On the airplane that brought him back from Portugal to the Vatican on May 13, 2017, Pope Francis answered a question from Nicolas Senèze, Rome correspondent of La Croix.
An Excerpt from the Interview
Question: The Society of Saint Pius X has great devotion to Fatima.... Do you think that this agreement will be possible in the short term?...Will it be a triumphal return of the faithful who will show what it means to truly be Catholic?
Answer: Well, I would reject any form of triumphalism, completely. Some days ago, 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.
Second: relations currently are fraternal. Last year I granted faculties for confession for them all, even a form of jurisdiction for marriages. But first, too, the problems, the cases they had—for example—that needed to be resolved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith… that Congregation has been working on them. For example, abuse, cases of [sexual] abuse [of minors]. They brought them to us, also to the Apostolic Penitentiary, also for the reduction of priests to the lay state, they brought those to us… Relations are fraternal. I have a good relationship with Bishop Fellay; we have spoken several times… I don’t want to rush things. Walking, walk, walk, and then we will see. For me it is not a question of winners or losers, no. It is a problem of brothers who have to walk together, seeking the way to take steps forward.
Commentary on the Pope’s Remarks
The Pope’s answer is brief and somewhat elliptical. We can nevertheless note that Francis rejects the expression “triumphal return” used by Nicolas Senèze, author of the 2008 book La crise intégriste [The Fundamentalist Crisis], published by Bayard. “I would reject any form of triumphalism,” he says, before concluding: “For me it is not a question of winners or losers.”
Concerning the “document” being studied by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the Pope says he has not yet read, we are reduced to mere conjectures, since he does not indicate the nature of this document. Some speculate that this must be a plan for a canonical status for the Society, but since this is a document examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we might more plausibly think of a doctrinal text and not a canonical one. This could be the doctrinal declaration, the preliminary condition for any canonical recognition. On this subject Bishop Bernard Fellay wrote to all the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X on March 1, 2017, that the work of drawing up such a doctrinal document had not progressed as far as some rumors would have us believe. He added that there was “no imminent agreement.”
Francis says as much in the second part of his answer: “I don’t want to rush things.” This is in keeping with the remarks that he made during the audience that he granted to Fellay on April 1, 2016, which the latter reported during the Pilgrimage to Puy a few days later on April 10: “‘Although I have problems,’ the Pope declared, “you too have problems, and therefore we must not rush. We must not create more divisions, and therefore we are taking our time.’”
With regard to relations with the Society, which the Pope considers “fraternal,” he describes the precise terms of them: “I granted faculties for confession for them all, even a form of jurisdiction for marriages1. But first, too, the problems, the cases they had that needed to be resolved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…that Congregation has been working on them. For example, abuse, cases of [sexual] abuse [of minors]. They brought them to us, also to the Apostolic Penitentiary, also for the reduction of priests to the lay state....[Therefore] relations are fraternal.”
These remarks by Francis recall answers already given to Nicolas Senèze by the Ecclesia Dei Commission on May 7 of this year: “‘Bishop Fellay never made any decision concerning grave delicts [offenses against canon law] without referring them to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or to the Congregation for the Clergy in cases of dismissal from the clerical state.’ ‘Bishop Fellay never wanted to create a parallel Church,’ they explain, confirming that the CDF has already entrusted to Bishop Fellay the option of judging in the first instance those who have committed acts of sexual abuse.” (See La Croix, May 7, 2017.)
Until more extensive information is released, this is the only available news about the state of relations between Rome and the Society of Saint Pius X: no imminent canonical recognition and—if it does take place—it requires a preliminary doctrinal declaration that is not yet formulated with due rigor. Anything else is just rumor, which is an unverifiable and therefore not very reliable source of information.
Sources: KTO / DICI / La Croix / FSSPX.News - 05/26/17
- 1. This statement indicates that the Pope wishes to see jurisdiction granted by the bishops to the priests of the Society themselves, as several ordinaries have already done: in France, Bishop Alain Planet of Carcassonne and Narbonne, Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon, and Archbishop Luc Ravel of Strasbourg, as well as Bishop Eduardo Eliseo Martin of Rosario, Argentina.