VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - One day after the celebration of the 85th birthday of the Pope of Christian unity, on the week commemorating seven years of his pontificate, an amazing turn of events may have finally occurred. The rumors have been rampant. However, they they have received mixed reviews from Vatican observers. They have also prompted rampant speculation.

However, on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the reliable Andrea Tornielli reported that the doctrinal preamble issued by the Vatican has been signed by Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior of the Society of St. Pius X. The report further indicates there were some minor revisions which should not preclude the long hoped for return to full communion for the SSPX.   

What a birthday gift this would be for the Pope of Christian unity. On April 20, 2005, a newly elected Pope Benedict XVI gave his first message at the end of a Mass he had concelebrated with the members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. He signaled his mission:

"Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Luke 22: 32)".

"With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty."

According to Andrea Tornielli of the Vatican Insider, reported in a story translated by my favorite source for these vital issues, the ever reliable Rorate Caeli , "The text of the preamble, with the modifications proposed by Fellay, and signed by him as Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X, will be presented to Benedict XVI, who, on the day following his 85th birthday and on the even of the seventh anniversary of his election, receives a positive response from the Lefebvrists."

"A response long expected and desired by him, who, in the next few weeks, will put an end to the wound opened in 1988 with the illegitimate episcopal ordinations celebrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre."

"It is not ruled out that Fellay's response be examined by the Cardinals of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the next "Feria Quarta" [Wednesday] meeting, which should take place in the first half of May. Meanwhile, some further weeks will be needed so that a canonical arrangement can be established."

"The most probable proposal is that of establishing a "personal prelature", a legal figure introduced in the Code of Canon Law in 1983 and up to now used only by Opus Dei. The prelate depends directly of the Holy See. The Society of Saint Pius X will continue to celebrate Mass according to the ancient Missal, and to form its priests in its seminaries."

This is the same Pope who issued Motu Propio, on his own authority, the historic Apostlic Constitution establishing Anglican ordinariates for former Anglicans seeking to come into full communion within the Catholic Church. Within these Catholic Ordinariates of former Anglicans, elements of the Anglican liturgy are preserved and the Anglican patrimony is respected and preserved as a gift for the whole Church.

Another excellent European journalist, Sandro Magister, in a 2009 article entitled "Knock, and It Shall Be Opened to You. As Long As It's According to Tradition" helps us understand the pastoral strategy of Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic work of restoring the full communion of the Catholic Church. He noted that "Today more than ever, with Joseph Ratzinger as pope, the ecumenical journey seems not a pursuit of modernity, but a return to the terrain of tradition."

This Pope of Christian unity is a proponent of legitimate diversity within Orthodoxy (right doctrine) and Orthopraxy (right practice). A Wall Street Journal article written by Stacy Meichtry in 2009 was originally entitled "The Great Unifier?" but is now entitled "For the  Vatican, New Resolve to Expand the Catholic Fold" Why the name was changed I do not know.

It prompted a comment in an article I wrote back then, "Though worth reading, it is the Title which will endure. The question mark will fall away as this historic moment unfolds over the coming years. Pope Benedict XVI is indeed the Great Unifier." Meichtry claimed in that article that "Few expected Pope Benedict to reach out to other Christian churches aggressively when he was elected in April 2005".

However, anyone aware of the writings, history and ecclesiology (theology of the Church) of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, knew this would happen. I, along with many other observers of this extraordinary Christian leader, were not surprised. What I wrote back then I reaffirm today, this Pope is only warming up. This is his mission. 

Another Wall Street Journal article written in October of 2009 by Francis X. Rocca entitled "The Pope Lets a Thousand Liturgies Bloom" is now unavailable online. It offers another way of understanding the specific way in which Pope Benedict XVI views this mission - and views the Church over which he presides in Christ, who is the Head of His Body. The Vatican correspondent for the Religious news Service wrote:

"It may seem ironic that Pope Benedict should be presiding over such diversification of worship. After all, as head of the Vatican's doctrinal office for more than two decades prior to his 2005 election as pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger built a reputation as the church's most vigilant guardian of orthodoxy, receiving the nickname "God's Rottweiler." Benedict is hardly permissive when it comes to liturgy."

"Though even most Catholics are not aware of it, many sanctioned modes of worship have co-existed within the church over its 2,000-year history. The Ambrosian Rite, celebrated only in certain parts of northern Italy, with its own special prayers, vestments and type of chant, is one of the most ancient, dating back at least to the fourth century. Not to speak of the many Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome, which share a rich liturgical heritage with Eastern Orthodoxy."

Pope Benedict's 'Impelling Duty' is to rebuild the full and visible unity of this Church. It will be forged through orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice) - but it will be lived within a legitimate diversity of expression within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That is the context within which this happy news of a possible restored communion with the SSPX should be received. It is a sign of the coming full communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.