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January 302009£1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.80)
Pope lifts excommunication of Lefebvrists
Dramatic move draws criticism from Jewish groups but is praised by leading European bishops
POPE BENEDICT XVI has lifted the excommunications of the four traditionalist bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre provoking strong reactions throughout the Church and the world. In a controversial move, the Congregation of Bishops issued a decree revoking the excommunications on behalf of the Pope on Saturday. The announcement coincided with the 50th anniversary of John XXIII’s call for the Second Vatican Council, a key cause of the separation between Rome and the Society of St Pius X. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano , described it as a gesture which “would have pleased John XXIII and his successors and a clear offer that Benedict, Pope of peace, wanted to publish with the anniversary of the announcement of Vatican II, with the clear intention to soon see a painful fracture healed”. The decision to lift the excommunications of the Lefebvrist bishops was welcomed in France, where the division has been most fraught. Cardinal André VingtTrois, the head of the French bishops’ conference, said the “decree is a chance to re-glue a unity which has been very troubled”. The bishops of England and Wales have also welcomed the move. Rumours swept through Rome and the blogosphere last week suggesting that the excommunications would be lifted imminently. At the same time, a Swedish television channel aired an interview with one of the four bishops, Richard Williamson, in which he denied that the Holocaust took place. Bishop Williamson said “there were no gas chambers”, provoking an outcry. The decree, signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, came in response to a written request the leader of the SSPX, the Swiss Bishop Bernard Fellay, made in December for further dialogue between the separated group and the Church. Bishop Fellay’s letter said the Society believed in “the primacy of Peter and in his prerogatives” which was why “the present situation makes us suffer so much”. The Vatican decree said: “His Holiness Benedict XVI, paternally sensitive to the spiritual unrest manifested by the interested
Archbishop Lefebvre founds SSPX
Benedict XVI holds talks with Bishop Fellay
Archbishop Lefebvre ordains four bishops Bishop Williamson endorses Protocols
John Paul II excommunicates bishops
Bishop Fellay called the Pope’s gesture ‘benevolent’ and ‘courageous’
Bishop Williamson denies Holocaust
parties because of the sanction of excommunication, and trusting in the commitment expressed by them in the cited letter to spare no effort in going deeper in the necessary conversations with the authorities of the Holy See in matters still unresolved, and to be able to thus arrive quickly to a full and satisfactory solution of the problem existing from the beginning, has decided to reconsider the canonical situation of the bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, which arose with their episcopal consecration.” The Vatican described the Pope’s move as a gift of peace and hoped it would be “a sign for the promotion of unity in charity of the universal Church, and with
this means, come to remove the scandal of division”. Bishop Fellay welcomed the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunications, which he described as “benevolent” and “courageous”. He wrote: “Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatised and condemned for having the faith of their fathers. Catholic tradition is no longer excommunicated. “Consequently, we wish to begin these ‘talks’ which the decree acknowledges to be ‘necessary’ about the doctrinal issues which are opposed to the Magisterium of all time. We cannot help noticing the unprecedented crisis which is shaking the Church today: crisis of vocations, crisis of
religious practice, of catechism, of reception of the sacraments.” Although the excommunications have been lifted, the SSPX is still not fully reconciled with the Pope. As Bishop Fellay made clear, there are a number of doctrinal issues relating to the Second Vatican Council on which the Society disagrees with Rome. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said: “It is a beautiful thing that the lifting of the excommunication occurred on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council, in such a way that this fundamental event now cannot any longer be considered an occasion of tension but of communion. “The text of the decree shows that we are still on the way toward
the full communion that the Holy Father wishes to see promptly realised. For example, aspects of the status of the fraternity and of the priests who belong to it are not defined in the decree published today. But the prayer of the Church is in complete concord with the Pope’s, that every difficulty soon be overcome and that we be able to speak of communion in the full sense and without any uncertainty.” The media this week homed in on Bishop Williamson’s history of anti-Semitic statements, including his endorsement of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion last year. Jewish groups expressed intense dismay at his most recent comments, which came at a sensitive time in Jewish-Catholic relations after the Chief Rabbi of
Venice claimed that relations had been set back 40 years under Benedict XVI. Fr Lombardi said emphatically that the Vatican did not support Bishop Williamson’s views. Despite the negative reactions, the leaders of the Bishops’ Conferences in France, Germany and Switzerland, where the SSPX has a strong presence, cautiously welcomed the decree, saying that the Holy Father had “extended a hand” to the Lefebvrists. Cardinal Vingt-Trois said the “excommunications were not aimed at negationist [Holocaust denial] positions but at the illegitimate ordination of bishops”. He said: “There can be false thoughts which the lifting of an excommunication will not render true.”
