By Kris Dmytrenko
TORONTO, Canada, JUNE 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- An announcement that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now oversee discussions with the Society of St. Pius X is imminent, says the society’s general superior.
Bishop Bernard Fellay revealed to ZENIT that the congregation told him to expect the publication of a statement issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) by Benedict XVI on the new structure of Ecclesia Dei before June 20.
The bishop confirmed that he met June 5 with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. During a visit today to Toronto, the general superior explained that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, established precisely to oversee the process of healing the society’s separation from the Church, will remain a distinct entity within the Church’s dicastery for doctrinal matters.
“According to what we have heard,” noted the bishop, “most probably, one of the monsignors of the congregation will be the executive head of Ecclesia Dei. So it will be very tightly united with the congregation.”
Along with three other bishops ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 without Vatican approval, Bishop Fellay had been automatically excommunicated, only to have the penalty lifted in January by Benedict XVI.
The Society of St. Pius X still lacks the canonical status required for the legitimate exercise of ministry, which, according to the Pontiff in a letter sent in March to all the Church’s bishops, will only be granted when the society accepts the authority of the Second Vatican Council, along with the magisterial teachings of popes since the council.
Since 2000, the pontifical commission has been led by Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, whom Bishop Fellay describes as “very friendly” to the society. The bishop shared that, even after his June 5 meeting with Cardinal Levada, he remains unsure how the expected changes will affect negotiations with the Vatican.
“I don’t know [Cardinal Levada] enough to really answer the question. […] When we were received it was very courteous. He was gentle. […] I don’t frankly know what and if there will be a real change.”
Most pressing for the new Ecclesia Dei leadership will be averting a new series of excommunications. On June 27, Lefebvrite Bishop Alfonso de Galaretta is scheduled to ordain three priests and three deacons in the society’s Zaitzkofen seminary in Bavaria, Germany. Bishop Gerard Muller of Regensburg has warned the society that, until the issue of canonical status is resolved, the ordinations lack proper authorization and would thus merit disciplinary action.
“Our bishop is waiting for Rome to advise on how to respond,” said diocesan spokesperson Jakub Schotz earlier this month. “But it will almost certainly result in excommunication for these priests and the bishop who ordains them.”
Bishop Fellay counters that the Society of St. Pius X already delayed subdiaconate ordinations in Regensburg earlier this year, and that he believes that the Vatican now “has no basic problems” with the upcoming priestly ordinations.
“We cannot just now say, ‘stop breathing,'” he argues in defense of the society’s continued administration of the sacraments. “We need to breathe. And, definitely, if the Pope was so good to take away the excommunications, that mean he doesn’t want us now to die.”
The society is planning to proceed with the ordinations, despite Bishop Fellay’s concern that new excommunications could “jeopardize everything” and derail the society’s discussions with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Central to those talks will be the society’s unambiguous condemnations of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in reference to the council’s affirmations of religious liberty, ecumenism and the separation of Church and state.
While the Swiss-born superior general prefers to resolve these doctrinal issues before he accepts canonical status in the Church, he insists that he is open to reaching a provisional compromise position with the Vatican.
“If Rome gives us enough guarantee, so to say, of survival, I think probably we would certainly consider it,” he said. “We have no problem with the Church recognizing us, of course.”
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Kris Dmytrenko is an associate producer of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television Network. Salt and Light will air an exclusive interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay on the Sunday, June 28, episode of Witness, hosted by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica.