FaithWorld

On Tolstoy centenary, Russian Orthodox won’t lift excommunication

tolstoy 2The Russian Orthodox Church refused to rehabilitate him and the state chose to ignore him, but the official silence surrounding the 100th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s death has not muffled praise or quelled debate.

Unlike the 150th anniversary of writer Anton Chekhov’s birth this year — which prompted an emotional outpouring from President Dmitry Medvedev and spurred a nationwide festival — the November centenary of one of Russia’s most universally acclaimed writers has been met with surreal silence. (Photo: Leo Tolstoy, around 1897/U.S. Library of Congress)

Neither Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin mentioned the “War and Peace” author for the actual centenary on November 20th, the Culture Ministry planned no events in his honor and there were no major programs on state television — Russia’s favored outlet for tributes.

“There was a deathly silence…Tolstoy is a reminder of greatness, of humanity and their significance. And that is why we prefer not to remember,” popular novelist Dmitry Bykov wrote in business magazine Profil earlier this month.

Though a devout Christian, Tolstoy’s radical theological philosophy — he compared the Russian Orthodox Church to witchcraft and preached that guidance should come from within and not from the church — got him excommunicated in 1901. Ahead of the November 20 centenary, Sergei Stepashin, the head of Russia’s Book Union and a former prime minister, wrote an open letter to Church Patriarch Kirill to forgive the author. “I ask you, Your Holiness, to show today the compassion that only the Church can afford,” he wrote in Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

President Aquino’s contraception plan angers Philippines Catholic Church

philippines (Photo: Activists display condoms to support a reproductive health bill in Manila October 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)

The senior bishop in the Philippines’ powerful Roman Catholic Church denied Friday any suggestion that the church could excommunicate President Benigno Aquino for backing a plan to teach Filipinos about contraception.

“Abortion is a grave crime, excommunication is attached to this,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told Radio Veritas on Thursday. He said excommunication was a possibility if condoms were distributed to the poor.

But Friday, he denied the church would consider such action against the president. “While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the president regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,” he said in a statement.

GUESTVIEW: Fellay ordains SSPX priests, hints timid opening

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Nicolas Senèze is deputy editor of the religion service at the French Catholic daily La Croix and author of La crise intégriste, a history of the SSPX. He wrote this for FaithWorld (translation by Reuters) after covering the ordinations in Ecône for La Croix.

fellay-alps1 (Photo: Bishop Fellay greets children in Ecône, in Valais canton in southwestern Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

By Nicolas Senèze

Bishop Bernard Fellay has gone and done it. On the morning of June 29, before crowds of the faithful gathered on the large meadow outside the Saint Pius X seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX) ordained eight new priests. Just like Bishop Alfonso de Galaretta did on Friday in Zaitzkofen, Germany, and Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais 10 days ago in Winona, Minnesota in the United States. They went ahead and ordained these men despite the Vatican’s declaration that the ordinations were “illegitimate”, i.e. illegal according to the law of the Roman Catholic Church.

UPDATE: SSPX to ordain new priests despite Vatican warning

econe-1The Vatican warning to the ultra-traditionalist SSPX not to ordain new priests this month without Roman approval had no discernible effect on the rebel Catholic group. Soon after the Vatican declared the ordinations would be illegitimate, Father Yves Le Roux, rector of the SSPX’s St Thomas Aquinas seminary in Winona, Minnesota, said the ordination of 13 new priests there would go ahead on Friday.

“Absolutely. We are doing it,” he told our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella by telephone. “This is something the Vatican feels it has to say. It’s a political statement but the reality is totally different.” (Photo: SSPX ordains deacons in Écône, Switzerland, 3 April 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

The SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen, in the German state of Bavaria, declared its intention to go ahead with its June 27 ordinations in a statement posted on its website on Monday (here in German original and in English). It argued that Pope Benedict’s decision in January to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops was a “confidence-building measure for the coming theological discussions with representatives of the Holy See” meant to thrash out an official position in the Church for the SSPX.” Further ordinations are due at the SSPX headquarters in Écône, Switzerland on June 29.

Vatican throws down gauntlet to ultra-traditionalist SSPX

bollettinoThe Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet to the ultra- traditionalist Society of Saint Piux X (SSPX), which planned to ordain 27 new priests this month without approval from Rome. A statement by the Vatican press office today declared that the ordinations would be illegitimate. The four SSPX bishops were only readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church in January after 20 years of excommunication. If they go ahead and ordain the priests anyway, they could risk being disciplined — possibly even excommunicated — again.

The SSPX claims its fidelity to the old Latin Mass and rejection of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reforms represent authentic Catholicism as opposed to the “modernism” practiced in the world’s largest church since then. It has also claimed to be loyal to the pope, although this was always hedged with reservations about his authority because of the doctrinal dispute over Vatican II. Having won its bishops’ readmission without making any concessions, it looked set to test the limits again by ordaining priests without Vatican permission.

