Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Advance Report on the Papal Letter about the Lifting of the SSPX Excommunications

Italian newspaper Il Foglio has an advance report on the Pope's letter regarding the lifting of the SSPX excommunications which I mentioned yesterday. Here is an NLM translation; please keep in mind that unless there are quotation marks, these are not the actual words of the Holy Father, but a paraphrase of Il Foglio, and thus single terms should not be over-interpreted:

In a surprise move, humble and forceful at the same time, Benedict XVI has decided to personally explain to the Catholic episcopate the withdrawal of the excommunication of the four Lefebvrist bishops which has caused not a few controversies. He has done this with an autograph letter addressed to all the bishops of the world which will soon be made public, perhaps tomorrow. A sorrowful yet firm letter in which the Pontiff explains the true meaning of his gesture, underlines its necessity and urgency and situates it within the "supreme and fundamental" priority of his mission as the Successor of Peter, not without admitting mistakes in the management of the entire affair. A "clarifying word", in short, which has as its stated aim to "contribute in this way to the peace in the Church."

Let us begin with the "mistakes" acknowledged. They are essentially two: the Holy See was not aware that via the "Internet" one could come to know the negationist statements of Williamson which instead were superimposed in a "unforeseeable" way on the remission of the excommunication, causing a media short circuit that caused the whole affair to be misrepresented. From now on, is the conclusion, the Vatican will have to pay more attention to the Internet as a source of information. The second "mistake" in managing the affair was that of a "not sufficiently clear" manner of explaining the remission of the excommunication. Benedict XVI explains that the revocation of the excommunication is personal, concerns the four bishops, and does not imply the canonical recognition of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X which can take place only after a doctrinal realignment of the Fraternity, including the acceptance of Vatican II and the Magisterium of the post-conciliar Popes.

In this respect, the Pope makes an important announcement. Since the issue is doctrinal, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which handles the procedures for the Lefebvrists who want to return fully into communion with Rome, will be connected to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in such a way that for these procedures there will also be an involvement of the Prefects of the other Vatican congregations and of representatives of the world episcopate who will participate in the collegial work of the former Holy Office.

With regard to Vatican II Pope Ratzinger is clear: The Lefebvrists cannot presume to "freeze" the magisterial authority of the Church in 1962, but on the other hand, those who proclaim themselves as "the great defenders of the Council" must understand that Vatican II brings with it "the whole doctrinal history of the Church".

At this point the Pope in his letter addresses perhaps the most delicate question: Was this withdrawal really necessary? Was it a real priority? About this point, Benedict XVI shows no hesitation. The Pope is well aware that certain publications had an interest in suggesting that the Lefebvrist question was a personal manic fixation of his. But the Pope does not want to polemicize and highlights again, with absolute non-constraint, that from the beginning his pontificate wanted to have as an absolute priority that established by Jesus for the Successor of Peter, namely "to make God present in this world and to open to men the access to God", in a world in which "God disappears from the horizon of men". This "supreme priority" has for Benedict XVI as a logical consequence that one must "have at heart the unity of believers", and hence also ecumenism. It is in the light of this true priority - explains the Pope - that also the "small and medium-sized reconciliations" find their place, such as the one being worked upon with the Lefebvrists.

[This is] an attempt at reconciliation, which concerns a reality - recalls the Pope -which extends to thousands of faithful and above all to 491 priests: "Can we just exclude them, as representatives of a marginal radical group, from the search for reconciliation and unity?" Benedict XVI shoes himself aware that from the Lefebvrists have been heard "many dissonant things", the fruit of arrogance and unilateralist fixations; but at the same time he admits that "some dissonances" has also been heard from inside the church: "At times - he ends with a pinch of bitterness - one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which it does not reserve any tolerance; which one can unperturbedly set upon with hatred. And if someone dares to approach them - in this case the Pope - he too loses the right to tolerance and even he may be treated with hatred without fear and restraint."

Oremus pro Pontifice.

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