Last night, along with a wide range of interested listeners, I attended the talk by Dr Brian Sudlow on the future of the relationship between the SSPX and the Catholic Church which I advertised in SSPX and the Church - a lecture.
Dr Sudlow is the translator of the biography of Archbishop Lefebvre by Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and a former supporter of the Society. His reasons for leaving are set out in Why I left the SSPX milieu which can be found on his blog The Sensible Bond.
Given that the current lack of certain knowledge about the state of discussions between the CDF and SSPX his talk had to be a reflection on the background and his own views as to what could, or should, happen. Such rumours as there have been do not suggest a positive outcome in terms of acceptance, but they may turn out be part of the continuing politics of the situation.
For Dr Sudlow the key issue was that of the authority of the Church as the ultimate source of legitimacy, and he believes that if SSPX can accept that as apparently set out in the preamble to the proposed aggreement they would find a place for themselves within the Church. Given that they have Bishops already that would give them an advantage over other groups such as the FSSP or the Bon Pasteur institute in Bordeaux, which are dependent upon the existing diocesan episcopate. Those groups had not always found it easy at first but they were beginning to build upon their foundations.
His view was that SSPX cannot be self validating in regard to the interpretation of Catholic Tradition, and saw a tendency to cite texts of lesser authority that suited their case against ones of higher canonical status. He believes that, like academics, they should be willing to submit their ideas to the intellectual critique of episcopal and theological confreres. If that was accepted they might be surprised to find that they had more acceptance than they expected. Such issues were always risky, but that was one that was part of being part of the whole Church. In that respect there was a need for the long view, of seeking ultimate validation, not waiting until everything was as SSPX might want it before re-entering full communion.
He feared a hardening of attitudes if the breach remained unhealed. There is now a generation which has no knowledge of the pre-1988 situation, and that the ultimate logic for some might be a new wave of sede vacante-ism. The Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had laboured hard to achieve reconciliation in 1988, and had courageously gone out to meet SSPX and seek to bring them fully into the fold.
Dr Sudlow was of the view that the particular French polito-religious concerns of SSPX members there were more or less impenetrable to non-French Catholics, but did think that some of the French episcopate were more favourable than hitherto to traditional ways.
Recent events such as the recent Assisi day and the beatification of Pope John Paul II raise new difficulties in the minds of SSPX members who distruct what they saw in the implied syncretism of the first Assisi meeting, and who are critical of the late Pope's actions, notably of course the excommunications of 1988.
It was possible that if no agreement with the whole of SSPX was achieved that the episcopate would split, with on eor possibly others accepting the offer from Rome, and others remaining outside. Individual SSPX bishops had a considerable personal following, who might well follow where they led.
This was a thought-provoking talk, and elicited a fair number of questions, but all of us, speaker as much as audience, are dependent upon the formal response of SSPX. Time to redouble one's prayers on this matter I think.
The Pope and Bishop Bernard Fellay of SSPX