FaithWorld

German-speaking bishops insist SSPX accepts opening to Jews

Catholic bishops in the German-speaking countries have been especially outspoken in demanding the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), whose four excommunicated bishops were welcomed back into the Church on Saturday, must explicitly accept Second Vatican Council documents assuring respect for the Jews. The Vatican had been demanding full acceptance of Council documents for years, including in a compromise it offered last June but the SSPX rejected it. As far as is known, it was not part of the deal that has now led to the bans being lifted. The issue has hit the headlines because one of the four, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, openly denied the Holocaust in an interview on Swedish television broadcast last week. (Photo: St. Peter’s Basilica, 5 Feb 2005/Tom Heneghan)

The German Bishops Conference noted the four bishops, whose dissent against Rome mostly concerned its rejection of the Council reforms including a modern liturgy and recognition for Judaism and other religions, must now discuss their future status in the Church with Vatican officials. “We have the clear expectation and make the urgent request that the four bishops and the Society announce unmistakably and credibly their loyalty to the Second Vatican Council and especially the declaration ‘ostra Aetate,’ said a statement by Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, its main official for relations with Jews. Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, is the cornerstone of the post-Council opening to Jews, Muslims and other religions.

Munich’s Archbishop Reinhard Marx said Williamson’s comments were “unspeakable, unacceptable…” and added “Every denial of the Holocaust must be punished harshly.” In a statement, he noted the Vatican would now negotiate the conditions of the four bishops’ return into the Church. “There is no doubt that the decisions of the Second Vatican Council are binding for that.” (Photo: Archbishop Reinhard Marx, 3 Oct 2008/Michael Dalder)

The Swiss bishops apologised to the Jewish community there “for the irritations that have arisen in recent days.” In a statement entitled “Denying the Holocaust cannot be accepted,” bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Kurt Koch said the Swiss-based SSPX had long rejected the Council’s opening to other religions. “We Swiss bishops expect that in these discussions (with the Vatican) … these bishops say credibly that they accept the Second Vatican Council and especially the positive view of Judaism set out in Nostra Aetate.”

In Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn wrote a Holocaust Day letter to the city’s Grand Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg saying it was “shameful and frightening that there are still voices publicly denying the Shoah and question the right of the Jewish people to exist.”

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.”

If Catholic rebels return to Rome, who caved?

Pope Benedict is reportedly planning to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist Catholic bishops who have defied the Vatican for decades by rejecting some central reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Andrea Tornielli, the well-informed vaticanista of the Italian daily Il Giornale, says the decree inviting the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back to the Roman fold should be announced this weekend. If this is true (which, given Tornielli’s track record, it presumably is),  the unanswered question now is: who caved? (Photo: Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 10 Jan 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Our vaticanista Phil Pullella writes that lifting the excommunications “would be a major gesture by Benedict to resolve a crisis in the Church that surfaced in 1988, when the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre illegally consecrated four bishops without the requisite permission of the late Pope John Paul.”

The Swiss-based SSPX has about a million followers worldwide compared to 1.1 billion for the official Church. It maintains the old Latin Mass and rejects Vatican II reforms such as dialogue with other religions.

Rebels hope rosaries help return them to Rome

The arch-traditionalist Catholic Fraternity of Saint Pius X hopes that praying the rosary will help them where repeating their positions has not. The SSPX leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has urged his followers to pray a million rosaries to the Virgin Mary by Christmas “to obtain by her intercession the withdrawal of the excommunication decree.” The SSPX’s founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and its four bishops — including Fellay — were excommunicated when Lefebvre consecrated them as bishops in 1988 against the will of the Vatican.

In his latest Letter to Friends and Benefactors (here in French), Fellay says the SSPX is in a “delicate position” following the ultimatum the Vatican presented in June to accept papal authority and cease criticising the pope. Fellay effectively rejected the conditions as too vague while claiming to be open to further discussion on the condition that the Vatican drops the excommunications. But, as he makes clear again in his Letter, the SSPX remains firmly opposed to accepting the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). “We cannot and do not want to leave any ambiguity on the question of accepting the Council, the reforms and the new attitudes that are tolerated or favoured,” he wrote.

Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, the head of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” has since complained that some traditionalists had responded to the liberalisation of the old Latin Mass last year by making even more demands. He called them “insatiable, incredible.” He didn’t mention the SSPX by name and his comments appeared to be aimed more broadly. But the change in tone from the cardinal who has done so much to accommodate the SSPX cannot be a good sign for Fellay.

Pope lays down the law to French Catholic bishops

Pope Benedict in Lourdes, 15 Sept 2008/Regis DuvignauPope Benedict’s speech to France’s bishops at Lourdes was a classic example of an “iron first in a velvet glove” address. Delivered calmly and in elegant French, it basically laid down the law to a group that has been among the most critical in the Church of his turn towards traditional Catholicism. It was billed as a meeting but was in fact a monologue. He read it out without hardly ever looking at the 170 cardinals and bishops before him and left right after finishing the text.

“Benedict XVI gave the bishops a veritable road map to help them trace the paths of the future for the church in France,” wrote Jean-Marie Guénois, religion correspondent of Le Figaro. “He wanted this meeting. It’s the only one he imposed on the organisers. Which shows the importance, in his eyes, of what he wanted to tell them.”

