Two events marked the beginning of summer in Rome: a letter from Cardinal Gerhard Müller to Bishop Bernard Fellay and his replacement as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.
On June 26, 2017, Müller Once Again Imposed the 2012 Doctrinal Declaration
On June 26, 2017, Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), received from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated June 6 of this year, in which the German prelate—with Pope Francis’s approval—spelled out the conditions necessary for a doctrinal declaration, the indispensable prerequisite for any canonical recognition of the Society. There are three conditions:
“1) It is necessary to require members of the SSPX to adhere to the new formula of the 1988 Professio fidei. Consequently, it is no longer sufficient to ask them to pronounce the 1962 Professio fidei.
“2) The new text of the Doctrinal Declaration must contain a paragraph in which the signatories declare explicitly their acceptance of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and those of the post-conciliar period, by granting to those doctrinal statements the degree of adherence that is due to them.
“3) The members of the SSPX must acknowledge not only the validity, but also the legitimacy of the Rite of Holy Mass and of the Sacraments, according to the liturgical books promulgated after the Second Vatican Council.”
On June 30, Bishop Fellay sent this letter to all the priests of the Society, with the following commentary: “We are again in a situation similar to the one in 2012. Whereas Archbishop Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, used quite different language last March concerning the criteria of catholicity that should or should not be required of us.”
He went on to recall his statement at the conclusion of the meeting of Major Superiors of the Society in Anzère, Switzerland, on June 28, 2016:
“The Society of Saint Pius X does not seek above all a canonical recognition, to which it has a right because it is Catholic. The solution is not simply juridical. It depends on a doctrinal question that it is imperative to express.
Divine Providence does not abandon its Church, the head of which is the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ. This is why an indisputable sign of this restoration will be the express desire of the Supreme Pontiff to grant the means with which to reestablish the order of the priesthood, of the faith and of Tradition, which moreover is the guarantee of the necessary unity of the family of Tradition.”
This letter from Cardinal Müller is no surprise to those who followed closely the history of the complicated relations between the Society and Rome. Already during a conference that he gave in Port-Marly, France, on October 8, 2016, Fellay underscored a contradiction between the remarks of Cardinal Müller and those of Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission:
“All of a sudden they go and tell us that what was produced by the Council but is not dogmatic, in other words, all the Declarations are not criteria for being Catholic, according to Archbishop Pozzo. What does this mean? ‘You are not obliged to agree in order to be Catholic.’…Archbishop Pozzo actually gave several interviews on the subject. I quoted for you the one in April (La Croix, April 7, 2016), then there were the ones in July (Zenit, July 4, 2016, and Christ und Welt, July 28, 2016). Between these two dates, in June, his superior, Cardinal Müller, said the contrary (Herder Korrespondenz, June 2016)....Cardinal Müller insisted, saying: ‘No, the Society must accept the whole Council!’ And he even spoke about unrestricted commitment with regard to ecumenism. But not only that.... He speaks about the liturgy, about religious liberty. And afterwards his subordinate repeats the contrary, in July. What disorder! Whom are we to believe?” (See DICI no. 432 dated October 14, 2016)
The Pope, for his part, said in an interview with La Croix (May 16, 2016), that before any canonical solution for the Society, it was necessary to have “a fundamental agreement with them. Vatican Council II has its importance.” This means that a doctrinal document is a prerequisite. More recently, while traveling back from Fatima on May 13, 2017, the Supreme Pontiff answered journalists on the airplane: “The feria quarta of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…their meeting—they call it feria quarta because it takes place on Wednesdays—studied a document, and the document has not yet reached me. I will study it.” In other words, once again, a doctrinal declaration is necessary, prior to any canonical recognition. (See DICI no. 356 dated May 26, 2017) But what must the exact content of this declaration be? The terms imposed by Cardinal Müller or those proposed by Archbishop Pozzo?
As of July 2, Cardinal Müller is No Longer Prefect of the CDF
What was truly surprising was the non-renewal of Cardinal Müller at his post. At the conclusion of five years at the head of the CDF, Pope Francis decided not to renew his term of office, which ended on July 2, 2017. The Supreme Pontiff appointed as his successor Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, who had been Secretary of the CDF since 2008.
According to a report by InfoCatho dated July 1, this decision “is said to be part of a delicate, crucial context. Cardinal Müller had gone on the record with his refusal to interpret Amoris Laetitia from a perspective of discontinuity with the Roman Magisterium. Some think that this is the reason for his non-renewal.”
As Zenit noted on July 1: “His departure before the canonical age of retirement is causing a lot of ink to be spilled, whereas all former prefects had remained at this post at least until they were 75 years old.” And it ventured a new explanation: “The initiative occurs also a few months after the resignation of the Irishwoman Marie Collins from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM).” In her letter of resignation to the Pope, Marie Collins denounced “the lack of cooperation, in particular on the part of the dicastery most involved with the question of sexual abuse” as “shameful.” She regretted “the constant setbacks” due to the “resistance” of “some members of the Curia.” Zenit writes: “Some, reading between the lines, saw in this a criticism of the heavy bureaucracy of the CDF.”
Whatever theories may be devised concerning the reasons for Cardinal Müller’s departure, we can observe that the Pope did not think it necessary to keep him at his post in order to bring to a successful conclusion the decision to make the SSPX return to the 2012 Doctrinal Declaration. Considering this, all that can be done is to ask several questions:
In openly manifesting a viewpoint different from that of his hierarchical superior on the subject of the “criteria of catholicity,” was Abp. Pozzo acting motu proprio [on his own], or did he know that he was supported by someone ranking higher than Cardinal Müller? What is his future at the Ecclesia Dei Commission?
What will be the role of Archbishop Ladaria, a Spanish Jesuit with a much less overactive personality than that of the German Cardinal? Being more inclined to obedience as a member of the Society of Jesus, he describes himself as a “moderate conservative.” As the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will he be a moderately conservative influence?
Confronted with these questions, those having a pythonical spirit (Acts 16:16) will make predictions. For our part, we will be content to wait for the facts and to look at their effects.