VATICAN CITY, Apr 19 – The Vatican on Wednesday said there had been “a step forward” towards the re-integration into the Catholic Church of a controversial group of traditionalist clergy that broke from Rome in the 1980s.
Spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See had received a response from the Society of Saint Pius X on its proposal for a reconciliation.
“The reply that we received yesterday is different from the previous ones. It is a step forward, an encouraging development,” he said.
The Vatican will now have to determine whether the fraternity, which was founded in 1970 and separated from the Vatican in 1988, can return to the fold.
Lombardi said he expected the response to come “within weeks”.
A statement on the Society’s website said its reply to the Vatican was “a stage and not a conclusion”. The group is itself threatened with division between members who want to reconcile with Rome and those that do not.
More radical members still see Rome as being inspired by demonic forces.
The group has traditionally been strongly opposed to liberal reforms in the Catholic Church imposed by the Vatican II Council in the 1960s and has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism and far-right political allegiances.
Pope Benedict XVI came under heavy criticism in 2009 when he lifted an excommunication order against a Saint Pius X Society bishop, Richard Williamson, who has denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers.
The Society was founded by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and is based in Switzerland. It has its strongest presence in France and Germany.
It has an estimated 550 priests among its members.
The Vatican’s plan is to offer members of the movement a “personal prelature” similar to the one that allowed the integration of the Opus Dei movement, which would put the group directly under the pope’s authority.
Benedict has made the reintegration of the Society of Saint Pius X a priority of his pontificate after the failure of negotiations in the 1980s that he had personally handled with the group’s founder, Lefebvre.
German weekly Der Spiegel said the Society was no longer demanding that the Holy See overturn the Vatican II reforms and was content with noting simply that there were disagreements with Rome over some aspects of dogma.