James Martin, S.J.January 26, 2009

Dave Gibson, at his blog Pontifications, has a good roundup of the controversy over the lifting of the ban of excommunication of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X, which erupted on the anniversary of the 50th anniversary of the announcement, by John XXIII, of the Second Vatican Council.  Here’s Gibson: "Benedict XVI seems to be acting on his own, even though he often chides the rest of us to sentire cum ecclesia, "to think (and act) with the church." Sources say he took this step--as he did the restoration of the Latin Mass--against the strong and express advice of some of his closest collaborators."

This morning, the New York Times affirms that, quoting Cardinal Walter Kasper, the prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Vatican’s point person in Jewish-Christian relations, who said that he was not consulted about the decision.  "It was the decision of the pope." 

Is the pope seeking reconciliation with the extreme right, even at the cost of downplaying the authority of the Second Vatican Council?  (The Society of St. Pius X has not agreed to accept the authority of the Council.)  For one answer to that, see our exhaustive cover story, by Joseph Komonchak, one of the leading experts on the Council, entitled "Novelty and Continuity: Pope Benedict’s Interpretation of Vatican II."

Another point: While some have argued that the comments by Bishop Williamson--who has denied that 6 million Jews could have died in Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust--are unrelated to the theological import of the removal of the ban of excommunication, there is an obvious link.  One of the Second Vatican Council’s most important documents, "Nostra Aetate," marked the beginning of a new age of friendly relations between the church and the Jewish people, and ushered in an era of greater understanding.  It is not surprising that the bishop who made such scandalous statements about the Holocaust belongs to a group that has rejected Vatican II, because this necessarily means rejection of "Nostra Aetate."

Also, the four SSPX bishops were consecrated in an "illicit" ordination by the breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a move that sparked the original excommunication.  Yet just last summer, the Vatican threatened the excommunication of Roy Bourgeous, the Maryknoll who participated in the (illicit and invalid) ordination of a woman priest.  In other words, the excommunication of both sprang from the similar offenses to church teaching.  One could even argue that the consecration of bishops was a greater threat to church unity. 

Which raises the question: Why reconcile with the far right but not the far left? 

James Martin, SJ 

(Photo: Pope Benedict at Vespers on Jan. 25: CNS)


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years 7 months ago
"Why reconcile with the far right but not the far left?" One is part of the tradition of the Church and the other isn't.
12 years 7 months ago
As you surely know, Father, the ''ordination'' of a woman is not simply illict; it is invalid. The Church has defined as much. Fr Bourgeous rejected defined teaching of the Church; Bp Williamson criticises certain formulations of a council which Pope Benedict himself has observed defined no doctrine, remaining purely at the pastoral level. The cases are simply incomparable. As for Pope Benedict ''acting on his own'' - do not forget that it was defined at Vatican I that to the Pope, ''in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church.'' This is de fide.
12 years 7 months ago
Press Release, January 25, 2009 To Pope Benedict: Be Catholic! The latest move by Pope Benedict XVI to reinstate four schismatic bishops of the St. Pius X Society—which rejects the liberalizing decrees of Vatican Council II (1962-65)—is shocking as it negatively highlights the millions of Catholics he apparently is not interested in reaching out to, including the millions deprived of the Eucharist because of the medieval law requiring that only celibate males can be priests. Last spring the Pew Foundation found that there are currently 65 million American Catholics—and 30 million former American Catholics! These latter are not Vatican II rejectionists like the Traditionalists, but most likely are either Catholics who are deeply disappointed at the anti-Vatican II Restorationism of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or never really learned about the Freedom Spirit of Vatican II in the parched years after the appointment of Cardinal Wotyla as Pope in late 1978. We of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC, founded in 1980 in the wake of the Vatican repression of Catholic thinkers in 1979) welcome the reaching out to the few million Traditionalist Catholics. We also cry out for a reaching out to the 30 million alienated former American Catholics! (How many more millions of former Catholics are there elsewhere in the world!?) We also look for a reaching out to the untold millions of the 65 million current American Catholics who are barely holding on to their church membership by their fingernails, threatening to swell the ranks of the 30 missing millions. .... Professor Leonard Swidler, Ph.D., S.T.L. President, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
12 years 7 months ago
I agree with Michael Hallman's assessment above. This is basically the same prediction that George Weigel stated in the New York Times. I too agree that Bishop Fellay and the rest of his clergy will remain un-excommunicated, but suspended bishops and priests. I firmly believe that they will continue to repudiate the Second Vatican Council's documents especially, 'Nostra Aetate.' Pope John Paul II, a friend of the Jewish people, went out of his way to establish a better relationship between Catholics and Jews, but that seems to be in jeopardy. I'm very concerned about that right now.
12 years 7 months ago
Why reconcile with the Right? The SSPX is Catholic Traditionalist, not Liberal or Conservative. The 2000-year-old Catholic culture is ever young and never obsolete. The SSPX has salvaged that tradition while the modern Left and Right have lost it. ''Catholic'' schools, hospitals, and even parishes have lost their identities. Modern Catholic-Lite is BORING!!! That is why the people have left.
12 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Michael Hallman: your comment made this issue clearer. If I understand correctly, Bishop Williamson has been re-instated as a member of the Church, not as a Prince of it. I haven't been able to defend the Pope's action in this matter to non-Catholics who see him as representing the Church. The Church seems to them to be willing, at best, to ignore his Holocaust-denying and 9/11 Truther opinions; at worst, the Church was condoning those opinions.
12 years 7 months ago
Why not reconcile with the Far Left? The church never does that until the movement protagonist is dead. Look at Francis of Assisi as an example. Why reconcile with the far right? Because they are well connected politically and usually have money. Look at the Legionairies of Christ and their discredited founder. Look at Opus Dei and their nutty medeival view of Christianity. Look at the Legion of Mary and all the other medieval left-overs from the Middle Ages. They seem to draw the nuts and the nuts usually have access to money. Vatican II is a threat to this class of Catholic because it demands constant Christian witness in every day life...something that is extremely difficult for an idealogue to do. The Far Left in the Catholic Church is always exonerated. Watch. In fifty years, Pierre Teihard de Chardin will be up for cannization. Some people reading this will see that. Watch and see.
12 years 7 months ago
Do you mean Nostra Aetate that was rooted in the blacmail of bishops at the Council by Cardinal Bea and Malachi Martin along with a forged papal "prayer for the Jews" in the January 1965 issue of Commentary Magazine?
12 years 7 months ago
Fr. Martin, I would share many of your concerns if the Holy Father had done much more than what he did. But as it stands, these four bishops, validly but illicitly consecrated, remain suspended in all their faculties, as do any priests ordained by them. There has been no normalization of relations between SSPX and Rome. SSPX priests still cannot celebrate the Catholic Mass licitly with the exception of near-death circumstances (someone is dying and needs the Eucharist). My best intuition, for whatever that's worth (which is not much), is that this is a very deliberate move on the part of the Holy Father, an act of generosity and benevolence done at the conclusion of the Week of Christian Unity so that now the ball is squarely in the SSPX court. It is up to them to show some benevolence and charity, to begin to soften some of their totally unacceptable views, to reconsider the validity of Vatican II, etc, and especially to take care of the antisemitic Bishop Williamson. But as it stands, they have done nothing but express continued arrogance, and thus they still remain, either technically or just practically, in schism.
