Pope Benedict has lifted the excommunication imposed on four Bishops twenty years ago after their episcopal ordination by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The Holy Father has accepted the formal petition of Monsignor Bernard Fellay and made in the name of the other three bishops of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, Monsignor Bernard Tissier of Mallerais, Monsignor Richard Williamson, and Monsignor Alfonso de Galarreta, to lift the excommunication which they incurred twenty years ago, as reported by a communique issued by the Information Service of the Holy See.
Because of the episcopal consecrations performed June 30, 1988 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal mandate, the four bishops incurred the excommunication latae sententiae, formally declared by the Congregation for Bishops on July 1, 1988.
Benedict XVI, who has followed the process from the beginning, has always tried to find ways to mend the fracture with the Fraternity, even personally receiving Monsignor Bernard Fellay on August 29, 2005.
On that occasion, the Pope expressed the desire to proceed gradually and within a reasonable amount of time to raise the excommunication weighing on the clergy.
The lifting of the excommunication does not yet imply that the four bishops are in full communion with the Church.
Benedict XVI is unwavering in his commitment to apply the Second Vatican Council, and lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops in no way changes that, affirmed the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper.
An article in L’Osservatore Romano laments an “invention of the press,” pointing to some of the commotion that has surrounded Saturday’s announcement that four bishops ordained by Marcel Lefebvre and belonging to the Society of St. Pius X had their excommunication lifted.
The leaders of the society contest parts of the Second Vatican Council.
Causing a further uproar, a November interview with one of the four prelates who has been reinstated, Bishop Richard Williamson, re-aired just days ago in which the bishop expressed his view that historical evidence denies the gassing of 6 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Hence, certain critics consider the lifting of his excommunication as an affront to Jewish-Catholic dialogue.
Vatican Radio, however, already clarified that his statements are a matter of “personal positions that cannot be shared and that do not affect in any way the pontifical magisterium and the positions of the Church solemnly declared on various occasions.”
Regarding Vatican II, L’Osservatore Romano noted how the Pope’s own comments from last weekend prove his continued adherence to it.
The Holy Father on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the convocation of the council, called the convocation a “providential decision,” noting that Pope John XXIII was sure it was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, the Vatican daily contended, the lifting of the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops is an act that comes in the framework of the council’s spirit.
Heart of the issue
Carlo Di Cicco, author of the article and subdirector of L’Osservatore Romano, affirmed: “The reform of the council has not been totally applied, but it is already so consolidated in the Catholic Church that it cannot go into crisis with a magnanimous gesture of mercy — inspired, moreover, in the new style of Church promoted by the council that prefers the medicine of mercy to that of condemnation.
“The revocation that has provoked so much alarm does not conclude a sorrowful situation like that of the Lefebvrist schism.
“With it, the Pope removes pretexts for infinite polemics, directly confronting the authentic problem: the full acceptance of the magisterium, obviously including Vatican II.”
The author went on to affirm that the Church “renewed by the council is not a different Church, but the same Church of Christ, founded on the apostles, guaranteed by the successor of Peter and therefore, living part of tradition.”
L’Osservatore Romano further denounced any accusations that the Pope “is not convinced of the path of ecumenism and dialogue with the Jews.” It recalled that the Church’s most authoritative document on this dialogue, “Nostra Aetate,” deplores any type of anti-Semitism.
And, Di Cicco observed, “The revocation of the excommunication does not yet mean full communion. The path of reconciliation with the traditionalists is a collegial option already known by the Church of Rome and not a sudden, improvised gesture from Benedict XVI.”(Zenit.org)