Signals from the top
It is after the meeting of March 16th that events take on an increasingly bizarre cast. Bishop Fellay has stated publicly on several occasions that immediately after this meeting, he was approached by a close personal collaborator of the pope, whose identity he does not specify. This personal collaborator informed Bishop Fellay that he need not take the CDF threat seriously, that it was meant only for the archives. He told Bishop Fellay that it was the will of the Pope that the SSPX be regularised as they are, without having to abandon any of their doctrinal positions. He instructed Bishop Fellay to send in a revision of the CDF doctrinal preamble in a form that the SSPX found acceptable, and told him that the SSPX would receive a desirable canonical status on the basis of this revised preamble.
Much of our knowledge of subsequent events stems from the leaking of confidential documents to the Internet.
On April 7th, the three other SSPX bishops wrote to Bishop Fellay urging him not to agree to the proposed accord, arguing that the Roman authorities could never tolerate criticism of the Second Vatican Council, and that as a result a practical agreement with these authorities would lead the SSPX to abandon its doctrinal principles. They appealed to the decision of the 2006 General Chapter to justify their stand.
Bishop Fellay replied to the other bishops on April 14th in an enormously impressive letter. He reproached them with a lack of a supernatural perspective on the situation, and asked them if they still considered Benedict XVI as the Pope. He stated that the Pope had informed him that he considered the healing of the rift with the SSPX to be at the heart of his pontificate, and that he knew that it would be more comfortable both for the SSPX and himself to leave affairs in their present state. He pointed out that it was not the SSPX that had sought the proposed arrangement, but the pope himself, and argued that it was not legitimate to dismiss the personal and manifest will of the pope.
On April 15th Bishop Fellay delivered a doctrinal preamble to the CDF that had been revised in such a way as to make it acceptable to the SSPX. The exact content of this revised preamble is not known. The Vatican response to this revised preamble was initially positive; on April 18th Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See’s press spokesman, described Bishop Fellay’s document as encouraging and a step forward. This response seemed to confirm the message of the unnamed papal messenger.