Monday, August 29, 2005

Pope & leader of SSPX agree on “gradual process” towards unity

Castel Gandolfo, Aug. 29 ( - Pope Benedict XVI met on Monday with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the Society of St. Pius X, for talks aimed toward reconciliation between the Holy See and the traditionalist group.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office, reported that the meeting had been held "in a climate of love for the Church and a desire to arrive at perfect communion." He said that the Pope and Bishop Fellay were hoping to make gradual progress in overcoming differences, so that a full agreement could be reached "in a reasonable time."

In his own statement after the meeting, Bishop Fellay said that his visit to the Pope showed that the SSPX "has always been, and will always be, attached to the Holy See." Echoing the Vatican's official statement, Bishop Fellay said that the 35-minute conversation had produced an agreement to work gradually toward a resolution of the differences between the traditionalist group and the Vatican, "in a spirit of great love for the Church."

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, broke from the Vatican in 1988, when the French prelate ordained four new bishops in defiance of a direct order from Rome. Pope John Paul II responded by announcing that the traditionalist group had committed a "schismatic act," incurring the penalty of excommunication for Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops (including Bishop Fellay) he had ordained. But the Vatican has repeatedly sought means of restoring normal ties with the traditionalist group. Today's meeting was scheduled in response to a request from Bishop Fellay, Navarro-Valls reported. The Pope met with the traditionalist leader at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. Also present was Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the president of the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei, which is charged with the task of seeking reconciliation with traditionalist Catholics.

After the meeting Bishop Fellay said that members of the SSPX would pray "that the Holy Father will find the strength to bring an end to the crisis in the Church and 'restore all things in Christ.'"

In a July interview, Bishop Fellay said that he wanted to meet with Pope Benedict, and ask him to give permission for all Catholic priests throughout the world to use the Tridentine rite in celebrating Mass. He said that he would also ask the Pontiff to rescind the decrees of excommunication for himself and the other bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988.

Informed Vatican officials speculate that Pope Benedict may be prepared to grant the traditionalist request for a "universal indult" allowing the use of the Tridentine rite.

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