PARIS A breakaway traditionalist group has told the Vatican it cannot comply with a papal ultimatum on returning to the Roman Catholic Church because it skirts key issues of their dispute, a spokesman said on Friday.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of Saint Pius X (SPPX) opposed to Church reforms introduced in the 1960s, said there must be an agreement on doctrinal differences before any accord could be possible, Rev. Alain Lorans said.
Fellay said last week the ultimatum, which demanded the SSPX accept Pope Benedict's authority and refrain from faulting him publicly, was unacceptable and aimed at silencing critics.
"He rejects the procedure he is being subject to," Lorans said by telephone from the SSPX seminary in Econe, Switzerland. "If we want a canonical accord that doesn't collapse in a few weeks, we must deal with the fundamental questions of doctrine."
In 1988, Rome excommunicated SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and four bishops -- including Fellay -- he ordained against Pope John Paul's orders. The SSPX has since lobbied for the bans to be lifted but refused the Vatican's conditions.
Keen to end the schism, Benedict last year restored the old Latin Mass, a key SSPX demand. But he insists the group must accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) before he can lift the excommunication decrees against them.
The ultimatum issued this month avoided mentioning the Council reforms, but its requirement to respect the pope and the Church's doctrinal authority implied acceptance of them.
"In an ultimatum, which is an emergency procedure, these things should be explicit," Lorans said, adding that Fellay's letter to the Vatican on Thursday was confidential.
ANSWERING WITHOUT RESPONDING
The letter was sent before the end of the month, as requested by the Vatican, but the spokesman added: "You can say he's not responding (to the ultimatum), despite answering it."
The SSPX also had reservations about a requirement to fully accept the magisterium, or doctrinal authority of the Church.
Fellay "accepts to respect the pope and not take the place of the magisterium of the Church, except if there is something in the post-Council magisterium that is opposed to the magisterium of 2,000 years," Lorans said.
The SSPX claims about a million followers worldwide, many of them in France. It has long lobbied the Vatican to withdraw the excommunications and allow it to return to the 1.1-billion strong Church, but also regularly criticized the pope.
In a sermon last week, Fellay said the ultimatum aimed at silencing the SSPX. "Rome is telling us, okay, we are ready to lift the excommunications, but you cannot continue this way," Fellay said at an SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota.
"So we have no choice... we are continuing what we've done," he said. "They just say 'shut up' ... we are not going ... to shut up."