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'Church' head sees hope amid turmoil

Optimistic about finding solution to factional rift

Bishop Fellay Bishop Fellay
  • NJ Viehland, Manila
  • Philippines
  • October 20, 2011
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Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has expressed high hopes for a solution to the growing rift between progressive and conservative factions in the Church, but only after greater suffering.

His group, SSPX, is the largest and most vocal of the traditionalists who reject the reforms inspired by Vatican II, including teachings on the salvation of souls and changes to the Mass.

Established in 1970, its relationship with the Vatican reached a nadir in 1988 when Pope John Paul II excommunicated four SSPX bishops who were ordained without approval. However, this was remitted in 2009 and the Society has recently held conciliatory talks with Vatican officials.

On his current visit to the Philippines, where he addressed an international group of Society adherents, Bishop Fellay said: "Yes, I am optimistic.”

He pointed out some recent texts from the Vatican, which make corrections to teachings that were ushered in by Vatican II. The bishop described these changes as attempts to "make something more precise," which he claims as an acknowledgment that something is not perfect and needs to be clarified.

He also noted that Pope Benedict's encyclicals "hardly quote" Vatican II, compared to the papal encyclicals of Blessed John Paul II.

At the congress which he addressed, participants from Manila and the Philippine provinces were joined by traditionalist Church members from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Africa and New Zealand.

Emphasizing that SSPX respects the authority of the Pope and has no wish to split with Rome, Bishop Fellay gave the delegates an overview of the Society's dealings with Vatican officials.

The most recent development has been a Vatican mandate that the group must accept at least some of Vatican II and the Pope’s teaching authority in the ensuing decades.

However, he said, “no deadline was given, and the group would like to work carefully on drafting its response in a way understandable to all.”

"Be ready for harder times," he warned participants. "It's not the end."

He later said this warning was not alluding to the Society's response to Rome's mandate, but was speaking of the general bad state of the Church, citing loss of vocations in the West, weak religious formation, poor catechesis and the ongoing tensions between modernists and traditionalists.

Adding that his group is “stuck in the middle of this turmoil,” he said it is "too simplistic to say it's just Rome or the Catholic Church on one side and the Society on the other."

"My understanding is that these people, the bishops, will maintain their position against SSPX even after and even if there was an agreement with Rome," he said.

Philippine bishops have warned Catholics not to join SSPX liturgical activities, informing them that though validly ordained, their priests have no legal status in the local Church.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao says this is based on a 2009 papal letter which stated, "the fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church."
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