Dear brethren in Episcopal service!
The lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988 without a mandate from the Holy See has led to a violent discussion both within and outside the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons as we have never experienced. Many bishops felt helpless before an event, which came unexpectedly and could barely be positively classified in the questions and tasks of the Church of today.
Although many pastors and believers welcome in principle the desire of the Pope for reconcilistion, many were prepared to place on the other hand, the question of the appropriateness of such a gesture, given the real urgencies of religious life in our time.
Several groups, however, accused the pope of wanting to return to the time before the Council and an avalanche of protests began to move, which made bitter injuries visible and this could be seen immediately. So I am under an obligation to you, dear brethren, to provide a clarifying word, which should help to understand the intentions, which I and the competent organs of the Holy See have been following with this step. I hope in this way to promote peace in the church.
One for me unpredictable mishap was that the lifting of the excommunication was overtaken by the Williamson case. The quiet gesture of mercy to four validly but not legally consecrated bishops appeared suddenly as something quite different: as a rejection of Christian-Jewish reconciliation and the withdrawal of what the Council in this matter has declared as the way of the Church.
An invitation to reconciliation with a separated Church grouping became the reverse: an apparent return from all the steps forward in the reconciliation of Christians and Jews, which had gone on since the Council and whose achievement had been from the start a goal of my theological work. The fact that this superimposition of two opposing processes occurred and disturbed the peace between Christians and Jews as well as peace in the contemporary church, I can only deeply regret.
I hear that closely following the news on the Internet would have allowed knowledge to be obtained of the problem. I learn from the fact that we at the Holy See have to pay careful attention to this news source in the future.
It saddens me that even Catholics who actually should know better believed that they had to show such hostility to me. Even more so, I thank the Jewish friends who have helped to resolve the public misunderstanding quickly and to create an atmosphere of friendship and trust, which – as in the time of Pope John Paul II – and also during the entire period of my Pontificate had existed, and God be praised this continues to exist.
A further breakdown, which I sincerely regret, is that the boundary and scope of the measure published on 21 1. 2009 was not clearly enough explained. The excommunication is about people, not institutions.
Episcopal consecration without papal mandate means the danger of a schism, because it puts in question the unity of the Bishops’ College with the Pope. The Church must, therefore, with the harshest punishment of excommunication react, and to lead those punished to repentance and back into unity. 20 years after the ordinations this goal is unfortunately still not been achieved. The withdrawal of the excommunication serves the same purpose as the punishment itself: once again the four bishops are invited to return.
This gesture was made possible after they clarified their fundamental recognition of the Pope and his pastoral office, albeit with reservations about the obedience to his teaching authority and with concern about Vatican II.
This brings me back to the distinction between person and institution. The withdrawal of excommunication was a measure in the field of church discipline: The people were freed from the punishment with the heaviest burden of conscience. From this level, the disciplinary and doctrinal fields should be differentiated. That the SSPX has no canonical status in the church was not really based on disciplinary, but on doctrinal reasons.
The SSPX has no canonical status in the church, as long as its officials have no legal offices in the church. It is therefore necessary to distinguish in questions between persons as persons concerning the disciplinary level and the level of doctrine, in the office and institution.
To say it once again: As long as the doctrinal issues are not resolved, the SSPX has no canonical status in the church and its officials while practicing, even if not penalised by the church, have no posts legally in the church.
Given this situation, I intend that the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, which since 1988 is responsible for those communities and individuals like the SSPX or similar groups who have come into full communion with the Pope or to return in the future to be associated in future with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It should be apparent that the problems now being treated much more doctrinal in nature, especially on the adoption of the Second Vatican Council and concerning the teaching of the post-Conciliar Popes.
The collegial organs which the Congregation uses for dealing with questions (especially the regular meeting at the Cardinal on Wednesday and the once or twice-yearly General Assembly), guarantee the involvement of the Roman prefect in various congregations and in the episcopacy worldwide in decisions to be taken.
You cannot freeze the teaching authority of the Church in 1962 on that the SSPX should be clear. But some of those who take themselves as great defenders of the Vatican Council, must also remember that the Second Vatican Council is located in the teaching history of the whole of the church. Whoever wants to be obedient to it, must have the faith of the centuries and may not accept the cutting of the roots from which the tree lives.
I hope, dear brethren, that the positive meaning as well as the limit of the measure of 21 1. 2009 is clarified. But now the question remains: Was it necessary? Was that really a priority? Are there not matters much more important? Of course, there are more important and urgent matters. I think that I have made clear from the beginning the priorities of the pontificate in my speeches. My guidelines remain unchanged.
