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Swiss bishop sees differences with Vatican

Published on 17/02/2009

GENEVA - Monsignor Bernard Fellay, one of four traditionalist Roman Catholic bishops whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI, says he expects it will difficult to set aside differences over doctrinal issues.

Fellay, who heads the Swiss-based Society of Pius X, which the pope is trying to return to the Vatican’s fold, said in an interview published Monday that he already indicated his willingness to enter talks in a "positive spirit".

"But we don’t want to do it precipitously", Fellay said in the interview with the Sion-based daily Le Nouvelliste. "When you walk in a mine field, you have to go carefully and with moderation".

Fellay said it would be difficult to reach consensus with the pope.

"Certainly one has the impression that he is near us on the question of the liturgy", he said. "On the other hand, he is deeply attached to the new things of Vatican II".

Fellay said there was too much ambiguity in the conclusions of the groundbreaking, 1962-65 ecumenical council.

"Let’s hope now that the work brings to the whole church a greater doctrinal clarity", he said.

Fellay and three other bishops were excommunicated two decades ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent, which the Vatican then said was an act of schism.

In lifting the excommunications, the pope answered one of the society’s conditions for beginning theological discussions about normalising relations.

In 2007 Benedict answered another of Fellay’s key demands by relaxing restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass.

Fellay distanced the society from the remarks of another of the four previously excommunicated bishops, Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.

He said his British colleague should be given time to reconsider his assertion in a Swedish state TV interview in which he said historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed".

"He’s working on the issue and he is responsible", Fellay said. "But we have to give him time because he wants to study seriously so that he can give a sincere and true response".

[AP / Alexander G. Higgins / Expatica]