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Let's not make a deal ... at least this deal

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Helping those who have broken away from the Catholic Church come back into full communion is a noble endeavor. But such reconciliations cannot be conducted as if they were the ecclesiastical equivalent of labor negotiations: you give a bit here, we’ll give a bit there. For the only Church unity worthy of the name is unity within the full symphony of Catholic truth.               

Which brings us to the rumored reconciliation between the Church and the followers of the late French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. While the Lefebvrists’ complaints about the post-Vatican II liturgy are often thought to be at the heart of their schism, the more fundamental break-points involve the Council’s teaching on the fundamental human right of religious freedom and the Council’s  embrace of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue – including the conciliar affirmation that there are elements of truth and holiness in other Christian communities, and indeed in non-Christian faiths.               

Now, according to Archbishop Guido Pozzo, a senior Vatican official involved in discussions with the Lefebvrists, it may be possible to heal the breach Archbishop Lefebvre created by conceding that the teachings of Vatican II do not have the same doctrinal weight. On this scenario, the Lefebvrists would be given a pass on the Council’s affirmation of religious freedom, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue, and would return to full communion through the mechanism of a “personal prelature,” the same structure that governs Opus Dei.

This is a very, very bad idea.

Vatican II did indeed speak of a “hierarchy of truths” within the one Catholic and apostolic faith. But that does not mean that some of what the Council taught is more-or-less true (which would mean that some of Vatican II is more-or-less false, or at least more-or-less dubious). To speak of a “hierarchy of truths” simply means that some of the truths the Catholic Church teaches are closer to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ crucified and risen than other truths the Church teaches.

The Church teaches the truth of the Virgin Birth and the truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception; both doctrines are true, but the Virgin Birth is closer to the Paschal Mystery than the Immaculate Conception. Similarly, Vatican II taught that divine revelation is real and that religious freedom is a fundamental human right. The reality of divine revelation is a truth closer to the center of the faith than the truth that religious freedom is a right of persons that should be recognized in law; but both are true.

Following the lead of Archbishop Lefebvre, the clergy of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) – the ordained members of the Lefebvrist movement – have long claimed that what the Council taught on religious freedom is false because it contradicted settled Catholic teaching – a claim that has more to do with the agitations of post-1789 French politics than with a serious account of the history of Catholic church-state doctrine. The ground of the SSPX’s rejection of religious freedom is of less importance than the fact of it, however. To restore SSPX clergy to full communion with Rome while letting them cross their fingers behind their backs on religious freedom (and ecumenism) when they make the profession of faith and take the oath of fidelity would, by a bizarre ultra-traditionalist route, enshrine a “right to dissent” within the Church.

And that would make for shipwreck. Such a “right” of “faithful dissent” has long been claimed by Catholic progressives, not least with respect to Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical on the appropriate means of regulating fertility, and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II’s apostolic letter reaffirming that the Church’s authority to ordain extends only to men. Claims to “faithful dissent” have always been rejected by the Church’s highest teaching authority.

To make a deal with the SSPX and the Lefebvrist movement on Archbishop Pozzo’s premise – that this new personal prelature would be conceded a right to reject certain teachings of the Second Vatican Council – would be to make the symphony of Catholic truth discordant rather than melodic. It would validate even more dissent on the Catholic Left. It would reinforce the notion that doctrine is not about truth, but about power.

And in doing all of that, it would immeasurably damage the New Evangelization.  