In the past the Society has been reluctant to distance itself from Bishop Williamson’s remarks, but on Tuesday Bishop Fellay apologised to Benedict XVI for Bishop Williamson’s comments and ordered the bishop to be silent on “these political and historical questions”. A day earlier Bishop Fellay had told a reporter for Le Temps , a Swiss newspaper, that “it is not for me to condemn them [the bishop’s comments]”. He said: “I have not the competence for this. But I deplore that a bishop could give the impression that the fraternity would be engaged in an opinion which is absolutely not ours.” The SSPX was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, a vocal critic of the Second Vatican Council. It operated at first with full episcopal approval. But by 1974 France’s bishops had stopped incardinating the Society’s priests. The Society has about 500 priests and about a million followers worldwide. In Britain it has 25 churches. On June 30 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991, consecrated the four men as bishops – in direct opposition to Pope John Paul II’s wishes and in spite of a formal canonical warning. John Paul II’s Motu Proprio, Ecclesia Dei , issued in July 1988, called it an act “of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff” and said it constituted a “schismatic act”. Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was an intermediary between Pope John Paul II and the SSPX. Since his election to the papacy, he has worked to bring the SSPX back into communion with the Church. He held talks with Bishop Fellay in 2005. The Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum , which liberated the 1962 form of the Mass in 2007, was widely seen as a move to bring the SSPX, which has resisted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, closer to Rome. But in July last year, it seemed as though the Society had rejected Vatican demands and negotiations had ground to a halt. Bishop Fellay demanded that the excommunications be lifted before dialogue on doctrinal matters could begin.
Full report: Page 3 Vatican Notebook: Page 4 Alcuin Reid: Page 12 Editorial comment: Page 13 Stuart Reid: Page 20
Vatican official accuses Obama of ‘arrogance’ over abortion move
AVATICAN official has accused President Barack Obama of “arrogance” after he overturned a ban on US state funding for groups that carry out or promote abortions overseas. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that Mr Obama’s decision displayed “the arrogance of someone who believes they are right, in
signing a decree which will open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life”. In one of his first executive orders last weekend the new President reversed the Mexico City Policy, which denies US taxpayers’ money to non-governmental agencies involved in counselling, referrals or post-abortion services. The policy was previously removed by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993 but reinstated by George W Bush eight years later. Mr Obama’s deci
sion means that Australia is now the only donor country that implements abortion-related restrictions on development aid. Archbishop Fisichella said: “What is important is to know how to listen ... without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death. “If this is one of the first acts of President Obama, with all due respect, it seems to me that the path towards disap
pointment will have been very short. “I do not believe that those who voted for him took into consideration ethical themes, which were astutely left aside during the election debate. The majority of the American population does not take the same position as the president and his team.” The new President has said he wants to reduce the number of abortions in America.
March for Life: Page 6 Letters: Page 13
Tailor re-fashions St Charles’s chasuble
Film star makes CD with Redemptorists
THEPOPE ’ S liturgical tailor is to make replicas of St Charles Borromeo’s chasuble for the Holy Father –and anyone else happy to pay a 5,000 euro fee. Tridentinum, an Italian company that specialises in expensive vestments, is to make 10 copies of the original chasuble, which it describes as “white silk lampas bro
caded in gold with gold orphreys”. Three of the replicas will be donated to Pope Benedict, to the Archbishop of Bologna and to the church in Venice where the original chasuble is kept, but the other seven will be sold. As the Herald went to press, two of the seven chasubles had already been ordered. Each replica will be accompanied by a certificate bearing the name of the buyer. St Charles Borromeo, an Italian cardinal in the 16th century, was a major influence on the Council of Trent.
CATHOLIC actor Liam Neeson has narrated a recording of the Way of the Cross. The CD will be available from Ash Wednesday. The actor reads the introduction and the 14 Stations of the Cross, taken from The Way of the Cross according to the Method of St Alphonsus Liguori , the 18th-century founder of the Redemptorists. “I had heard about the Redemptorists and their missionary
work in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil and in the slums of Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria,” said the 56-year-old actor, whose credits include playing Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List , Irish nationalist Michael Collins and the Scottish outlaw Rob Roy. “I was moved to help because the Redemptorists are living the Gospel message in some of the poorest parts of the world,” he said.
BISHOP ARNOLD ON ‘CHRISTIANITY - A HISTORY’ PAGE 14 INSIDE:
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