Monday, January 21, 2013

About that Letter to the SSPX...

There’s a new report of a letter sent to the SSPX by the Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Archbishop Di Noia. (H/T SuperTradMum). The full text is now in English on Rorate Caeli blog.

Archbishop Di Noia
I read the letter quickly, impatient to get a sense of what’s going on. As usual, it’s not really clear. I'll have to go study it some more. In the meantime, here's my initial reaction:

The letter seems amicable enough, but some parts are a little condescending. In the beginning there are words to the effect that the SSPX (as in Bishop Fellay, and a few others I guess) have spread some falsehoods that “impugn” the Holy Father, and the Vatican may need to step forward soon and correct “certain inaccurate assertions”.

Now, I do not at all pretend to be anything other than a confused lay person when it comes to the ongoing dispute between the SSPX and Rome (a confusion which stems from Rome’s ambiguous statements about the SSPX’s status in the Church…or is it outside of the Church?!). Let me try to work through some of my confusion here.

Early in the letter, the archbishop says:

…[A] review of the history of our relations since the 1970s leads to the sobering realization that the terms of our disagreement concerning Vatican Council II have remained, in effect, unchanged.

Yes. Well. Sorry, but all I can hear is my dad saying “Poop or get off the pot” in less polite verbiage.  Yep, we’re going on 40 years here with no resolution. I find that a little disgusting. But then what do I know? Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

The paragraph noted above continues:

With magisterial authority, the Holy See has consistently maintained that the documents of the Council must be interpreted in the light of Tradition and the Magisterium and not vice versa, while the Fraternity has insisted that certain teachings of the Council are erroneous and are thus not susceptible to an interpretation in line with the Tradition and the Magisterium.

Now here is where I get confused all over again. “Documents of the Council must be interpreted in the light of Tradition and the Magisterium and not vice versa”, it says. Well, I guess I thought that’s what the SSPX has been saying all along. I thought they were saying that some aspects of the documents just don’t follow from Tradition. I thought that’s WHY the SSPX says certain teachings of the Council are erroneous. I think that paragraph creates a false dichotomy. But then, what do I know?

There’s a lot about the “unity of the Church” in the letter. That’s an important point, of course. But how to preserve unity is another question. When to speak against erroneous teaching is a question. Just yesterday I listened to a very interesting talk given way back in 2000 in which the speaker, Rod Pead, notes that

…[When a] journalist asked His Eminence [Cardinal Silvio Oddi] if the arguments of the likes of Augustine, Aquinas and Cardinal Newman were correct, that in the words of Aquinas - "if the Faith be in imminent peril, prelates ought to be accused by their subjects, even in public," the Pope's close friend and colleague answered: "Absolutely. Without question."

There has to be a place for questioning…doesn’t there? I think that is a difficult question in itself, actually…

Anyway, there’s a lot to this letter; you should really read it yourself. Some of it is, I think, condescending toward the SSPX. For instance, look at this paragraph from the section describing “The Place for the Priestly Society in the Church”:

The authentic charism of the Fraternity is to form priests for the service of the people of God, not the usurpation of the office of judging and correcting the theology or discipline of others within the Church. Your focus should be on the inculcation of sound philosophical, theological, pastoral, spiritual, and human formation for your candidates so that they may preach the word of Christ and act as instruments of God’s grace in the world, especially through the solemn celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (my emphases)

Okay, sure, I can see the point being made here…sort of. I have to wonder, though, how one inculcates sound philosophical, theological, etc., formation when – if you really do a thorough job of that – you can see some glaring discrepancies and contradictions when you get to Vatican II… I mean, there ARE some problems! And if the SSPX and a bunch of other people from all walks of life are WRONG about these problems, then they need to be addressed definitively.

I don’t see that happening; and that’s sad, because if Archbishop di Noia wants to talk about preserving the unity of the Church, he – or someone – needs to be willing to get to the heart of these issues that divide us. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I know that the Church is divided in the US; one need only look at the stats on how many Catholics voted for Obama, how many support same-sex “marriage”, how many think there is some justification for abortion, and how many use artificial contraception.

