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)