LONG PRELUDE FOLLOWED BY AN APOLOGY
Pope Benedict XVI last week lifted the excommunications of four men who were ordained bishops by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre . To help you understand this action I need to share some recent Church history with you in as simple a manner as possible even though the issues are quite complicated. Archbishop Lefebvre, French by birth and at one time a papal nuncio in the diplomatic corps of the Holy See, began a movement in the Church in the early 1970′s which ultimately rejected not only the Second Vatican Council (and particularly its decrees on the Divine Liturgy, Ecumenism, the role of the laity in the Church) but also challenged the validity of all Popes since 1965 (therefore Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II.) The late Archbishop first founded a society of priests (The Society of St. Pius X) whose major mission seemingly has been to celebrate the Latin Mass according to the Tridentine Rite (what we did prior to the implementation of the Council’s decree on the Liturgy). For a number of years he threatened to ordain bishops for what eventually became a schismatic Church (cut off from the Church of Rome) and was told by two Popes that if he did it, he and they would automatically incur the penalty of excommunication. He did it anyway in 1988. They were excommunicated.
Pope John Paul II tried a number of initiatives to get the four schismatic bishops and their followers back into union with the Church and all such efforts failed. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was often the “point person” in these efforts. To be accepted back into the Church, the four bishops and their followers would have to do the following:
1, Accept the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate exercise of the magisterial office or infallible teaching authority of the Church and a Council free of error and heresy (their accusation).
2. Recognize the successor to the See of St. Peter as a legitimate,
3. Acknowledge the truth of all the Council documents, including those on ecumenism and inter-religious relations (Catholic-Jewish relations).
4. Accept the ”New Order” for the celebration of Mass and the other sacraments of Pope Paul VI to be legitimate even while they could continue to have permission to celebrate the sacraments and the liturgy in Latin.
Generally, up to this moment, the response of this group to any attempt at outreach can be fairly characterized as telling the Holy See “we’re not interested.” With concessions offered to them over the years which caused many bishops and others in the Church to scratch their heads, the leadership strategy of thre Society of St. Pius X has been almost singularly focused on telling the Pope “thanks, but no thanks.”
Despite all this, Pope Benedict this week lifted the excommunications in the hope that it might allow dialogue at yet another level which would result in a return to the Church of Rome of these four schismatic bishops and their followers. The Holy Father said it was an exercise of his “paternal (or fatherly) ministry” over the Churches.
One of the four bishops it was learned, Bishop Richard Williamson, had recently appeared on television responded saying that the Nazi Holocaust never really happened, or “perhaps only 200,000 to 300,000″ Jews were killed and none in a gas chamber. That statement is both incredible and despicable and horribly anti-Semitic. Our Jewish friends were once again hurt by words spoken by someone whom they see as a Roman Catholic Bishop to whom the Pope is reaching out for reunion. Pope Benedict earlier in his pontificate seemed to have changed the words of the Good Friday intercessionary prayer for the Jewish people to language more amenable to the Society of St. Pius X in order to get them back into the fold and that action hurt the Jewish community as well. In Bishop Williamson’s latest tirade they have a right to be both hurt and angry. For Jews, the holocaust remains a real and, God forbid, even possible recurring crime against humanity. Pope Benedict, his principal collaborator in Catholic/Jewish relations, Cardinal Walter Kasper and practically every bishop in Europe and the Americas has repudiated the statement of Bishop Williamson this week and so do I. Additionally, on behalf of the Catholic people of the five counties of this diocese, I apologize for the harm and hurt these words have caused. I take no comfort in the fact that a seeming bishop who has just been handed an opportunity for reunion uses the occasion to vent anti-Semitic statements. An occasion of unusual grace offered has been received with ingratitude and ignorance. Shame on him!
Jewish-Catholic dialogue, in my opinion, has advanced further and faster than our bi-lateral discussions with other faiths and religions. I believe it is precisely because we share a common religious heritage up to the time of Christ. It is not always easy to maintain these dialogues and from time to time events occur which throw mutual understanding and tolerance into a proverbial tailspin. But we generally find our balance and continue our conversations. I hope that the convergence of an effort at ending a schism in our Church with a group will not be an occasion to step backward. I genuinely love and respect my Jewish friends, admire them for their tenacity, and want them to love and forgive us. By now it should be clear that Bishop Richard Williamson does not speak for the Church, for me, or for the people of this diocese. For much fuller and accurate background on this matter and the people involved, you might wish to check WIKIPEDIA under “Society of St. Pius X.”