The most common sentiment in the secular media toward the fraternity, since SSPX Bp. Richard Williamson's denial of the historicity of the Nazi holocaust, has been contemptuous dismissal. Most mainstream Catholics, if they have an opinion at all, seem to wonder how anybody who loves the Church could possibly have a problem with the Second Vatican Council and persist in stubborn schism. That's the sort of language one hears.
The upshot is this: almost nobody seems to really care about this small, inconsequential group of traditionalists or the talks they are having with representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican -- almost nobody, that is, but the Holy Father.
Some of you may remember the hot water Pope Benedict got himself into with critics both inside and outside the Church when he lifted the excommunications on these SSPX bishops. Remember how the Pope's good name was dragged through the mud because of this act in the public media in guilt-by-association links drawn to the scandalous holocaust denials of SSPX Bp. Williamson? Remember the howls of execration from the Catholic liberals in the media? They conjured images of the Holy Father, former head of the CDF himself, in the mantle of the Spanish Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, ready to re-institute the auto-da-fé -- a bracing image I find rather charming, although that's beside the point.
The point is that the Holy Father has had a long-standing pastoral sympathy and solicitude for members of this fraternity. As we noted in "His Holiness responds to the wolves" (Musings, March 13, 2009), Pope Benedict wrote in his Letter to Catholic bishops concerning his remission of the excommunication of the SSPX bishops:
Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? ... I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?He warned, furthermore: "... if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another."
... At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
If you are not praying for the Holy Father's intentions concerning these talks between the CDF & SSPX, or the Holy Spirit's guidance in the ongoing proceedings (which nobody should expect to be resolved overnight), then I want to know why.
So many things in Catholic history, as in life itself, are not what they at first seem. I first began to see this when, as a Protestant, I began a slow, painstaking investigation into the claims of the Catholic Church and began to see my prejudices and illusions crumble, one-by-one. I have never reached the point where I've been satisfied that I have all the answers, pertinacious though I am wont to be; but I have attained the satisfaction of learning, from experience, that for every question I have, there is in Catholic Sacred Tradition a sufficient answer, provided I am willing to do the painstaking work of investigating the issue.
Of related interest:
- Fr. Z, "Dog Bites Man! Sun Rises In East! SSPX, Holy See disagree!" (WDTPRS, February 22, 2011)
- Fr. Z, "Wm. Oddie on the Holy See/SSPX talks" (WDTPRS, March 1, 2011)
- New Catholic, "Collapse?" (Rorate Caeli, March 1, 2011), emphatically denying any collapse in the CDF-SSPX talks
- Fr. Z,"WDTPRS POLL: SSPXers and CATHOLIC TRADITIONALISTS ONLY!" (WDTPRS, March 1, 2011) -- a poll showing that lay, ordained, and seminarian members of the SSPX or other Catholic traditionalist groups overwhelmingly accept the validity of the Novus Ordo Missae, whatever criticisms they may have of it, theological or otherwise.
- Fr. Z, "WDTPRS Spiritual Bouquet for Pope Benedict for St. Joseph’s Day (19 March)" (WDTPRS, February 19, 2011)
- "Have you hugged your tradie today?" (Hug-a-tradie-day International, March 1, 2011).