A traditionalist group of Catholic bishops and priests that has been separated from the wider Church for decades appears to have abandoned efforts to reunite with Rome, releasing a statement Wednesday that claims Pope Francis is encouraging the spreading of errors in Church teaching.
The Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 mainly in opposition to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, says now it “does not primarily seek a canonical recognition” from the Vatican for its continuing activities.
The society also says there is a “great and painful confusion that currently reigns in the Church” that “requires the denunciation of errors that have made their way into it and are unfortunately encouraged by a large number of pastors, including the Pope himself.”
The statement, released on the society’s website, seems to eliminate chances that the group might reunite with Rome. Popes have tried to repair relations over four decades.
Pope Benedict XVI made the most effort to reunite with the group, lifting the excommunications of four of their bishops in 2009. Those efforts ultimately failed when Bishop Bernard Fellay, their current superior general, rejected a doctrinal statement drafted by the Vatican for the group to sign.
Wednesday’s statement is made in Fellay’s name and comes as the global Catholic Church is celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the founders of the Church in Rome.
Fellay says he is making the statement following a June 25-28 meeting of the society’s superiors and gives four numbered points based on the premise that the purpose of the group “is chiefly the formation of priests, the essential condition for the renewal of the Church and for the restoration of society.”
The statement ends with a paragraph that begins: “The Society of Saint Pius X prays and does penance for the Pope, that he might have the strength to proclaim Catholic faith and morals in their entirety.”
The society’s statement comes less than three months after Francis met with Fellay for the first time at the Vatican in April.
The Pope had earlier indicated a move toward unity between the wider Church and the traditionalist society with the opening of the ongoing Jubilee year of mercy last fall.
In a September letter to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the holy year on his behalf, he explained that members of the society would be granted faculties during the year to offer absolution of sins “validly and licitly” to those who approach them for confession.
In a March interview posted on the society’s website, Fellay had before said he thought Francis may consider his group as existing on the “periphery” and thus needing to be accompanied back to the Church.
Outside of the faculties granted during the Jubilee year, members of the traditionalist society are considered not to be in full communion with Rome and, in normal circumstances, its priests and bishops cannot exercise Roman Catholic ministry.
[Joshua J. McElwee is Vatican Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.]