Rebel traditionalists seeking a return to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church are to be told they must respect Judaism, other world faiths and other Christian churches.
The Holy See is to tell the Society of Saint Pius X that it can no longer reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council if it wishes to be fully integrated back into the Church.
The council, which sat from 1962 to 1965, challenged centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in the document Nostra Aetate which repudiated the charge of deicide against followers of the Jewish faith.
However, the society, known as the SSPX or the Lefebvrists after their founder, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, has consistently refused to accept the reforms of the council, including the liturgy in the vernacular.
Talks are due to start soon between the Holy See and SSPX on theological and doctrinal issues. These are expected to lead to the full reintegration of the society into the Catholic Church which would lead to its priests and bishops being recognised as Catholic.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said the reforms of the council were “not negotiable”.
In an interview with the German daily Passauer Neue Presse, he said: “It’s not the case that Rome will let the Lefebvrists off easy for everything.”
He was speaking shortly after a priest of the society celebrated Mass at St Peter’s in Rome, prompting sympathetic conservative Catholic blogger Chris Gillibrand to predict a return to “normalcy”.
Some observers believe that the society will be normalised even before the doctrinal talks over issues such as the Second Vatican Council are complete.
Pope Benedict XVI, himself a conservative by inclination, has made it a mission of his Papacy to restore unity to the Christian world wherever possible.
Suspicions that the process will move faster than previously expected were increased after Father Marcus Jasny, SSPX prior in Neustadt in south-west Germany, celebrated the Tridentine or Old Rite Mass during a pilgrimage to Rome a few days ago of students from the Schöneberg High School for Girls near Bonn.
The return to the fold of the SSPX, which has a British Holocaust-denier as one of its bishops, will increase fears among international Jewry about the direction the Catholic Church is taking.
A recent statement from the Catholic bishops’ conference of the United States was criticised by the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups as unacceptably evangelistic.
The Jewish leaders warned that the US document could be regarded as evidence that Catholics would use interfaith dialogue to attempt to convert Jews.
The Jewish leaders, who included rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform groupings, said interfaith dialogue was “untenable” if the objective was to persuade Jews to accept Christ as their savior.
In a letter to the US bishops criticising their document on salvation, they said: “a declaration of this sort is antithetical to the very essence of Jewish-Christian dialogue as we have understood it.”
The SSPX controversy came to a head in January when the Pope lifted the excommunication of four SSPX bishops, including Britain’s Richard Williamson. Williamson believes the Jewish people are the “enemies of Christ” and that they should be converted to Catholicism.
The decree was signed on January 21 2009, the same day that Swedish television broadcast an interview with Bishop Williamson in which he said: “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers.” He also said: “I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers.”
Talks between a new commission of the Holy See and the SSPX are expected to begin in the next few days, Cardinal Schonborn said.
“The SSPX will be told very clearly what is not negotiable for the Holy See,” he said.“This includes such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right.”
The rapprochement between the Holy See and SSPX comes as traditionalists today celebrate the second anniversary of the Motu Proprio that allowed greater freedom to celebrate the Tridentine Rite. In a letter released with the permission, Pope Benedict XVI explained his motive was “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church” and traditionalist groups such as SSPX.
According to Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan, the Holy See has chosen three theologians – a Swiss Dominican, a German Jesuit and a Spanish Opus Dei priest – to negotiate with the Swiss-based SSPX. The German SSPX chapter said on its website that “a fruitful discussion should be possible.”
Bishop Williamson has apologised but has never retracted his views.
In June, the SSPX ordained 21 new priests despite being urged by the Holy See not to do so. There are no indications that these ordinations have hindered the process of reintegration.