FaithWorld

Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic churches eye major reconciliation

krakowRussia’s Orthodox Church and Poland’s Roman Catholic Church have pledged to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and move towards reconciliation.  The two churches, very influential in their own countries, agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbours can come together.

“The idea is to look at the history of our nations from our Churches’ point of view. During the history of our nations we
have experienced glorious moments but also very painful ones,”
Stanislaw Budzik, a Polish bishop, told a news conference on Thursday.   “As Christians we should reflect on the history of our nations and call for mutual love and cooperation,” said Budzik, general secretary of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. (Photo: Saint Mary’s Basilical in Krakow, 18 april 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

Conflicts between Russia and Poland stretch back centuries. Soviet Russia joined Nazi Germany in 1939 in carving up Poland and Josef Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 in Katyn forest. After World War Two, Moscow imposed an atheistic communist regime in Poland that lasted until 1989.

moscowThe churches’ initiative coincides with a cautious rapprochement between the governments that has gathered pace
since a plane crash in Russia in April killed Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, triggering an outpouring of Russian solidarity.   Kaczynski and his 95-strong entourage had been heading to Katyn to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre there.  Russia and Poland remain at loggerheads over a host of issues including NATO expansion and missile defence, but want to focus more on their burgeoning trade relations. (Photo: St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, 27 December 2007/Denis Sinyakov)

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department, said the churches would steer clear of politics in their document, which he said would probably take up to a year to complete.   “Our aim is to call for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation so the errors of the past are not repeated in the future. Our aim is to seek those things common to us both… such as Christian history,” he said.

Church of England stops short of links with breakaway U.S. Anglicans

canterbury cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

The Church of England stopped short of recognising a new conservative church in North America on Wednesday, avoiding possible embarrassment for the main Anglican church in the United States.

But some evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) said they were encouraged by the decision of the General Synod, the CoE’s parliament, for the archbishops of Canterbury and York to report back on the break-away church’s progress next year.

Some members of ACNA, formed in opposition to pro-gay members of the official Anglican body in North America, said they had not expected any kind of recognition from the Anglican mother church for another five years.

Bishop Williamson says Vatican-SSPX talks “dialogue of the deaf”

POPE-JEWS/

Bishop Williamson, 28 Feb 2007

Bishop Richard Williamson, the ultra-traditionalist prelate whose denial of the extent of the Holocaust created an uproar in the Catholic Church and with Jews early last year, has said the discussions at the Vatican to rehabilitate his Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are  a “dialogue of the deaf.” Williamson, one of the four SSPX bishops whose bans of excommunication were lifted by Pope Benedict only days after his controversial views were aired on Swedish television, said the two sides had “absolutely irreconcilable” positions.

In a 15-minute interview posted on the French video-sharing website Dailymotion, Williamson discussed a number of issues with a man identified by the Paris Catholic daily La Croix as a minor French far-right politician named Pierre Panet. When asked about the negotiation under way at the Vatican to reintegrate the once-shunned SSPX into the Roman church, he said in fluent French:

“I think that will end up as a dialogue of the deaf. The two positions are absolutely irreconcilable. 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 are irreconcilable. Either those who say 2+2=4 renounce the truth and agree that 2+2=5 — that is, the SSPX abandons the truth, which God forbids us to do — or those who say 2+2=5 convert and return to the truth. Or the two meet halfway and say that 2+2=4-1/2. That’s wrong. Either the SSPX becomes a traitor or Rome converts or it’s a dialogue of the deaf.”

The pope and the Holocaust: Regensburg redux?

The uproar over traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust highlights an open secret here in Rome: Vatican departments don’t talk to each much, or at least as much as they should. The pope appears to have decided to lift the 1988 excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the SSPX (including Williamson) without the wide consultation that it may have merited. The Christian Unity department, which also oversees relations with Jews, was apparently kept out of the loop. The head of the office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told The New York Times it was the pope’s decision. Kasper’s office and the Vatican press office, headed by Father Federico Lombardi, were clearly not prepared for the media onslaught that followed the discovery of Williamson’s views denying the Holocaust. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

Pope Benedict’s lifting of the ban and Williamson’s comments about the Holocaust are unrelated as far as Church law is concerned. The excommunications lifted last Saturday were imposed because the four were ordained without Vatican permission. As Father Thomas Resse, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told me: “The Holocaust is a matter of history, not faith. Being a Holocaust denier is stupid but not against the faith. Being anti-Semitic, however, is a sin.” This is an important distinction, but not one the Vatican seems to be able to get across.

It was all very reminiscent of the pope’s Regensburg speech in 2006. Few in the Vatican knew it was coming. The Vatican was overwhelmed by the Muslim reaction and the media interest. This time, it is also not clear how many people in the Vatican even knew about Williamson’s history. Surely, those negotiating with the traditionalists for the lifting of the excommunications should  have known. If they didn’t, why didn’t they? If they did, why did they not tell Kasper’s department? The Holocaust is such a sensitive issue for Jews that this response could have been seen from miles away.

Paris cardinal and others comment on SSPX ban lifting

Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois,  chairman of the French Bishops Conference, held a press briefing on Saturday evening on the lifting of excommunications of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). France is home to the largest of the provinces of the dissident group, with around 100,000 faithful  of a worldwide total of 600,000. Sitting in a medieval meeting room in Notre Dame cathedral, he defended Pope Benedict’s decision to take the four bishops back into the Roman Catholic Church and indicated the SSPX would have to bend to Church discipline. (Photo: Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, 8 Sept 2008/Benoit Tessier)

He called the decision “a measure of clemency and mercy” that would allow the Church to repair a damaging split. He declined to question the bishops’ motives, saying that “when people express their desire to respect the teachings of the church and the primacy of the pope, my ministry of mercy does not allow me suspect them a priori and to suspect them to be the worst people on earth … what they have in their hearts, only God can judge. Not me.”

The handful of journalists present repeatedly asked about one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, whose denial of the Holocaust this week outraged Jewish leaders. “The Jewish community was not shocked by this decision, it was shocked by the comments of Bishop Williamson,” he said. “He may have some twisted thoughts, but it’s not because the excommunication is lifted that these twisted thoughts have been approved.”

Pope lifts SSPX bans but conditions still unclear

Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist SSPX bishops on Saturday. While much daily media attention is focused on the fact that one of the four is a Holocaust denier denounced by Jewish groups in advance, the interesting internal Catholic question is what the conditions of this deal were. The two sides have been at loggerheads for years over the SSPX’s refusal to accept some reforms of the Second Vatican Council. SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay insisted the Vatican should lift the excommunications first and talk about differences later. The Vatican wanted them to accept the reforms first and be rehabilitated later. (Photo: Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 10 Jan 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

We’ll have to see the full documentation to know exactly who has agreed to what. It seems that the excommunications have been lifted first (as the SSPX wanted) and the SSPX and the Vatican are now to hold discussions to clear up their doctrinal differences. The assumption is that the doctrinal gap can be bridged but there is no indication how or when this would be done.

The Vatican announcement (here in SSPX English translation and original Italian) says that Fellay wrote a letter on Dec. 15 restating the SSPX request for the excommunications to be lifted. It then says: