Society of St Pius X & Vatican II

Dialogika Resources

Tablet: "SSPX and German bishops square up for battle over Vatican II reforms"

The superior of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, has apparently ruled out the possibility of his fraternity complying with conditions laid down by the Vatican for them to exercise ministry in the Church.

Last week, following an outcry over the lifting of the excommunications of four SSPX bishops by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican Secretariat of State issued a statement saying that "full recognition of the Second Vatican Council" was an "indispensable condition for any future recognition of the SSPX" by the Church.

However, in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel published on Tuesday, Bishop Fellay said the Second Vatican Council was responsible for the "deplorable state of affairs in the Catholic Church today". The SSPX particularly rejected three points in the council declarations, he said, "namely the ecumenical initiatives, the declaration on religious liberty and the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy". "Since these changes in the Church, we have experienced a unique collapse of church life unlike anything in the entire history of the Church," he added.

Bishop Fellay's words seemed to add weight to the position voiced by the President of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who said on Germany's ZDF television that he expected a complete and final break between the Church and the SSPX soon. And, in words that underlined the Vatican's conditions, the Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Müller, who is close to Pope Benedict, issued a pastoral letter to all the Catholics in his diocese entitled "There is no going back on Vatican II".

Hundreds of Catholics had asked him recently whether the Council was being undermined. "The answer is quite clearly - No!" he said. "There will be no negotiations about Vatican II with the Lefebvrists."

In his interview Bishop Fellay anticipated such criticisms. "The German bishops demand that we recognise their concepts. At the same time, their faithful are running away and they have no young priests. We have our concepts and many young families. A tree is known by its fruits," he said, adding: "We preach about sin and forgiveness, heaven and hell. We are a religious community, not an association of politically correct do-gooders." As far as dialogue with Jews was concerned, Bishop Fellay stressed that "in order to be redeemed, the Jews need Jesus".

The Lefebvrist bishop, Richard Williamson, one of the four whose excommunication was lifted, and whose denial of the Holocaust has caused worldwide uproar, told the same publication that he intended to look into the historical facts on the Holocaust again but this would take time.

The statement last week from the Secretariat of State said Bishop Williamson would have to retract his views unequivocally if he were ever to serve as a bishop in the Church. Asked if he would make a personal visit to Auschwitz, he replied: "No, I will not go to Auschwitz."

In an indication that the SSPX is trying to distance itself from the extremist views of some of its members, reports from Argentina said Bishop Williamson had been dismissed from his position as director of the seminary of Our Lady of Corredentora in La Reja.

Fr Christian Bouchacourt, the superior of the Latin America branch of the SSPX, said on Sunday that Bishop Williamson's opinions "in no way reflect the position of our congregation" and he was "saddened" because his congregation had been "discredited" by Bishop Williamson's comments.

The SSPX also expelled the head of its province in north-east Italy, Fr Florian Abrahamowicz, for saying Nazi gas chambers were only used for disinfecting Jews. A note from the SSPX said that the expulsion, which took effect on 6 February, was "necessary in order to assure that the image of the SSPX was not further distorted".

After meeting senior officials, including Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, at the Vatican on Monday, the World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said the Vatican's insistence that Bishop William-son disown his Holocaust denial or face consequences was a welcome first step, but one that required further concrete actions. "We want the Vatican to realise that by accommodating anti-Semites like Williamson, the achievements of four decades of Catholic-Jewish dialogue since the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate will be put into doubt," he said. "We now believe that our message has been understood."

On Thursday the Pope was expected to denounce Holocaust denial during a talk at the Vatican to an umbrella organisation that represents some 50 Jewish agencies in the United States. The general secretary of the Central Council of Jews, Stephan Kramer, confirmed that the council's president, Charlotte Knobloch, and Archbishop Zollitsch would be meeting in the very near future.

The Bishop of Mainz, and former president of the German bishops' conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, said on ARD TV that he could not understand why "razor-sharp conditions" had not been demanded of the four SSPX bishops before their excommunications were revoked. Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, Archbishop of Berlin, meanwhile, has demanded that the Pope take back the revocations.

He said that although Pope Benedict had assured the Jews of his "unconditional solidarity", that was "obviously not enough". "The indignation has not died down and I understand that," the cardinal said.