Sect sees ‘a gleam of hope’ in Pope Benedict’s election

Associated Press/May 15, 2005

Kansas City -- For all its disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church - and the list is long - the Society of St. Pius X has always maintained its loyalty to the papacy. Now, with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the ultra-traditionalist priestly society - considered a breakaway group by the Vatican - sees "a gleam of hope" that the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council will be undone.

One Catholic scholar doubts that will happen, though - especially given that the last time the society dealt with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was trying to persuade its founder to accept those changes.

"To try to reconcile the traditionalists with the church would be an implicit rejection of Vatican II, and that’s not going to happen," said William Dinges, associate professor of theology and religious studies at the Catholic University of America.

The Society of St. Pius X, founded in Switzerland in 1969 and first recognized by the Vatican in 1970, maintains its American headquarters in Kansas City. The movement, named for the pope who wrote against modernism in a 1907 encyclical, claims between 1 million and 2 million lay adherents worldwide, 20,000 to 30,000 in the United States.

The society’s superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, welcomed Ratzinger’s election in a statement issued April 19 from the society’s international headquarters in Menzingen, Switzerland.

The statement, which appears on the society’s American and international Web sites, said Fellay "sees there a gleam of hope that we may find a way out of the profound crisis which is shaking the Catholic Church, of which some aspects have been spoken of by the former Head for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

A subsequent statement reiterates the order’s loyalty to Benedict.

A lay secretary in Kansas City, who asked that his name not be used because of the society’s rules, said the society would have no comment beyond anything published on the society’s Web sites and in its newsletters.

"He knows who we are, and we know who he is," the secretary said of Benedict.

The Society of St. Pius X’s profession of loyalty to the pope sets it apart from most other traditionalist movements, who either consider the position vacant or have elected "popes" of their own.

A former society seminarian, David Allan Bawden, has claimed to be "Pope Michael I" since 1990 and maintains his "Vatican in Exile" in Delia, Kan., about 90 minutes west of Kansas City.

Still, even a cursory review of the Society of Saint Pius X’s positions shows how deep the divide runs between it and the post-Vatican II church.

The order’s late founder, French-born Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, publicly rejected the church’s new Mass, which formally replaced the 16th-century Tridentine Mass in 1971, even though the more modern Mass was being celebrated as early as the 1960s.

The new Mass may be celebrated in any language, while the Tridentine rite is celebrated only in Latin.

There are other differences: In the Tridentine Mass, the priest faces the altar - away from worshippers - and Communion is given only in the mouth, never in the hand. There are no lay readers or Communion servers.

The Vatican banned the Tridentine rite from 1971 to 1984, although Lefebvre’s followers and other traditionalist groups continued to use it. In 1984, Pope John Paul II said the Tridentine rite could be used in special circumstances.

The Society of St. Pius X dismissed the Vatican’s move as a ploy to undermine traditionalists. Still, more than three dozen of the society’s priests and seminarians did leave in 1988 to reconcile with the Vatican and form the Fraternity of St. Peter, which emphasizes the Tridentine Mass.

Lefebvre was suspended by Pope Paul VI in 1976, along with his newly ordained priests, and excommunicated in 1988 after consecrating four bishops - also excommunicated, along with a Catholic bishop who supported Lefebvre - against Pope John Paul II’s orders.

Several months earlier, the archbishop and Ratzinger signed a protocol that made reconciliation with the Vatican seem imminent, but Lefebvre rejected the accord over a clause that gave Vatican representatives the majority on a commission to settle differences in interpretation of Vatican II documents.

He and his followers’ excommunication is considered the church’s first major schism since the "Old Catholics" broke from the Vatican after its proclamation of the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. The society denies a schism exists, however, saying Lefebvre’s disobedience was necessary to deal with a crisis in the church and did not constitute an outright rejection of the pope’s authority.

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