Here’s what I think: it’s time to stop beating around the bush. It seems to me that the SSPX has been pretty straightforward in their objections to certain parts of the Council. It seems to me that Rome has tended to sidestep the real issues. Why don’t they cut to the chase and actually discuss the real issues?

There can be no doubt that there are real issues. And we can see the fruit – rotten though it may be in many cases – of some of those issues. For one thing, we can see the problems with the way “ecumenism” was presented or at least interpreted after the Council: Catholics have become “Protestantized” as a result, rather than Protestants becoming “Catholicized”. In fact the idea that everyone should be Catholic – one true faith, and all that – seems to have gone by the wayside.

And then there are the problems with the Mass. Let’s just not even go there right now, other than to point out that, as everyone seems to understand, there are egregious liturgical abuses going on every day in Masses all over the world, and no one in authority really seems to care.

There is the decline of the Church in the decades following Vatican II. Some of that decline can be traced to the interpretation of some of those documents from the Council. If there is not a direct causal relationship, surely Rome can at least admit that there’s a strong correlation – and that there are things that need to be “fixed”.

It’s almost as if the powers-that-be (especially the “progressive” and “liberal” powers) are incapable of admitting that there might be some aspects of Vatican II that need to be clarified, and maybe even corrected. Documents that can be so disparately interpreted seem to me to be in need of a little fine-tuning.

But what do I know? I’m just a confused lay person who loves the Church and hates the fact that, at least in my little Catholic world, our “Catholic identity” has been all but forgotten.


  1. Gosh, Jay, I couldn't agree with you more. Pretty much the thoughts I had when I read that letter. Like you said, there's more than what you mentioned and people should read the whole thing. Didn't you get the impression that DeNoia is implying that SSPX needs to decide to become real Catholics, or something?

    On another note, you mention the state of affairs with the Mass. I find it a good thing (I guess) but also laughable that the Vatican has now decided, 50 years later and how many lost Catholics, that they're going to produce a pamphlet instructing priests on how they are to properly offer Mass. I mean, what??? When I read that the other day, all I could do was groan. Yes, it's a good thing ultimately. But come on. Are you kidding me?

  2. Elizabeth - yes, I got the impression that the Vatican was scolding the SSPX and telling them to quit overstepping their bounds and be good Catholics who want UNITY. Well, that's a loaded word these days!

    And about the new pamphlet to instruct priests: I saw that too, and thought, well, that's good, but now that you mention it, it IS laughable. I mean it's not like there have not been papal documents that have tried to correct liturgical abuses! How many of these different instructions does it take to make some of these priests and bishops pay attention?!

  3. Not disgusted at the letterJanuary 21, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    I want to eat the letter!

  4. Excellent literary analysis, Dr. Jay!

  5. Here's more food for thought for those who feel that it would be so much better if priests just got back to saying the NO Mass the way it was originally intended . . .

    Taken from a recent article on The Remnant website:

    Archbishop Lefebvre offered many insights into the problems of the New Mass, but perhaps this is his most succinct quote which goes to the root of it all:

    "The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules... is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith."

    So a priest can offer the New Mass completely true to the typical edition (and thus shorn of the abuses that many consider integral to the new rite), using the exact words in Latin and using Eucharistic Prayer I (the so-called “old Roman Canon”), wearing traditional vestments, facing ad orientem at a traditional altar, just singing Gregorian chant… And thus in all appearances it would remarkably resemble the traditional Roman Mass. Nonetheless, the same ecumenical and theologically-deficient words are still being used, an elemental defect which no amount of Latin or spruced-up vernacular translation can fix, and one that contradicts the immutable axiom: lex orandi, lex credendi. In a word, the New Mass at its very core cannot be fixed - thus, ask only for the real thing (the True Mass) and accept no imitations.

  6. Thanks for the additional food for thought, HSE.

  7. There's a well-written clarification to this claim by the Cardinal.


Please be courteous and concise.