Comments from readers

Paul Schlachter - 06/13/2017 01:59 PM
George has got most of it right this time. It was the Benedictine papacy that first suggested to SSPX a personal prelature solution for reasons of sacramental validity. Bishop Fellay rejected this structuring of relations and continues to reject it. The validity of confession and communion are driving this, not any notion that the decrees of Vatican II are not to be followed. There's no way that Abp. Pozzo could ever have compromised on Christian-Jewish relations, the collegiality of the bishops, the role of conscience in coming to truth and other matters advanced at the Council.
JAMES A HORWATH - 06/12/2017 05:04 PM
I strongly and sincerely object to the characterization of the issue as well as the position taken in this article as it is not consistent with the factual history or current mind of the Church. First of all, the SSPX has never "broken away from the Church" and they are not, and never have been, in formal schism. They are validly ordained priests of the R.C. Church, and the sacraments they dispense are recognized by the Church as valid but at times are illicit because of their irregular canonical status, which because of historical events going back over 40 years was arguably unjust (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, sent as apostolic visitor to the SSPX by Pope Francis, said exactly that - look it up). The excommunications of the bishops were lifted by Pope Benedict. Pope Francis has authorized the priests to hear confessions, perform marriages, celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 rubrics in some circumstances, and yes, by letter from the Vatican to the SSPX superior general, to ordain priests without the explicit authorization from the local Ordinary. These are facts. Vatican II's teachings were explicitly stated, by the pope himself at the Council, to be NOT dogmatic teachings. That is, they are NOT required to be accepted in order for one to be a Catholic. Indeed, some of the teachings were very controversial during Vatican II itself and the Church has NEVER, EVER defined these as dogmas required in order to belong inside the Church. The Vatican recognizes this principle and is offering the personal prelature to the SSPX, which has been discussed at length and in serious consultation with the SSPX in recent years precisely to correct the canonical irregularities and heal unnecessary wounds of the past. Your article seems truly to lack the understanding and attitude of charity that is behind these mutual efforts of the SSPX and the Holy See. I ask you to publish these comments and to reconsider your position, which is alarming and quite unfortunate.
Carlos Diaz Lujan - 06/12/2017 04:01 PM
This is not the first time George Weigel outrageously misses the point. How callous and insensitive can he get by referring to the serious theological discussions between the Vatican and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of Saint Pius X as “making a deal”? These discussions have absolutely nothing to do with any "deal”. Weigel is being extremely uncharitable, not to mention unChrist-like, by calling the Vatican’s attempt to reconcile and re-unite brothers “making a deal.” As if the parties were negotiating the price of a refrigerator or resolving a playground dispute. Let's keep in mind that by its own definition and express will of its leaders, Vatican II is not a dogmatic, but rather a “pastoral council.” As such, Vatican II didn’t define any question of faith or of revealed truth; rather it discussed ideas, gave suggestions and made assumptions ingratiating it with the times. Renowned Catholic scholars, prelates and theologians, men of proven fidelity and devotion to the Church, have objected to Council texts they believe break with Catholic Tradition and undermine the Church’s divine mission. Today, more than half a century later, huge numbers of apostasies, bitter quarrels, legal battles, and egregious public scandals continue to painfully haunt and plague the Church worldwide, exactly as many faithful Catholics warned. Instead of criticizing the Vatican, Weigle should be applauding its tolerance, pastoral sensitivity and respect for legitimate diversity. Does Weigle seriously think that continuing a policy of bullying, marginalizing and persecuting Catholics who disagree with Vatican II will bring true unity and lasting peace to the Church? Have not 52 years of that strategy proven that it’s a complete failure? Rather than denigrating the Vatican-SSPX discussions, all of us should be overjoyed they are taking place and praying for their success.
Dr. Michelle Rios - 06/12/2017 03:25 PM
TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO ADMIT IT IS DIVINE. The novel concepts and notions pushed at Vatican II provoked not only heated disagreements and intense animosity among Catholics fully faithful to the Church’s Magisterium; they also raised serious doctrinal objections, not a few of which are universally recognized as theologically valid and well-founded. Indeed, the Council failed to address Russia’s Consecration to the Immaculate Heart as specifically requested by the Mother of God at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. It also refused to condemn the Nazi genocide, or to denounce the Communists’ persecution of the Church and its horrific oppression of humanity, among many other terrible evils. It would, therefore, be extremely disingenuous, if not outrightly dishonest, to pretend that these disagreements and divisions did not unleash ugly, unChrist-like bullying, discrimination, and hostility towards those remaining true to their informed Catholic conscience and pre-Vatican II faith and liturgy. Denying, ignoring, or minimizing these festering disagreements and unresolved objections, or worse, attacking or attempting to silence those with the courage, honesty and integrity to express them; far from healing the open wounds, only deepens them; far from resolving the festering conflict only worsens it; inciting greater resentment, animosity and war among Catholics; turning Christ’s Church into a bloody battlefield and a shameful cause of scandal to the world. How is the New Evangelization helped by erecting Vatican II dogmatically, as a barrier that divides or a wall that separates Catholics, who precisely because of their fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, in good conscience cannot accept it? In recognizing the charism Archbishop Lefebvre’s Society of Saint Pius X contributes to the Church, the Vatican is not enshrining a “right to dissent,” but rather living the Spirit and Letter of Vatican II. Isn’t high time we end all this bullying, division, and discord?
Philip Wachter - 06/12/2017 10:52 AM
As I understand it, their objection to Ecumenism has a lot to do with the old adage: "... Outside the Church there is no Salvation..." My experience with many very conservative Catholics is an attitude of Superiority in regards to non-Catholics. Like "... Outside the Church there is no Salvation...", now what are you, meaning non-Catholics, are going to do about it? But I feel that what it really should be, "...Outside the Church there is n on Salvation..." now what are we Catholics are going to do about it?
Patricia - 06/12/2017 10:49 AM
I totally agree with what is written here. I do believe we can do more for the homebound, the dick, and the fallen away. The doctrines are wonderful, what we need is for these parishoners who are ready to take the messages into the communities. I was homebound for years and even Cstholics in my bldg. excused thdmselves for taking me to church. I thank God for my Catholic foundation, or i'd have left the church.

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