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There will be a high-level summit meeting in Rome tomorrow between a key Vatican official (U.S.-born Cardinal William Levada) and the leaders of the Traditionalist Catholic sect called the Society of St. Pius X, with a view toward healing the breach between the two groups. The dispute between the two consists largely of a dispute on how the liberalizing Second Vatican Council (1962-65) should be interpreted: as at least equal in importance to previous councils and church teachings (the official Vatican position) or as less important and even, in some understandings, heretical (the SSPX view).

One of the key innovations of Vatican II teaching was a dramatically increased respect for non-Catholic Christian denominations and for non-Christian religions. The great symbol of this progress was Pope John Paul II’s massive interreligious gatherings held at Assisi; his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, is scheduled to hold his own Assisi gathering next month.

In what is clearly intended to be an olive branch to the Pope in advance of tomorrow’s meeting, the SSPX yesterday released an article characterizing Pope Benedict’s event as “an offense against God . . . an odious humiliation of the Church . . . an immense scandal . . . a dreadful blasphemy against God . . . a supreme insult to God . . . a flight from reality . . . an exceedingly grave sin . . . a satanic perversion of the mission of Peter. . . [and] a well-prepared calamity.” According to the SSPX website, publication of this charitable and politely worded Christian essay was approved by the SSPX’s leader, Bp. Bernard Fellay — the same chap who will be representing the SSPX at the meeting.

Hopes are running high for the meeting to be a smashing diplomatic success . . .

PS. Sometimes we Americans complain that our politicians too often “demonize” their opponents. We can at least take comfort in the fact that we mean this only metaphorically! In addition to calling Pope Benedict’s initiative “satanic,” the SSPX article also has the subtitle “Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum”: To err is human, to persevere diabolical. “Satanic” and “diabolical”: Our domestic civility cops, it turns out, have relatively little to complain about.

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