concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre
Unprecedented attacks on the Pope
In his blog, Catholic songwriter Mark Mallett recently wrote: "It is unprecedented in our times to see the kind of criticism leveled against the Holy Father. Calls for Pope Benedict to step down, to retire, to be impeached, etc., are rising not only in number but in intensity of anger. Newspaper columns, comedians, and regular news shows feature guests and commentaries which are shockingly rude and vulgar. The Holy Father recently commented on the pain which these personal attacks have caused him, particularly from those within the Church. Common respect and courtesy are becoming, it seems, a thing of the past – and the ‘frog’ seems oblivious.
"There will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive… irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good… as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
"Some news services have even cited an anonymous source within the Vatican curia who is calling this papacy ‘a disaster.’ Yes, if you are an apostate, then Pope Benedict is a disaster. If you are a radical feminist, he is an obstacle. If you are a moral relativist, a liberal theologian, or a lukewarm coward, then indeed, this Pope is a big problem. For he continues to shout from the rooftops the truth which sets us free. Whether it is guaranteeing the sanctity of marriage in North America or exposing the condom-lie in Africa, this Pope has been untiring in teaching the truth. But this truth, like a smoldering candle, is quickly disappearing… "
A letter to all Bishops
On March 12, 2009, the Vatican released a letter of Pope Benedict XVI, unprecedented in its style in the history of the Church. This remarkable letter, entitled "Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remission of the Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre" is (as reported by Inside the Vatican Magazine), a moving and personal "cri de coeur" (cry from the heart) from this Pope. Here are large excerpts from this letter:
Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry! The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time... Some groups openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.
Despite the storms, Jesus always protects His Church
An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.
I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.
Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of January 21, 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication… The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return. This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council... In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.
The problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes... The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society (of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Lefebvre). But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.
The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: "You… strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: "Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses "to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.
Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority. Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims that God is Love "to the end" has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." …But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?