We admit, at the outset, that, perhaps, “developments” isn’t the right word.
From the Society’s standpoint, one probably ought to assume that SSPX situation is where Bishop Fellay left it in his communiqué regarding negotiations with the Holy See (obliquely) and his communiqué to the members of the SSPX. That is, the Society will continue to do business as it has done business for some time, waiting, in its words, for the restoration of Tradition. Easy enough. That said, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and the Vatican’s point man on negotiations with the SSPX, has given an interesting interview to Die Zeit‘s Christ & Welt section. Dr. Maike Hickson at One Peter Five has translated portions of the interview. Some coverage has been given to Pozzo’s suggestion that the canonical structure of a personal prelature (e.g., Opus Dei) has been offered to the SSPX, and Fellay has accepted. However, we’re inclined to leave that to one side, not least since there does not appear to be any confirmation from the Society that that is the case. Indeed, the public statements on the matter appear to be quite otherwise. (More on this in a minute.)
It is good, however, that there has been more, and more serious, coverage of some of Archbishop Pozzo’s statements about the Second Vatican Council. And it is perhaps proper to speak of “developments” primarily with respect to Pozzo’s statements, though we recall that these statements are not the first statements that Pozzo has made regarding the Council. In this latest interview, Pozzo continues to articulate a vision of Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae that seeks to assign them their proper magisterial weight, but no more than their proper weight, particularly in contrast to Lumen gentium and the Nota explicativa praevia.
In particular, Archbishop Pozzo characterizes Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae as essentially pastoral documents, which do not contain binding dogmatic or doctrinal declarations. Indeed, Pozzo notes (or suggests) that an erroneous interpretation of Nostra aetate has indeed sprung up, which had to be corrected in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration Dominus Iesus. Father John Hunwicke has caught on to this last bit, and observed that the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in its fiftieth anniversary “reflection” on Nostra aetate, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”, has itself acknowledged that there are frequent over-interpretations of Nostra aetate. (Though the Commission immediately cites John Paul’s address in Mainz in support of the interpretation that was not supported by Nostra aetate.) This is, we think, a good development, in line with Benedict’s project of the hermeneutic of continuity, though perhaps a little stronger than that project.
Of course, Archbishop Pozzo seeks to emphasize that his interpretation of the Second Vatican Council was well supported from the beginning, by noting a statement by Pericle Cardinal Felici, general secretary of the Council, that only those pronouncements explicitly declared to be binding were binding. We note, as a brief parenthesis following up on our comment on Timothy Wilson’s translation of Cardinal Bacci’s intervention, that it would be helpful if the faithful had ready access to the volume of the Acta Synodalia covering November 16, 1964, when Cardinal Felici made his statement, and November 18, 1964, when the secretary of the commission for the Unity of Christians made a similar statement about Nostra aetate. We could, then, read the statements, make our own judgments, and discuss them. But, closing the parenthesis, one wonders why Pozzo hastens to tie his interpretation to the proceedings of the Council if he does not know that, over the last fifty years, the conciliar declarations and decrees have been given nearly dogmatic weight, without serious resistance from the Roman authorities. Thus, one may speak of an implicit admission that the prevailing popular interpretation of the conciliar documents has been mostly wrong this whole time. (And the Society’s mostly right, by the same token.)
Returning to the question of a personal prelature and whether or not Bishop Fellay has already made a deal, the details of which are simply being hammered out, we observe that the Roman authorities’ position is proceeding to a place where one needs to ask if a deal is even necessary. As author and lawyer Chris Ferrara points out in the comments at One Peter Five (we’re not so clever as to think of all this ourselves), when Benedict XVI remitted the excommunications of Fellay and the other Écône bishops, he was at pains to note that the problems between the SSPX and Rome were essentially doctrinal. Indeed, Ferrara notes that Benedict stated that the Society did not possess a canonical status for doctrinal reasons, though he did not really articulate what the doctrinal roadblocks were. (One could assume that they had to do with the Council, however.) However, Archbishop Pozzo argues now that the most vexing documents with respect to the SSPX situation—documents that have been problematic from the outset of the case, if you’ll recall, for example, Archbishop Lefebvre’s unanswered dubia regarding Dignitatis humanae—are not really binding or not really doctrinal or whatever he intends to argue. The upshot of Ferrara’s argument is clear: Benedict said the problem was doctrinal, but Pozzo now says that there really is not a doctrinal problem. Based upon the evidence available—Benedict’s letter and Pozzo’s interview(s)—we find Ferrara’s position fairly compelling.
So, then, what is the problem? Is there even a problem—other than that some high prelates don’t like the Society all that much?