Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Holy Father’s Letter to Bishops About the SSPX Excommunications,
Pope Benedict XVI kneels to pray at Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome May 3, 2008

From Anna Arco via Father Z, with Father's emphases and comments:

"I am particularly moved by this:
Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group to which it needs to show no tolerance, which one is allowed to attack with hatred, unquestioned. And whoever dares to touch them—in this case the Pope— has also himself lost the right to tolerance and was allowed to be thought of with hatred, without shyness or restraint.
My emphases and comments.
Wednesday March 11
The Holy Father’s letter, sections of which have already appeared, in full, translated from the version which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Dear brothers in episcopal service!

The lifting of the excommunications for the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in the year 1988 without the mandate of the Holy See caused an uproar led with a ferocity which we haven’t seen for a long time, both within and outside of the Catholic Church for a multiplicity of reasons. Many bishops felt helpless faced with an event that came unexpectedly and that could barely fit positively into the questions and duties of the Church of today. Even though many shepherds and faithful were willing to gauge the Pope’s desire for reconciliation as fundamentally positive, the question of the appropriateness of such a gesture in the face of the real priorities of faithful life in our time stood against it.

A variety of groups on the other hand openly accused the Pope of wanting to reverse the Council; an avalanche of protests set itself into motion, the bitterness of which has made wounds visible which reached far further than the instance. So I feel pushed, dear confreres, to direct a clarifying word towards you, that should help to understand the intentions which led me and the respective organs of the Holy See in this step. In this way I hope to help to bring peace to the Church. [His Holiness is a great optimist.]

One of the for me not foreseeable glitch/breakdown existed therein that the lifting of the excommunication was overshadowed by the Williamson Case. The quiet gesture of mercy [this is a key point] towards four validly but not licitly ordained bishops appeared suddenly to be something completely different: as a rejection of the Christian-Jewish reconciliation, as a retraction of that on which matter the Council declared it to be the direction/path of the Church.

From an invitation to reconciliation for an ecclesiastical group that was separating itself from the Church, it became in this way the opposite, a seeming backtracking behind all the steps to the reconciliation between Christians and Jews which have been made since the Council—with which I have made it the goal of my theological work from the beginning to walk along with and move ahead.

I can only deeply lament the fact that this superimposition of two conflicting processes entered and for a moment disrupted the peace between Christians and Jews as well as the peace of the Church. [This is interesting: a direct mention of the use of the internet by a Roman Pontiff] I understand/hear, that careful following of the news available/accessible from the internet might have allowed one to become aware of the problem in time. I have learned from it that we at the Holy See shall have to be more watch this source of news more attentively in the future. [I am available. o{]:¬) ] I was saddened that also Catholics, who really should have known better, felt the need to lash out at me with jump-ready enmity. [Of course they did know better, but their enmity was greater than their respect or their sense of justice.] All the more do I thank the Jewish friends who helped to quickly rid the world of the misunderstanding and to re-establish the atmosphere of friendship and trust which—as in days of Pope John Paul II—also continued to exist through the whole period of my Pontificate and God be praised, will continue to exist.

A further mishap that I honestly regret exists therein that the border and the extent of the measure of January 21, 2009 which were not clearly enough explained with the publication of the process. The excommunications concern the persons, not the institutions. [good clarification] The consecration of bishops without a Papal mandate signals the danger of a schism [NB: "danger" of schism… not the present fact of schism.] because it calls into question the unity of the College of bishops with the Pope. Therefore the Church has to react with the severest punishment, excommunication, in order to to call back those that were thus punished to penitence and so to unity. Twenty years after the consecrations this goal has sadly still not been achieved. The lifting of the excommunications serves the same goal as the punishment itself; to once again invite the four bishops to return. [That is why he lifted the excommunications.] This gesture was possible after the involved parties expressed their fundamental acknowledgement of the Pope and his power as shepherd, even though with the exception of that which deals with obedience to his teaching authority and against that of the Council. [NB: "obedience to his teaching authority"] With that I return to distinction between person and institution. The dissolution of the excommunication was a measure in the area of Church Discipline: The persons were freed from the weight on their conscience of the heaviest Church punishment. This disciplinary field should be distinguished from the doctrinal area. [The doctrinal problems are still not resolved.] That the Society of St Pius X has no canonical status in the Church does not actually rest on a disciplinary but on a doctrinal foundation. [This is a very interesting statement. The point seems to me to be that the doctrinal differences are the real problem and not, in the mind of the Roman Pontiff, the matter of obedience to the Bishop of Rome in matters of discipline. There is a difference between respecting the Pope’s authority to govern the Church and the Pope’s authority to teach and the Church’s authority to have a Council and promulgate documents of any nature, dogmatic or pastoral.] As long as the Society has no canonical status in the church, their holders of office do not hold legal offices in the Church.

