pope described the “Williamson case” as an “unforeseen mishap”.

Many commentators have underlined the pope’s desire to make peace with a fundamentally conservative movement which, at times, has seemed to reject much of the teaching of Vatican Council II, especially in relation to ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue.

Furthermore, the Lefebvrists are well-known throughout the Catholic world for their insistence on using the traditional Latin, so-called Tridentine, Mass.

Vatican commentators have pointed to the pope’s willingness to mend fences with the Society of St Pius as further indication of the extent to which he wants to shape a much more traditional church.

Vatican insiders argue that the current “deal” may well gloss over longstanding differences in the interests of reunion, while others argue that if Bishop Fellay makes fundamental concessions, then not all his small movement will follow him back to full communion with Rome.