Papal Letter about the Lifting of the SSPX Excommunications - the Letter Itself


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Dear brethren in the Episcopal ministry!

The lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988 without a mandate of the Holy See has led, both within and outside the Catholic Church, for a variety of reasons, to a discussion of such vehemence as we had not experienced for a long time. Many bishops felt at a loss before an event which came unexpectedly and could barely be integrated positively among the questions and tasks of the Church of today. Although many pastors and faithful were willing in principle to value positively the Pope’s desire for reconciliation, against this was the question of the appropriateness of such a gesture, given the real urgency of a believing life in our time. Several groups, however, accused the Pope openly of wanting to return behind the Council. An avalanche of protests was set into motion, the bitterness of which made injuries visible which transcended the moment. Therefore I feel pressed to address to you, dear brethren, a clarifying word, which is meant to help to understand the intentions which have guided me and the competent organs of the Holy See in this step. I hope in this way to contribute to peace in the Church.

One mishap for me unforeseeable, was the fact that the Williamson case has superimposed itself on the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards the four bishops ordained validly but not legitimately, suddenly appeared as something entirely different: as a disavowal of the reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and therefore as the revocation of what in this area the Council had clarified for the way for the Church. The invitation to reconciliation with an ecclesial group separating itself had thus become the opposite: an apparent way back behind all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews which had been made since the Council and which to make and further had been from the outset a goal of my theological work. The fact that this superposition of two opposing processes has occurred and has disturbed for a moment the peace between Christians and Jews as well as the peace in the Church I can only deeply regret. I hear that closely following the news available on the internet would have made it possible to obtain knowledge of the problem in time. I learn from this that we at the Holy See have to pay more careful attention to this news source in the future. It has saddened me that even Catholics who could actually have known better have thought it necessary to strike at me with a hostility ready to jump. Even more therefore I thank the Jewish friends who have helped to quickly clear away the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust, which - as in the time of Pope John Paul II - also during the entire time of my pontificate had existed and God be praised continues to exist.

Another mishap which I sincerely regret, is that the scope and limits of the measure of 21 January 2009 have not been set out clearly enough at the time of the publication of the procedure. The excommunication affects persons, not institutions. Episcopal consecration without papal mandate means the danger of a schism, because it calls into question the unity of the Bishops’ College with the Pope. The Church must, therefore, react with the harshest punishment, excommunication, and that is to call back the persons thus punished to repentance and into unity. 20 years after the ordinations this goal has unfortunately still not been achieved. The withdrawal of the excommunication serves the same purpose as the punishment itself: once more to invite the four bishops to return. This gesture was possible after the affected had expressed their fundamental recognition of the pope and his pastoral authority, albeit with reservations as far as obedience to his magisterial authority and that of the Council is concerned. This brings me back to the distinction between person and institution. The releasing of the excommunication was a measure in the field of ecclesial discipline: the persons were freed of the burden of conscience of the heaviest ecclesial censure. From this disciplinary level one has to distinguish the doctrinal area. That the Fraternity of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical position in the Church is not based ultimately on disciplinary grounds but on doctrinal ones. As long as the Fraternity does not possess a canonical position in the Church, its officials do not exercise legitimate offices in the Church. One has therefore to distinguish between disciplinary level affecting the persons as persons, and the level of doctrine, at which office and institution are concerned. To say it once again: As long as the doctrinal issues are not resolved, the Fraternity has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers, even if they are free from ecclesiastical censure, do not exercise in a legitimate way any ministry in the Church.

Read the rest here: newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/03/papal-letter-about-lifting-of-sspx.html


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