One must also differentiate between the persons as persons disciplinary level and the doctrinal level, [again the distinction…] with which both office and institution are in question. To repeat: so long as the doctrinal questions are not clarified, the society has no canonical status in the Church and therefore for that time its office holders, even if they are freed from the punishment of the Church, hold/practice no legal offices in the Church. [Good: The real problem is doctrine. I have been saying this all along. The liturgical or disciplinary problems can be solved with the stroke of a pen. The doctrinal issues must be hammered out.]

[This is important….] In the face of the situation, I intend to combine the Papal Commission Ecclesia Dei which has, since 1988, been responsible for those communities and persons, who have come from the Society of St Pius X or similar groups and would like to return to full communion with the Pope, with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. This should make clear that the problems that are now to be dealt with are of a doctrinal nature, especially that which deals with acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-Concilliar teaching of the Pope. [This is very imporant. More on this below.] The collegial organs, with which the Congregation deals with the incidental questions (especially the regular meeting of the Cardinals on Wednesdays and the one to two yearly full meeting) guaranty that the prefects of the different Roman Congregations and the world wide episcopate will be brought into any decisions that will be made. [read: there will be wider consultation once the PCED is involved more closely with the CDF] One cannot freeze the teaching authority of the Church in the year 1962—the society has to be clear about that. [That was a direct instruction to the SSPX.] But some of those who play the great defenders of the Council, [I like that "play the defenders"... which isn’t really their role in the Church.] need to be reminded that the Second Vatican Council carries with it the whole teaching history of the Church. Whoever wants to be obedient to it, must accept the faith of centuries and may not cut the roots from which the tree lives. [Thus, a hermeneutic of continuity.]

I hope, dear brothers, that the positive meaning as well as the the boundaries of the measures of January 21, 2009 have been clarified. But now the question remains: Was it necessary? Was it really a priority? Are there not more important things? Naturally there are more important and urgent things. [The idea here is this: Why risk damaging relations with the Jews by doing this? Why give the impression that you are rolling back the Council? Etc. Pick your issue.] I think that I have made the priorities of this pontificate clear in my speeches at its beginning. What I said then remains my unchanged guidelines.

[Watch] The Lord unmistakably fixed the first priority for the successor of Peter at the Last Supper. “You however strengthen your brothers” (Lk 222, 32) Peter himself formulated this priority in his first letter anew: “Be constantly ready, to give everyone a speech and answer, who asks for the Hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3,15) In our days, in which our faith threatens in broad stretches of the world to be extinguished like a flame which no longer finds food, it is the highest priority to make God present in this world and to open the access to God. Not just to any God, but to the God who spoke on the Sinai, to the God whose face in the love to the end (John 13,1) is recognized in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. [This next part is marvelous. It is a gem of the letter…. ] The actual problem of our point in history is that God is disappearing out of humankind’s horizon and with the extinguishing of the from God-coming-light the lack/inability to of direction breaks into humanity, the destructive effects of which we are seeing ever more of.

Bringing mankind to God, the God who speaks in the Bible, is the highest and most fundamental priority of the Church and the successor of Peter in these times. That we should be occupied with the unity of the Faithful will arise from that on its own. For her quarrel, her inner contradiction/disaccord — calls the speech of God into question. For that reason the struggle for a common witness of faith of Christians — for Ecumenism — is included in the highest priority. To that also comes the necessity that all those who believe in God search for peace together, attempt to come closer to one another in order to, through the variety of the their image of God, approach the source fo the Light together — the interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims God as love until the end must give the witness of love: turned towards the suffering in love, stave off hatred and enmity, the social dimension of the Christian Faith, of which I spoke in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

If the struggle for faith, hope and love in the world represents the true priority for the Church in this our (and always in different forms), then the smaller and the larger reconciliations also make up a part of it. [I like that: even small acts of reconciliation play a part in the larger reconciliation we must pursue.] We need to recognize that the quiet gesture of an outstretched hand became such a great noise [excellent] and so exactly the opposite of reconciliation. But now I still ask: Was and is it really wrong to come towards the brother “who bears a grudge against you” and attempt reconciliation (Cf. Mt 5, 23f)?

Should civilized society not also attempt to anticipate radicalization, to tie back her potential agents, if it is possible, with the great creative force of social life in order to prevent seclusion and all its consequences? Can it be completely wrong to strive for solutions to cramps and narrowing and to give room for the positive and which can be tied into the whole? [This is classic Ratzinger. It shows you something of his heart.] I myself experienced in the years after 1988 how much the internal climate of communities which were breaking away from Rome changed through their homecoming; how the homecoming into a great broad and common church overcame one-sidedness and unraveled knots, so that positive strength for the whole came out of them.

