In the relationship between the Holy See and the SSPX, there is one enormous fundamental problem, which is so obvious that few people mention it. As a member of an Ordinariate, Benedict XVI's other and successful ecumenical endeavour, I have a natural interest in this question and pray for its resolution. That is the locus standi from which I ask the following question.
SSPX and the Vatican ... is this a matter of Ecumenism or of Church Discipline? Is the SSPX a group of beloved Separated Brethren with whom we Catholics should, in accordance with the mandate of Vatican II, strain every sinew to secure unity ... because, with their immensely rich spirituality, they have so much to offer the Catholic Church; or is it merely a portion of the Latin Church in an irregular canonical situation which needs to be thoroughly bashed around the head, like the Franciscans of the Immaculate, until it abjectly grovels?
Both the Holy See and the SSPX in effect conspire to ensure that the second model applies; Rome, because of her natural inclination to exercise control over the Latin Church; the SSPX, because it believes itself to be, not only part of the Latin Church, but even its only truly healthy and doctrinally sound part.
But what if Rome, at least, were to try the first model? Suppose they were to treat the 'problems' which the SSPX has with Vatican II in the same way that Rome treats the 'problems' of the 'Nestorians' or 'Monophysites'? With them, Rome is happy to the point of euphoria about securing Christological agreements, without demanding explicit acceptance of Ephesus or Chalcedon. Or take the Anglicans, who, without accepting the actual words of Trent, were told by dicasteries including the CDF that the last document ('Clarifications') in the Eucharistic section of the ARCIC process meant that 'no further work' was necessary on that matter? Or, to put it differently: If the only obstacle between Rome and the Russian and Greek Churches were Dignitatis humanae, would Rome really insist that no further progress would be possible without explicit submission by the Orthodox both to that Conciliar document and to 'the entire post-Conciliar Magisterium'?
(Come to think of it, given the affection Greek and Russian hierarchs have for the concept of the Orthodox State, Byzantium redivivum, that last little fantasy of mine is a not-so-totally-inconceivable scenario. Have you read about the latest proposed change to the Russian constitution? Might it be amusing to get the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity to ask the venerable communities of the Holy Mountain to produce a doctrinal commentary on Dignitatis humanae which could then be the basis for dialogue between the Vatican and the SSPX?)
The Curial bureaucrats, then, are trying both to have their cake and to eat it. When it suits them, they will treat SSPX as disobedient subjects rather than as Separated Brethren. But when the exigencies of the polemics require it, as they did towards the end of last year, they talk about the SSPX as being in schism, or even being in some imprecise sense excommunicate. But they would do well to think carefully about the implications of such assessments for the status of the dialogue. Because if members of SSPX are excommunicate schismatics, then they qualify for the treatment which Unitatis redintegratio prescribed for Separated Brethren*.
Or, to put the same point (again) differently: Is it really Vatican policy to wait a millennium or half a millennium for Time to solidify and make ever more bitter the break between Rome and the SSPX, and, once the breach is sufficiently long-term, acrimonious, and definitive, then finally, but only then, to move on to all the sentimental and cuddly rituals of the Open-Arms Dear-Sister-Churches part of the ecumenical process? I know there is an old saw about Rome thinking in terms of centuries ... but can that really be the plan?
Is there a plan?
To be concluded.
*There is also a pastoral and canonical aspect to this. Anti-SSPX writers commonly assert that SSPX marriages are invalid. But if SSPX is outside the Church, then they are as valid as Methodist or Lutheran marriages. And absolutions are as valid as Vatican praxis deems Orthodox absolutions to be. Wouldn't it, anyway, be an admirable pastoral gesture in Unity Week for Rome to concede jurisdiction in these matters to SSPX priests and issue a sanatio of all previous SSPX marriages? It would have same bigness, the same generosity, as the remission of the excommunications by Benedict XVI.