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Pope Francis, SSPX, and a Charism of Dialogue

Some headlines catch my eye and strike me as “micro” trends. In and of themselves, they may not be earth-shaking issues, but they hint at other trends that could be significant. Such is the case with the past week’s headlines regarding Pope Francis’ recent dialogue with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the Society of Pope Pius X (SSPX), an ecclesial organization that disputes the validity of many of the liturgical changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council. When the SSPX ordained four bishops in 1988 without the permission of the pope, they were automatically excommunicated and fell out of communion with the Holy See.

Considered alongside Pope Francis’ instances of dialogue with other Christians, such as evangelical Pentecostals and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill, this recent outreach to the SSPX speaks of a macro trend where the Holy Father seems to want to dialogue with any and all for the sake Christian unity. While Francis is often portrayed as progressive or liberal by the media, he is actively pursuing reconciliation with what many would consider an ultra-traditionalist group within the Church—clear evidence of his desire to build bridges wherever possible.

Interestingly, Bishop Fellay seems to be quite pleased with this aspect of Francis’ papacy. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, he explains that for the Pope Francis, “What is important is life, it’s the person, and so he tries to look at the person, and there, if I may say, he’s very human.” The interview adds, “As for the Pope’s motives, Fellay believes Francis is someone who wants to see everyone saved so, ‘like a rescuer, he unties the rope, which is his security, to put himself in a risky situation to try to get to other people,’ and ‘that is probably what he’s doing with us.’”

Whether Pope Francis is engaging persons with same-sex attraction, attempting to reconcile the Church’s boundaries of mercy with those who are divorced, or seeking reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox, he is clearly opening up the doors of dialogue with many—and at a no-nonsense pace. From what I have read about Francis’ history, he is a firm believer that the Catholic Church was established by Christ, who positively wills that all to be a part of it.

Catholics who turn up their noses to SSPX because of its traditionalist expression of the Faith are missing the boat. Though the SSPX is currently not in communion with the Church, we should, follow Francis’ lead to reach out with them so that they might be reconciled and we might someday be “one,” as Christ prayed in John 17:21—just as we should we any person or group of good will. We should all want bounds of mercy will be stretched as far as divine and ecclesial law will genuinely allow to bring about reconciliation between the Church and all those separated from it, including the SSPX.