[This is good. It shows that those who resist Pope Benedict in this matter are really pretty small minded.] Can we be apathetic about a community in which there are 491 priests, 215 seminarians, six seminaries, 88 schools, two university institutes, 117 brothers and 164 sisters? Should we really allow them to drift away from the church with quiet minds. [That is what is happening and we must ACT.] I think for example of the 491 priests. [NB: I noted on many occasions that Summorum Pontificum was especially a gift to priests. Benedict is especially concerned for the priests of the SSPX.] We cannot know the weave of their motivations. But I think that they would not have chosen the priesthood if the love to Christ and the will to proclaim him and with him the living God. Should we simply exclude them from the search for reconciliation and unity as the representatives of a radical fringe group? What would happen then? [Excellent. I hope SSPX priests are paying attention.]

To be sure, we have for a long time and again on this given occasion heard many discordant notes from representatives of this community — arrogance and condescension, obsessing into the one-sided-nesses and so on. [SSPXers take note: This is PETER saying this to you.] To this I need to add for the sake of the Truth that I have also received a series of moving proofs of gratitude in which an opening of hearts was noticeable. [Again, this is PETER speaking.]

But should the larger Church not also be able to be generous in the knowledge of the long breath that it has, in the knowledge of the promise that was given to it? [People of good will should be able to disagree and work things out.] Should we not, like righteous educators, be able to overhear many an offense and strain ourselves to quietly lead out of the impasse? And must we not admit that discord has also come from Church circles? [This next part is fantastic!] Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group to which it needs to show no tolerance, which one is allowed to attack with hatred, unquestioned. And whoever dares to touch them—in this case the Pope— has also himself lost the right to tolerance and was allowed to be thought of with hatred, without shyness or restraint. [Amazing.]

Dear brothers, in the days in which I bethought myself to write this letter, it so happened that I had to explain and comment on a section from Gal 5,13-15 in the seminary in Rome. I was surprised who directly the sections spoke of the present of that hour : “Do not take freedom as an excuse for the flesh, but serve one another in love. The whole law is summarized in the one world: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And when you bite and rip each other apart, then take care that you do not kill each other.” I was always inclined to see this sentence as one of those rhetorical hyperbole that occasionally appear in St Paul. In some ways it may well be. But unfortunately that “biting and ripping” is also present in the Church today as an expression of a badly understood notion of freedom. [The Holy Father’s personal experience has shed light for him on that verse of Scripture.]

Is it an wonder that we are not better than the Galatians? That we are at least threatened by the same temptations? That we need to learn the right uses of freedom anew? And that we always have to newly learn that highest priority: Love?

On that day, on which I had to speak about it at the seminary, Rome celebrated the feast of the Madonna della Fiducia, Our Lady of Trust. Indeed Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to the Son, whom we may all trust. He will lead us—even in turbulent times. So as I conclude I would like tho thank the many bishops who gave me moving tokens of trust and sympathy, but above all gave your prayers. This thanks also goes to all the faithful who gave me witness of their unchanging loyalty to th successor of St Peter. The Lord protect us all and leads in the path of freedom. [And interesting word, here.] That is a wish that has risen spontaneously, especially now at the beginning of Lent, a liturgical time when the inner cleansing is particularly beneficial and which invites us all to look with new hope at the glowing destination of the Easter feast.

With a special apostolic blessing I remain
Yours in the Lord

From the Vatican March 10, 2009
A couple things.

First, I was strongly moved by his description of a group to whom no tolerance may be shown and if anyone defends them, they too are harassed.

It is said that the last acceptable prejudice is anti-Catholic bigotry. But within the Church the same dynamic applies. I often refer to Summorum Pontificum as a kind of "emancipation proclamation". I describe not seldom, traditionalists as being treated in by progressivists in power as black were before the civil rights movment took hold in the USA: they can go to the back door of the restaurant for their food, but can’t sit in the nice chairs in the main room with decent folks.

Second, some would have thought that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei would be incorporated, perhaps, with the Cong. for Divine Worship. The Pope is saying rather that it should be with the CDF.

This to my mind signals a couple things. On the one hand, the liturgical issue is concluded in large part. The Holy Father established that there is one Roman Rite in two uses. Juridically the matter is concluded. Details can be worked out, but this is a done deal.

On the other hand, the more difficult problem remains, and it is not so must a matter of liturgical use but is rather doctrinal. Putting the PCED with e CDF opens the way to creating a framework for doctrinal talks with the SSPX. Issues of canonical status of the SSPX priests, the whole of the SSPX, etc…. that is a matter of paperwork, difficult paperwork, but paperwork nonetheless. The real sticking points are now doctrinal, as the Holy Father describes in the letter above.",

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