Cue the fortune-tellers, the crystal ball readers, the Vatican nuance-gifted and impaired. Unless there is a last minute stay of ordination, the Society of St. Pius X plans to make 13 men priests this morning at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota -- raising the possibility of more controversy and overt or covert conflict with the Vatican (again).
And, of course, there are divergent views not only on how to understand what the Vatican has said so far, but on what this means for the relationship between the Catholic Church and the traditionalist body going forward. For an interesting summary of how the projected ordinations have been roiling European Catholic leaders, particularly German ones, read this story from The Catholic Herald Online.
What's intriguing about this story is the prediction of the diocesan spokesman that the ordinations will result in excommunication -- or would that be re-excommunication? Or, because, the excommunications were lifted, but there are still, as they say "issues" between the SSPX and the Vatican, would a fullscale excommunication be necessary? And what makes the Regensburg spokesman almost certain that excommunication would result -- at any rate, we know this isn't just a Schotz in the dark (sorry, I couldn't resist).
Now on to the secular press. Count on the Guardian.co.uk website and religious affairs reporter Riazat Butt to mine the event for major drama. Here's a few sample paragraphs:
The Society of St Pius X, which rose to notoriety this year when it emerged that one of its members, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier, said it would proceed with this month's ordinations in Germany, Switzerland and the US in spite of the Vatican insisting they are "illegitimate".
A statement posted on an SSPX website questioned whether, in an era of plummeting numbers in the priesthood, the Vatican was wise in attempting to frustrate the ambitions of men who wished to serve the church.
It also denied the ordinations were intended as a snub to Benedict XVI, who plunged the church into crisis when he reversed the excommunication of Williamson and three other SSPX bishops.
The Guardian has apparently already judged and tried both Pope Benedict and the SSPX. Judging by this genre of story, the Catholic Church is in a constant state of "crisis."
The pugilistic headline of Jeff Israely's article in Time: "Pope Benedict vs. the Lefebvrites: Round Two," hides a rather nice analysis. Israely focuses on one of the man main conundrums facing the Holy See. Has an attempt to avoid schism on Benedict's part had unpredictable consequences? This paragraph in particular helps explain why these ordinations may be considered a poke in the eye to local bishops and the Pope.
Ultimately, religious schisms often boil down to the question of who's in charge. In this specific case, the Lefebvrites want to decide who becomes a priest of the Catholic Church, an authority that for centuries has rested solely in the hands of local bishops, who derive their authority from the Pope himself. One senior Vatican official says that the Pope's unilaterally reaching out to the Society, even with many outstanding issues unresolved, has emboldened rather than humbled the breakaway flock. "They thought all concessions had to come from Holy See," he says. "But they are [now] going to have to admit their own obedience to authority."
This analysis goes a long way in explaining why the Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Muller, has apparently tried hard to stop the ordinations in his jurisdiction.
But why then the apparent silence, or public silence, from American bishops? Have you seen anything in the media to date from a bishop in Minnesota or Kansas? Given that ordinations are occuring in Minnesota, it is obviously not just a problem for European bishops.
So how come so relatively little local coverage? Possibly the media is waiting to see if the promised or threatened (depending on your perspective) priestings occur this morning. The CJOline.com website has a really good article by Bill Blankenship which tackles the local angle. Northeast Kansas apparently has a community of traditionalists situated at St Mary's Academy and College and while he doesn't do much local analysis, Blankenship does hew to the facts. One of the primary facts is this -- Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists that the ordinations "must be considered illegitimate."
Strong words indeed. It's a safe bet that pot on this one will be boiling for weeks -- let us know what you see out there, particularly coverage of reactions from clergy and church leaders in the Midwest. It's also a safe bet, in a very complicated story with local and international angles, that a lot will get lost in translation.
Photo: Interior of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota.