In remitting the excommunications, Benedict noted that "doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry."
The biggest obstacles for the Society's reconciliation have been the statements on religious liberty in Vatican II's declaration Dignitatis humanae as well as the declaration Nostra aetate, which it claims contradict previous Catholic teaching.
There were indications in recent years of movement towards regularization of the priestly society, which has some 590 priest-members, including a memo apparently meant for circulation among its leadership.
The Feb. 19 memo from Fr. Franz Schmidberger had said it "seems the time to normalize the situation of the Society has come." The priest is a past superior general of the society who is now rector of its seminary in Germany.
He said the Vatican had been "gradually lowering its demands and recent proposals" regarding the society's position toward the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Mass which was implemented after it.
Although the group would be likely to "return from its 'exile'," he said, it would expect further discussion and would not be silent in the face of what it considers to be errors.
The priest's memo noted the society's need for licit consecration of any future bishops.
Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary for the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, spoke about interactions with the society in an April 6 interview with La Croix. The archbishop, whose commission is responsible for discussions with the society, said that discussions over the last few years have led to "an important clarification" that the Second Vatican Council "can be adequately understood only in the context of the full Tradition of the Church and her constant Magisterium."
He said certain questions can remain "subject to discussion and clarification."
In April 10 remarks to pilgrims in France, Bishop Fellay said that he saw "profound change" in the society's relationship with the Vatican. He suggested Church leaders would not force them to accept the Second Vatican Council, having met with Pope Francis and Archbishop Pozzo April 1-2.
In 2015 the Holy See delegated a cardinal and three bishops to visit the seminaries of the SSPX. They were sent to become better acquainted with the society, and to discuss doctrinal and theological topics in a less formal context.
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And Pope Francis announced in a September 2015 letter on the Jubilee Year of Mercy that during the jubilee year the faithful can validly and licitly receive absolution of their sins from priests of the SSPX.