The superior general of the Society of St. Pius X briefly met Pope Francis in December last year, the breakaway Society has confirmed.
Bishop Bernard Fellay met the Holy Father at his St. Martha residence, but the SSPX said the encounter lasted just a few seconds and was unplanned.
In a May 12 statement on its website DICI, the SSPX said that on 13 December 2013, Bishop Fellay and his assistants went to Rome at the request of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei for an informal meeting.
The commission is charged with the task of reconciling the traditionalist priestly fraternity with the Church after it broke from Rome over differences concerning the Second Vatican Council.
Following the commission’s meeting with the SSPX, the statement said Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Commission, “invited his counterparts to lunch in the dining room of St. Martha House where they were joined by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, adjunct-secretary of the Congregation [for the Doctrine] of the Faith. It is in this large refectory that the Pope takes his daily meals, away from other guests.”
The statement added that Archbishop Pozzo took the opportunity to present Bishop Fellay to the Pope as the Holy Father was leaving the room.
“There was a brief exchange where Pope Francis said to Bishop Fellay, according to the usual polite formula, “I’m very glad to meet you.” To this, Bishop Fellay answered that he was praying a lot, and the pope asked him to pray for him. Such was the “meeting” that lasted a few seconds.”
The statement also denied reports that two of Bishop Fellay’s assistants attended a Mass celebrated by the Pope.
“Fathers Niklaus Pfluger and Alain-Marc Nély have never attended a private Mass of the Pope,” the statement said.
In a recent interview, Bishop Fellay said Rome made an unofficial approach to get back in touch with the Society, “but nothing more and I did not request an audience.”
He said that for him right now, “things are very simple: we remain as we are … Conservation of the faith and our traditional Catholic identity is paramount and remains our first principle.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi also confirmed Monday that the encounter took place and that the SSPX statement was accurate.