Holy See puts Fellay in charge of trying one of his own priests
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has appointed the Superior of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Lefebvre, to be the first-instance trial judge in the case against a Lefebvrian priest who is accused of a serious crimeANDREA TORNIELLI vatican city He announced it himself during the course of a sermon at Our Lady of the Angels church in Arcadia, California, on May 10, 2015: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has appointed the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, as first-instance judge in a case involving a Lefebvrian priest. The former Holy Office is in charge of dealing with a number of “delicta graviora”. The one that pops up most frequently, is the one involving the sexual abuse of minors. Fellay presented this as an example of the “contradictions” in the Holy See’s approach to the Fraternity.
“We are labeled now as being irregular, at best. “Irregular” means you cannot do anything, and so for example they have prohibited us from saying Mass in the churches in Rome, for the Dominican sisters who had their pilgrimage in Rome in February. They say, “No, you cannot, because you are irregular”. And these people [who] say that, were people of [Pontifical Commission] Ecclesia Dei.”
“Now, sometimes, unfortunately,” Bishop Fellay said, “also priests do silly things, and they need to be punished. And when it is very, very serious, we have to make recourse to Rome. So we do. And what does the Congregation of the Faith do? Well, they did appoint me as the judge for this case. So I was appointed by Rome, by the Congregation of the Faith, to make judgements, canonical Church judgements on some of our priests who belong to a non-existent Society for them (for Rome, Ed.). And so, once again, a beautiful contradiction indeed.”
This is not the first time the SSPX has made recourse to Rome when it comes to “delicta graviora” and dispensations from priestly obligations. What is new in this case is that the former Holy Office headed by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has decided to entrust the case to Mgr. Fellay himself, making him first-instance trial judge. An expression of attention. A sign that the path toward full communion with the Lefebvrians continues, as Archbishop Guido Pozzo confirmed in a statement to Vatican Insider. He archbishop, who is also Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, said: “The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not imply that existing problems have been resolved, but it is a sign of benevolence and magnanimity. I see no contradiction here, but rather, a step toward reconciliation.”
Readers will recall that another important sign came last April, when the Archbishop of Buenos Aires gave the green light for Lefebvrians to be registered by the Argentinian government as a “diocesan association”. Also, a large group of SSPX pilgrims was allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in Lourdes Basilica.
So why does Fellay speak of a contradiction? His comment was in reference to last February’s pilgrimage to Rome, which saw the participation of 1500 faithful. The pilgrimage was organised by Dominican sisters with links to the SSPX. A request was submitted to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei for mass to be celebrated at the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. On this occasion, however, the heads of the Commission, decided that the celebration of a mass by a Lefebvrian priest before existing problems were resolved in view of canonical regularisation and full communion would have sent out the wrong signal. Nevertheless, Pope Francis gave his approval to a proposal for the requested mass to be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica but by an Ecclesia Dei priest and according to the old rite. Leaders of the Fraternity declined the offer.
Still, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s appointment of Fellay as first-instance trial judge, shows that progress is being made in terms of the dialogue between the Church and the SSPX.