Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fellay: “We cannot accept the Preamble as it is”

Andrea Tornielli offers an update and some insights into the negotiations with the Society of Saint Pius X on yesterday:

Fellay: “We cannot accept the Preamble as it is”

The Lefebvrians ask for modifications to the Doctrinal Preamble delivered to them by the Holy See

Andrea Tornielli

“It is true that this Doctrinal Preamble cannot receive our endorsement, although leeway has been allowed for a “legitimate discussion” about certain points of the Council. What is the extent of this leeway? The proposal that I will make in the next few days to the Roman authorities and their response in turn will enable us to evaluate our remaining options. And whatever the result of these talks may be, the final document that will have been accepted or rejected will be made public.”

This was the much awaited reply given by Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of Saint Pius X, to Vatican authorities. Last September, following a series of doctrinal talks between Lefebvrians and the Holy See, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered the doctrinal preamble text to the Lefebvrians. The Vatican made it clear that it considered their agreement to the points made in the document, vital, if they were to enter into full communion again with the Catholic Church. This would also make it possible for the Church to offer them some canonical status.

The interview published by Fellay in the Society’s official online bulletin ( reveals that attached to the Preamble, was a note, explaining that Lefebvrians could ask for clarifications in order to suggest any modifications. However, the heads of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada and Mgr. Guido Pozzo, are of the opinion that no substantial changes can be made to the document.

In actual fact, in the Preamble, the Society was asked to sign the “Professio fidei”, a requirement for anyone who assumes an ecclesiastical office. Three steps of assent are required for the profession of the Catholic faith which distinguishes between revealed truths, dogmatic declarations and ordinary Church teaching. In terms of the latter, the Church states that Catholics are called to guarantee “religious respect of intellect and will” for the teachings that the Pope and the college of bishops “put forward when they exercise their authentic teaching,” even if these are not proclaimed in a dogmatic way, as is the case with most of the Magisterium’s documents.

The Holy See has not therefore excluded the possibility of keeping discussions open on certain points of the Second Vatican Council which the Lefebvrians still consider problematic. The path towards a potential agreement with the Brotherhood still seems to be all uphill and there have been rumours over the past few weeks of a strong internal opposition to the Vatican proposal.

The interviewer asked Fellay: “Given that this document is not very clear, wouldn’t it have been simpler to tell your Vatican interlocutors that it could not be taken into consideration?” “The simplest thing, perhaps, but not the most honest - the Brotherhood’s Superior replied - Since the note that accompanies it foresees the possibility of making clarifications, to me it seems necessary to ask for them instead of refusing them a priori. This in no way prejudges the response that we will give.”

The Lefebvrian bishop stated that the only eternal doctrine is the Creed, the profession of the Catholic faith, while “the Second Vatican Council” was a pastoral council “which did not define dogmas and did not add any new articles of faith such as “I believe in religious freedom, in ecumenism, in collegiality…” Today, is the Creed no longer sufficient for being recognised as Catholics? Does it not convey the Catholic faith in its entirety?” The bishop seemed to say that the Creed and not the Preamble, which contains the “Professio fidei”, is the common text that the Brotherhood would be prepared to subscribe its name to.

It is obvious that the interview did not provide the final response. The Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X is well aware of the internal oppositions with regard to the agreement with Rome, particularly among Lefebvrian leaders. In the written text that will be sent to the Vatican authorities, it appears he will be asking for substantial changes to the Doctrinal Preamble: the fact that the current text “was not met with approval” within the Society, clearly shows that it was not just the commas or the nuances that cause disagreement, but essential aspects of the document. The game is therefore not over yet, and the ball is now in the Vatican’s court as the Lefebvrians await a response to their reply.

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