The most striking part was his call to the bishops to make more place for traditionalists. The French bishops lobbied the Vatican last year before Benedict liberalised the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass, arguing that giving the traditionalists too much leeway would undermine the authority of the bishops. The “tradis” are especially strong in France, both in the form of those loyal to Rome and those who have broken with it. The culture war between them and the majority church is deeply rooted and mutual suspicion is strong. Bishops worry that traditionalists want to form a “church within a church” if given the slightest chance. Among mainstream Catholics, that can translate into a high sensitivity to anything seen as rolling back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

SSPX “answer without response” to Vatican ultimatum

SSPX world headquarters logoThe schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has reacted to a Vatican ultimatum by challenging the conditions Rome set for its return to the Catholic fold. By sending this in a letter, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay partly fulfilled one condition of the ultimatum, i.e. answering by the end of this month. But he did not fulfill the more important other half of that requirement, i.e. that he respond positively. In fact, he told the Vatican that other conditions — to accept papal authority and not criticise the pope — were too vague to be accepted, according to SSPX spokesman Rev. Alain Lorans. As Lorans put it: “You can say he’s not responding, despite answering it.”

This is a clever way of ducking deadline pressure, but it doesn’t answer the real issues. It looked like the Vatican had the SSPX in a corner when the ultimatum of June 4 became known early this week. By wording the five conditions so vaguely that contentious issues such as the new Mass and the Second Vatican Council reforms went unmentioned, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos — the Vatican official dealing with traditionalists — may have thought they might win over the schismatics. Benedict had already taken the first step towards a possible accord last year by liberalising the use of the old Latin Mass that the SSPX has championed as its visible trademark. The ultimatum made a further conciliatory gesture by keeping the explicit requirements to a minimum.

Pope Benedict, 13 March 2007/Osservatore RomanoBut Benedict has his red lines too. Compare the current five conditions to the much more explicit five conditions that SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre accepted in May 1988 (with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) but renounced the following month. The new list of conditions strips away the explicit demands of the 1988 document, but they basically remain implicit — a fact that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed this week.

Clock ticking as Vatican calls Catholic rebels’ bluff

While most attention on the Godbeat is focused this week on a possible but not probable Anglican schism, the Vatican has started the clock ticking on a real Catholic schism it wants to settle once and for all. And it wants an answer by Saturday (not much Anglican-style muddling through there!). A slow and patient strategy by Pope Benedict to deal with the traditionalist rebels in the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has now reached the endgame phase.

Andrea TornielliAndrea Tornielli (left), the well-informed vaticanista of the Milan daily Il Giornale, has produced two scoops in recent days about an ultimatum the Vatican has presented to the “Lefebvrists”. He first reported in Il Giornale on Monday that the pontifical commission “Ecclesia Dei” had told SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay that the Swiss-based rebel group should accept by June 28 the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the validity of the new Mass (“Novus Ordo”) that replaced the old Latin Mass if it wanted to return to the full communion with Rome that was broken in 1988. Tornielli reported today on his blog Sacri Palazzi the actual conditions as written to Fellay (see Fr. Z’s English translation). If the SSPX accepts them, it can become a “prelature” within the Catholic Church, much like Opus Dei is now. If not, they lost their best chance at rejoining Rome and having any influence on the Vatican.

They have already had considerable influence. Pope Benedict has resurrected the old Latin Mass, one of the main SSPX demands. But that was not actually the heart of the matter. His demand that the SSPX must in return accept Vatican II, including its statements on religious freedom, is the one that sticks in the Lefebvrists’ throats the most. This two-track approach seems to be a strategy to welcome back those traditionalists who really just wanted the Latin Mass, and isolate the harder-line types who rejected Vatican II completely.

Latin Mass “power of silence” raises UK Catholic decibels

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 25 Dec 2005/Alessandro BianchiCardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was at Westminster Cathedral in London over the weekend to lead one of the highest profile celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church’s old Latin Mass here since the 1960s. The Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has been lukewarm about the prospect of the old rite being celebrated alongside Mass in English, so the cardinal’s presence was a clear reminder of what the Vatican wants.

Before the Mass on Saturday, Castrillon Hoyos met four journalists (myself included) to explain why Pope Benedict decided last year to promote wider use of the old Latin Mass. He praised the traditional Tridentine rite for its “power of silence,” an element of contemplation he said had disappeared from worship since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. If his pre-Mass briefing is anything to go by, however, the Latin Mass also has a power to raise the decibel level among Catholics in Britain.

The Colombian-born cardinal, who is head of the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei for relations with traditionalists, said the new form of the Mass had led to “abuses” that had prompted many to abandon the Church. So, he said, the pope wanted the older form to be offered again in all parishes (not only where a group of parishioners requested it, as originally said).

Is Benedict planning to take in traditionalist Anglicans?

Church of England Newspaper logoThere is speculation in Rome that Pope Benedict might receive about 400,000 (yes, 400,000) Traditional Anglican Communion members into the Roman Catholic Church this summer, after the official Anglican Communion finishes its ten-yearly Lambeth Conference on August 3. Both the Church of England Newspaper in the U.K. and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. have run stories on this. Both sides are subscribers only, so all links here are to reports about them.

Traditional Anglican CommunionAccording to the Church of England Newspaper, talks between the Vatican and the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) focus on the question of whether a group can enter into full communion with Rome as an independent rite, similar to the Eastern rite churches that keep their own traditions and leadership. That sounds like it means they would want to use the Book of Common Prayer, keep their married clergy and retain some autonomy of member churches.

The newspaper quotes the Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, the Rt Rev Jack Iker — now in Rome on study leave — that “it is thought that the Pope is sympathetic to the dilemma of traditionalists in the Anglican way.”

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing: