For a group of people who believe that there is no content to the term “crypto-Lefebvrism” those at Rorate Caeli along with Roberto de Mattei devote a good deal of time and space to the question. They also seem to be quite concerned about the criticisms I have been lodging, devoting as much time and energy as they have to the question, while making sure that they avoid linking to my blog.
But I am willing to concede that the crypto-Lefebvrists are ghosts. At least, they sure do behave like them. Etherial creatures they are, lurking in the shadows and working in the dark.
The latest contribution about this matter on Rorate Caeli is from pseudonymous Fr. Pio Pace who claims that the Holy See has been engaged in the “programmed destruction of the Franciscan of the Immaculate.” Not surprisingly, he calls the allegation of “cryto-Lefebvrism” simply the absurd and baseless pretext for the destruction of the FI. All the while he employs a revisionist historical narrative of the dialogue of the Holy See with the SSPX in the service of his allegation of the Church’s attack on traditionalism within the FI.
I have written an account of the dialogue of the Holy See with the Society of St. Pius X, which you can find here. The facts of the case show clearly that the leaders of the Society never intended to modify their doctrinal position, nor was the Society ever near an agreement with the Holy See. Furthermore, my account also documents the collusion between the Society and the crypto-Lefebvrists on the outside, including those associated with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. I urge you to take the time to read the account. It makes everything else here much more understandable.
Scapegoating Pope Francis
Fr. Pio’s essay is likely to leave the poorly informed reader with the impression that the current want of movement in the dialogue of the SSPX with the Holy See has something to do with Pope Francis and his lack of interest in the Society. But the truth is that the dialogue was effectively over before Pope Benedict announced his resignation. (Again, read that account.)
It is true that Ecclesia Dei sent a letter to Bishop Fellay on January 8, 2013 asking him to accept the doctrinal preamble as it was, but this was a last ditch effort after the personal letter of Archbishop di Noia of December 8, 2012 went unheeded. Pope Benedict announced his resignation on February 11, before the deadline for the Society’s response (February 22), which seems to indicate that he was letting everyone know that the window of opportunity was closing. This had nothing to do with the person who would actually succeed him more than a month later.
Fr. Pio imagines what would have happened had Pope Benedict, in spite of the SSPX’s unresponsiveness, gone ahead an reintegrated the Society after the announcement of the Holy Father’s resignation but before its execution. Had this occurred, he says, it could have entirely changed the outcome of the subsequent conclave and the current position of the SSPX.
But this does not take into account the fact that the dialogue simply failed due to the disintegration that occurred prior the announcement of the resignation. The SSPX had their chance—the best chance that they could have ever hoped for, and they let it pass. Pope Benedict could have held on if he had believed that a reconciliation was a realistic possibility, or he could have simply regularized the Society on its own terms had he been as determined as Bishop Fellay suggested he was. But he did not regularize the Society, whose representatives then declared their satisfaction that they had held to their principles and that the episcopal consecrations of 1988 thus proved to be fully justified. And it was Pope Benedict, and no other, who turned over the future the reformed-minded cardinals.
So it is not at all fair to say that Pope Francis ignores the Society. The dialogue had breathed its last prior to any talk of a new pontiff and Bishop Fellay had already expressed his being resigned to a long period of waiting for more advantageous conditions. But Fr. Pio’s assessment is based on the same false pretext popularized by Roberto de Mattei, namely, that Pope Benedict himself was the sponsor of the “permanent ‘interrogation’” of Vatican II, and at least implicitly had been encouraging the Society to maintain its “loyal” opposition. (Read that account.)
Fr. Pio is correct in saying that Pope Francis does not share the theological preoccupations of his predecessor, and therefore, the questions of continuity and discontinuity do not hold the same place in his thought. But in this regard, there are several things to consider beyond the obvious differences between the former head of the Holy Office and the former Jesuit superior.
First of all, the Benedictine pontificate ispso facto has permanent value in the life of the Church. Pope Benedict has left a patrimony that will not and cannot be ignored. It is condescending and shortsighted to think Pope Francis is ignorant or dismissive of this.
Secondly, Fr. Pio minimizes the several references of Pope Francis to the work of Archbishop Marccheto. That Pope Francis is an outsider to the debate does not mean he is uninterested. But he has reason to remain aloof from the debate over continuity—the same reason that Pope Benedict ignored the appeal of Monignor Gherardini for a great clarification and reordering Council. Fr. Pio maintains the false tradition that Pope Benedict is the sponsor of the great questioning, and that he himself believed that it was urgent and necessary to prove continuity or otherwise abandon the Council. Pope Benedict ignored this contention for a reason, and Pope Francis does as well.
Finally, Fr. Pio leaves the reader with the impression that the situation with the SSPX was ripe for forward movement and hands-on intervention as Pope Francis ascended to the Chair of St. Peter. But actually the opposite is true, as I have shown irrefutably in the post already mentioned several times. The situation when Pope Francis was elected was altogether different than the one in 2007, when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated and then in 2009, when the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops was lifted. Pope Benedict had opened the doors wide to the Society and took them under his wing. It seems to me that this opportunity was exploited by the leaders of the Society to further their own ends and concluded in an inevitable stalemate. The principles expounded by Rome and the SSPX are substantially and intractably at odds. This is the only reasonable conclusion that can be reached after years of failed dialogue.
The Doctrinal Agreement
But not according to Fr. Pio. On the contrary, he contends that, in the reflected light of Pope Francis’ exclusively pastoral preoccupations and his general lack of interest in anything seriously theological, now Vatican officials believe it was a mistake to have submitted “too strict” a doctrinal statement to Bishop Fellay for his signature.
But what was the real difference between the doctrinal statement that Bishop Fellay that he ultimately rejected and the one he was willing to sign? It was the difference between fundamentally accepting the continuity of the Council and insisting that such continuity must be proven before accepted. What Fr. Pio fails to mention, but which Bishop Fellay openly admitted on December 30, 2012, is that Pope Benedict not only agreed to the strengthening of the text of the agreement (55:10) but he also insisted in writing on three points: 1) the SSPX must accept that it is the magisterium which is the judge of what is traditional or not; 2) the SSPX must accept that the Council is an integral part of Tradition; 3) the SSPX must accept that the New Mass is valid and licit (54:43-56:39).
But neither the SSPX nor those represented by Roberto de Mattei could fulfill even the demands of the weaker agreement. This is so because the discussion of such matters among traditionalists sympathetic to the SSPX is not simply the exercise of theology in the service of the magisterium, but counterrevolutionary activism.
This needs to be emphasized. There is all kind of talk about “legitimate” theological discussion, study and explanation of difficult conciliar passages. But this is not really the fundamental issue. The Society and its supporters could not even come close to complying with the CDF’s Instruction Donum Veritatis, on the “Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” because their basic work has nothing to do with academic theology but with propaganda and community organizing. Indeed, the anticonciliar agenda is carried out from the pulpit, in seminary and religious formation, in popular literature, in journalism and on the blogs. In other words, it is a complete anticonciliar propaganda machine and an instrument of political agitation. And even if Pope Francis was as uninterested in theology as Fr. Pio suggests, which I do not believe for a second, he is nobody’s fool, and he understands what he would get if all he had was a weak, toothless agreement from the Society.
We are not talking about an agreement involving mere abstractions. In fact, the touchy point in the doctrinal preamble was not about what one may and may not be free to believe, but about what an ecclesiastically approved society with a ministerial mandate may actively promote. And therefore, it is about whether a charism can or cannot be harmoniously integrated into the life of the Church. It is about whether it is practical and advisable to grant the Society such a wide measure of independence, which would be afforded by a personal prelature, if the Society does not actually agree to behave differently than it has up to now.
Fr. Pio goes on to suggest that now with Pope Francis’ lack of doctrinal concern there is an openness of certain Vatican officials to admitting the Society without a strict doctrinal agreement, but, unfortunately, the Society is now much too volatile to accept any agreement with Rome. But Fr. Pio is simply rewriting history. The SSPX has never been close to an agreement with Rome and this has nothing to do with Pope Francis. Furthermore, a regularization without an agreement would be seen as a vindication of the Society’s long held principles and would be used as a pretext to continue their counterrevolution. Neither Pope Benedict nor Pope Francis is so naïve.
And this brings me back to the allegation of Fr. Volpi, the Apostolic Commissioner for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, that the problems of the Institute are related to crypto-Lefebvrism, a contention that I have already defended multiple times. Fr. Pio Pace, concurring with Rorate Caeli and Robero de Mattei, pretends he has no idea what I am talking about, and that, in fact, I am not really saying anything meaningful.
Crypto-Lefebvrism is theoretical and practical agreement with the anticonciliar ideas of the SSPX, involving whatever dissimulation is necessary to continue to operate within full communion. Bishop Fellay has made reference to bishops who act in this fashion, who are in agreement with the SSPX, but more or less camouflage their intentions in order not to be removed from influence (1:14:00-1:16:30).
An example of this is the attempt to justify the Society’s behavior and the theories of its sympathizers, like Roberto de Mattei, on the false basis that Pope Benedict was the one that encouraged the questioning of the “hermeneutic of continuity” The falsity of this is shown clearly, both from my arguments here, as well as my documentation of the dialogue between the Society and Rome.
Another instance is the “95% argument,” namely, that the SSPX agrees with 95% of what Vatican II teaches and therefore could never be construed logically to be fundamentally opposed to the Council. This is simply sophistry contrived to produce sympathy toward the Society. It is abundantly clear that the SSPX believes Vatican II is a poisoned apple. It does not matter what percentage of the Council the Society accepts. Anyone, who has read the sources I have pointed to knows that the SSPX believes the Council and the Mass it produced to be a Modernist, Freemasonic and Jewish betrayal of tradition.
One final example, Chris Ferrara claims that no “crypto-Lefebvrist” would question the liceity of the Ordinary Form, if by that one means “the Latin Typical Edition of the Mass of Paul VI celebrated in Latin with a high altar, Gregorian Chant, and no communion in the hand or altar girls, a la the Brompton Oratory.” But I have personally heard traditionalists argue against the liceity of the Ordinary Form, reasoned from Quo Primum. There is also an argument against it liceity in the comments on my own blog based on the PECD’s Prot. 156/2009, though the author claims it is a position he does not hold, or at least not firmly.
I imagine that readers will notice that I do nothing here to substantively defend Vatican II against the traditionalist arguments. My purpose is different. Here I just want to hold their feet to the fire and get them to commit themselves to their position like the counterrevolutionaries they are.
I understand the reasons for not doing so, especially among priests and bishops, whose positions would be at risk within the postconciliar Church if they came clean. For this reason, Internet anonymity and pseudonymity are very effective tools of the counterrevolution. But it is bad business all the same, and someone has to point it out.
And I have just the motive to do it, since the crypto-Lefebvrists have chosen to make the religious Institute to which I have been committed for more than twenty-five years the battlefield of their little war on the Council. That is one of the reasons why the Holy See has intervened within the FI in the manner as it has, and all the complaining just makes the problem even more evident. The more people who clearly have agendas claim that “crypto-Lefebvrists are just ghosts, the more it is clear they have something to hide.