The Vatican statement quoted a March 10 letter by Pope Benedict to Catholic bishops saying the SSPX did not have any official status within the Church and would have to negotiate it in discussions with Rome. “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church,” he wrote.

SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again

mueller-regensburgThe ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops recently readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, looks set to push the envelope with Rome again by ordaining 21 new priests in three different countries on June 27.* Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, the German diocese where the SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen plans to ordain three of those men, has declared the planned ordinations a violation of Church law and has urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with them. He told Bavarian Radio on Sunday that he hadn’t heard back from Rome yet and would bring up the issue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) personally on his next monthly trip there.

*CORRECTION: Not all will be ordained that day — 13 priests will be ordained in Minnesota on June 19. (Photo: Bishop Müller, 21 Sept 2007/Michael Dalder)

In the subtle ways of the Vatican, a non-response from Rome to a bishop’s query is like the yellow signal on a traffic light. It’s neither yes nor no, in that vague way that says if it’s not openly forbidden, one might be able to live with it, but, uh, we don’t want to put that in writing, so over to you. The question now is whether the Vatican will opt to live with this latest challenge to its authority.

Vatican statement accompanying papal letter to bishops

lombardiThe Vatican’s official spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi S.J., has issued the following statement on the letter Pope Benedict has sent to Roman Catholic bishops around the world about the controversy over the readmission of four excommunicated ultre-traditionalist bishops to the Church. In view of the controversy surrounding that step and the Vatican’s admittedly clumsy handling of its announcement, we wanted to run the statement in full below. Again, any comments on how you see this controversy are welcome. (Photo: rev. Federico Lombardi, 13 June 2007/Herbert Neubauer)

The difficult commitment to reconciliation

The “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre” is definitely an unusual document and deserves all our attention. Never before in his Pontificate has Benedict XVI expressed himself in such a personal manner and intensity on a controversial subject. There isn’t the slightest doubt: this Letter bears his mark, from beginning to end.

Official text of pope’s letter to bishops on Williamson affair

pensive-pope (Photo: Pope Benedict at his Wednesday audience, 28 Jan 2009/Tony Gentile)

The Vatican published today the official text of an unprecedented letter Pope Benedict has sent to Roman Catholic bishops around the world explaining his reasons for readmitting four ultra-traditionalist bishops to the Church and his dismay at the uproar caused by the Holocaust denial of one of them, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson. Papal protocol usually keeps a safe buffer around the pope, shielding him from the rough and tumble of daily disputes, but Benedict broke with that tradition to write about his dismay at the Williamson controversy, admit it was mishandled and reveal how isolated he was from information anyone could easily find on the Internet. Given its unusually personal nature, we reprint it here. The text and translations into other languages are available in the Vatican’s daily bulletin.

Do you find this convincing? Should he have said more? Or should this now close the Williamson controversy?

bollettino

LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI

TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

concerning the remission of the excommunication

of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

Pope to bishops: check your mail

pope-pic-1Those of us who thought the pope had said the final word on the Williamson saga will have to think again. It seems to be never-ending.

On Thursday the Vatican officially releases a letter to the world’s bishops in which the pope essentially acknowledges that the Vatican handled the lifting of the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops very badly and that it hurt him personally that things went awry. (Photo: Pope Benedict at his weekly audience, 11 March 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The story started leaking out on Tuesday night in the blog of Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale and a story with partial excerpts was published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Wednesday.  The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung printed what it said was the full text in German of the pope’s letter. Our story is based on a face-to-face conversation I had with an Italian archbishop who received the letter. We discussed it over a light meal near St Peter’s Square.

Fellay surprised by how quickly excommunications were lifted

Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), has made some interesting comments in an in-house video interview shown at a meeting of his supporters in Paris on Thursday evening. First of all, he said he was surprised to see how quickly the Vatican lifted excommunication orders against him and three other bishops. Relations with Rome had been “rather cold” for months, he said, since he declined to accept a Vatican ultimatum last June to stop criticising the pope and to accept his authority in doctrinal matters. Fellay said he wrote to the Vatican in December requesting the retraction of the excommunications as a way to make contact again. “Since the letter was relatively severe, I didn’t expect a quick response. It was just a way to reestablish contact,” he said.

(Bishop Fellay’s interview in French on Feb 5 in Paris, issued on Feb 12 by SSPX communications office DICI/also on gloria.tv)

Another reason not to expect any change in his status, Fellay said, was the fact that rumours he heard from Rome said the Vatican was thinking of reaffirming his excommunication because he was leading a “schismatic drift”. Just before he was due to leave for Rome in mid-January to make courtesy calls on some Vatican officials, he said, he got a call saying officials there wanted urgently to discuss the excommunications with him.

We know the rest of the story from there. The excommunications were lifted, Bishop Richard Williamson’s interview caused an uproar and the Vatican handled the whole thing very poorly. What is striking in this part of Fellay’s account is the apparently sloppy handling of this even beforehand. Let’s step back and remember that this split was the most important schismatic act since the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican has been dealing with this issue for years. Why such a rush all of a sudden?