12 years 7 months ago
Make a visit to www.sspx.org. Clearly the Society was clammoring for this. That's a little different from Pope Benedict XVI turning the Church over to SSPX out of a personal disappointment with the results of Vatican II. However, if SSPX has his ear as a result of this, which is their hope, then those who treasure the reforms of Vatican II should be sure to express their delight frequently and in a positive way.
12 years 7 months ago
'Rodrigo' is right. 'Is the pope seeking reconciliation with the extreme right...' No, he wants to reconcile four bishops, who could otherwise initiate a sacramentally valid 'parallel church.' As John Allen has rightly observed: 'Over the centuries, popes have always abhorred schism because of the article of Catholic theology that any legitimately ordained bishop can ordain other bishops — and thus, if it is not arrested, a schism can become self-replicating and produce a parallel church.'
12 years 7 months ago
"Look at the Legion of Mary and all the other medieval left-overs from the Middle Ages. They seem to draw the nuts and the nuts usually have access to money." Timothy, time to brush upon your Catholic history! The Legion of Mary was founded in the 1920s by Frank Duff, an Irish layman with a strong devotion to Mary that inspired him to work with the poor. I know this because I was introduced to the Legion of Mary by Filipino Catholics during college. They would surprised to hear of their "access to money" as most of them were on government assistance. Some friendly advice: calling your fellow Christians "nuts" and trying to paint the Saints as political players gives you no intellectual credibility.
12 years 7 months ago
The statements made by Bernard Fellay, Superior of the Fraternity of St. Pius X are reprehensible. The interview given to Swedish television by Fraternity Bishop Richard Williamson was unbelievably anti-Semitic every Jew and Christian along with all persons of good will at right to take offense. It turns my stomach so that I need to vomit. Fellay's words indicate a narcissistic view of the Fraternity of St. Pius X that one can hardly believe. His words show ever so clearly that he is interested in one thing and one thing only - the public perception of the Fraternity. Why isn't he apologizing to the worldwide Jewish community? Why isn't Fellay telling the truth of what happened during the Holocaust? Are all the leaders in the Fraternity of the same mind as Williamson? What is the position of the Fraternity on the Holocaust? Discrediting its mission? With positions as horrific as this the mission of the Fraternity of St. Pius X should be discredited. Whatever is Pope Benedict thinking with his recent actions? JUST READ THESE WORDS: 'Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters.' 'It’s with great sadness that we recognize the extent to which the violation of this mandate has done damage to our mission.' 'The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity.' 'We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act.' 'Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission.'
12 years 7 months ago
The pride coming forth from this blog is interesting. Did you know that Pope Pius XII condemmed a Mass facing the People? Read his writing Mediator Dei for yourself. The Novus Ordo was created by a raving homosexual (Bishop Rembert Weakland), a heretic priest (Annabel Buginni), six protestants. I will forever be indebted to His Grace Marcel Lefebvre and His Grace Bishop De Castro Meyer of Compos Brazil. There courage freed the Pius V Mass allowing me to experience my first Mass ten years after the concecrations of five Bishops. You see, THE CONCECRATIONS WERE ABOUT THE FUTURE AND HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PAST. Lefebvre and Meyer were old and dying, without there actions our church would have zero abliliy to maintain the Mass of Trent. ZERO! Without Bishops you have no priest, without Priest you have no Sacraments, and without Sacraments you have little chance of heaven. I for one don't want my soul left to the ideas of Weakland and Buginni. SSPX may lack juristiction, but soon our Holy Father will offer them universal juristriction. The Church needs SSPX more than ever. Hopefully one day this Pope will scrap the experimental Novus Ordo and create a Godly english translation of Pius V missal. Then truly our church will heal from this rupture called Vatican II. A million rosaries were offered by SSPX members to Our Holy Father. Thank You Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI
12 years 7 months ago
This is one of the reasons my daughter left the Roman Catholic Church for the United Catholic Church, which ordains women. Can I blame her?

The latest from america

When the Covid pandemic gave us a chance to kiss the mantle of poverty and self-sacrifice we rebelled, writes Gloria Purvis. When offered the cross, we ran.
Gloria PurvisSeptember 16, 2021
In “Laysongs,” mandolinist Chris Thile lays theatrics and sea captains aside and sings simply and honestly about his struggle to believe.
Elyse DurhamSeptember 16, 2021
A graduate of Regis Jesuit High School in Denver interviews her former theology teacher on her experiences in and out of the classroom.
Erika RasmussenSeptember 16, 2021
My parents instilled in me the lesson that no matter what life threw at me, God would always be there to guide me.
Marie CoronelSeptember 16, 2021