During his visit to Stuttgart, the First Assistant of the Society of St. Pius X, Rev. Fr. Niklaus Pfluger, despite his very busy schedule, found time to answer a few questions for pius.info.
The doctrinal preamble is of great interest to all concerned. Both sides agreed on confidentiality, and so we cannot expect you to speak about its contents. Allow me nevertheless to ask: What do you think of the document?
The document allows for corrections from our side. That is necessary also, if only to exclude clearly and definitively even the appearance of ambiguities and misunderstandings. So now it is our duty to send Rome an answer that reflects our position and unambiguously represents the concerns of Tradition. We owe it to our mission of fidelity to Catholic Tradition not to make any compromises. The faithful, and the priests even more, understand very well that in the past Rome’s offers to the various conservative communities were unacceptable. If Rome now makes an offer to the Society, then it must be made unambiguously and unmistakably clear that it is for the welfare of the Church and hastens a return to Tradition. We think and feel with the Catholic Church. She has a worldwide missionary task, and it was always the most ardent desire of our founder that Tradition should flourish again throughout the world. A canonical recognition of the Society of St. Pius X could accomplish just that.
Critics say that Rome is trying to set a trap for the Society with this preamble and to take advantage of it. Once it was canonically integrated, the Society might perhaps introduce its “charism of Tradition” into the modern Church, but it would also have to accept conciliar thinking and other ways of doing things for the sake of “pluralism”.
This criticism is altogether justified and should be taken seriously. For how can we avoid giving the impression that this amounts after all to a tacit acceptance, so to speak, that would in fact lead to this parallel diversity and relativize the one truth; that is indeed precisely the basis of Modernism.
Assisi III and even more the unfortunate beatification of John Paul II but also many other examples make it clear that the leadership of the Church now as before is not ready to give up the false principles of Vatican II and their consequences. Therefore any “offer” made to Tradition must guarantee us the freedom to be able to continue our work and our critique of “modernist Rome”. And to be honest, this seems to be very, very difficult. Again, any false or dangerous compromise must be ruled out.
It is pointless to compare the present situation with the talks in 1988. At that time Rome wanted to prevent any sort of autonomy for the Society; the bishop that they maybe were and maybe were not going to grant would in any case have to be subject to Rome. That was simply too uncertain for Archbishop Lefebvre. If Marcel Lefebvre had given in, Rome could in fact have hoped that a Society without its “own” bishops would someday come round to the conciliar way. Today the situation is completely different. We have four bishops and meanwhile 550 priests worldwide. And the structures of the official Church are breaking down faster and faster. Rome can no longer confront the Society as it did more than twenty years ago.
What do you think are the chances for a positive answer? Will the Society of St. Pius X agree to the preamble?
Here diplomacy plays an important role. Rome wants to save face in public. The pope has already been accused too often of lifting the “excommunication” of our bishops without preconditions. If it had been up to the majority of the German bishops, then the Society would have to sign a blank check recognizing the whole Council first. Incidentally, they are demanding that now as before. Pope Benedict has not done that. Moreover free access to the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass [i.e. Tridentine Mass] was the second condition required by the Society. Therefore Rome complied twice with the Society’s wishes. It is clear that now they are demanding a document that can be presented to the public. The question is, whether one can sign the document. In one week the superiors of the Society of St. Pius X will meet in [Albano Laziale, a suburb of] Rome to discuss this together. Of course it has to be clear to Cardinal Levada and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith too that they cannot insist on a document that the Society cannot justify in turn to its members and faithful.
One last question: Who gained the greater advantage from the theological talks: Rome or the Society of St. Pius X?
That is a very important point, and so I will say it again: We are not that concerned about any advantage of our own. We want to make the treasure that Archbishop Lefebvre entrusted to our safekeeping available again for the whole Church. To that extent, canonical recognition would be a gain for the Church. In that way a conservative bishop, for example, could ask Society priests to work in his diocesan seminary. Of course the regularization of relations would also mean that Catholics who were perhaps kept away from the Society by the label “suspended” will now venture to take that step. But that is not what this is about. For forty-one years the Society has grown steadily, even in spite of being beaten with the “excommunication” stick. We are concerned instead about the Catholic Church. Together with the Archbishop we too would like to say [the words of St. Paul cf. I Corinthians 11:23], “Tradidi quod et accepi” – We hand on what we ourselves have received.
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