The first priority for the successor to Peter, the Lord has unequivocally fixed, in the Upper Room: ” And thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren. ” (Lk 22, 32). Peter himself in his first letter rephrased this priority: ” But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. ” (1 Peter 3, 15).
In our time, when belief threatens in large parts of the world to go out like a flame, which no longer finds oxygen, the first priority is to make God present in this world and open to people access to God. Not to any God, but to the God who has spoken at Sinai, to the God whose face we are in love with until the very end (Jn 13, 1) – in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
The real problem of our point in history is that God disappears from the horizon of people and with the cessation of light coming from God mankind falls disorientated whose destructive effects, we always get to see.
From then it is obvious that we must seek the unity of believers. Their dispute and inner conflict puts speaking of God in question. Therefore, the effort for the common witness of the Christian faith – the Church – is the highest priority.
Then there is the necessity that all who believe in God, seek peace with each other, trying to become closer to each other, so in the differences in their image of God they share the source of light – inter-religious dialogue.Those who love God to the end proclaim must give witness to that love, the suffering turned to love- hatred and enmity fight against the social dimension of Christian faith, which I have spoken about in the encyclical “Deus caritas est”.
If the struggle for the faith to hope and to love in the world is the true priority for the Church in this hour (and always in different forms), then it also includes small and medium-sized reconciliations. That the quiet gesture of an offered hand generated a great noise, and became just the opposite of reconciliation, we must take note.
But now I have to ask the question: Was it really wrong, even to go out to meet your brother, ” that hath anything against thee;” to try and seek reconciliation (cf. Mt 5, 23f)? Should not also the civil society try to prevent radicalization, their possible carrier – if possible – to reconnect with major forces of social life rather than cutting oneself off and avoiding consequences?
Can it be entirely wrong to seek the solution of restrictions and narrowing to provide the space, to find what is positive and to lead it back into the whole? I myself, in the years after 1988 have seen in the return of communities previously separated from Rome the interior climate changing, and how the return into the big, wide and common Church overcame one-sidedness and healed restrictions, that became positive forces for the whole.
Can we be totally indifferent to a community in which there are 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 Seminars, 88 schools, 2 university institutes, 117 brothers and 164 sisters? Should we really be happy to let them be driven from the Church?
I am thinking, for example, of the 491 priests. The fabric of their motivations, we cannot know. But I think that they would not have decided for the priesthood, if they could not show the love of Christ to some of the flock and have the will to proclaim the living God. Should we simply turn them away as representatives of a fringe group when seeking reconciliation and unity? What would then happen?
Certainly, we have over a long-time and repeatedly seen dissonances from representatives of this community – pride and superiority as well a fixation on one-sidedness, etc. However I must add that I have also received a number of moving testimonies of gratitude where an opening of hearts became evident.
But should not the great church be magnanimous in the knowledge of the long breath that she has, in the knowledge of the promise which given to her? Should we not, as good educators, pretend not to hear what is unsatisfactory and quietly strive to lead back from narrowness? And must we not admit that even in church circles dissonances have been heard?
… para to follow
Dear brethren, in the days in which it was in my mind to write this letter, I found by chance that I am in seminary at the center of Rome interpreting and commenting on Gal 5, 13-15. I was surprised how directly it spoke to this hour: ” For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another.” “For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if you bite and devour one another; take heed you be not consumed one of another” I was always inclined to this sentence as one of the rhetorical excesses to which occasionally St. Paul is given.
In some respects it may be so. But unfortunately, there is the “biting and tearing to pieces” even today in the church as an expression of a poorly understood freedom. Is it surprising that we are not better than the Galatians? That we are threatened at least with the same temptations ? The fact is that we must always learn again the right use of freedom?
And must we always learn anew the first priority: love? On the day that I had to speak at the seminary, in Rome, the feast of the Madonna della Fiducia – Our Lady of Confidence – was celebrated.
In fact – Maria teaches us the confidence. She leads us to the Son, which we all expect. He will guide us – even in turbulent times. So I would like at the end of all to thank the many bishops from the heart who at this time showed moving sign of trust and affection, but above all given their prayers.
We also thank all the faithful who during this time have testified their unchanged fidelity to the successor of St. Peter. The Lord preserve us all and lead us to the path of peace. This is a wish that spontaneously from my heart rises, especially now at the beginning of Lent, a liturgical period of time when inner purification is particularly beneficial, and invites us all with new hope to watch for the luminescent goal of Easter.