Pope to SSPX: No Worries on Vatican II

The Society of Saint Piux X which has been not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church precisely because they don’t agree with some changes that have taken place as a result of the Second Vatican Council said today that “Rome no longer makes total acceptance” of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council a condition for full reconciliation with the church.

Here’s a clip from CNS:

In the interview on the SSPX website, Bishop Fellay said, “We are still not in agreement doctrinally, and yet the pope wants to recognize us. Why? The answer is right in front of us: there are terribly important problems in the church today.”

The reconciliation talks, he said, are a sign that the Catholic Church has begun to recognize it needs to recover traditions and traditional teaching eclipsed by the Second Vatican Council. If the SSPX were to reconcile fully with the church, Bishop Fellay said, its members would continue to denounce “doctrinal difficulties” in the church, but would do so while also providing “tangible signs of the vitality of tradition” in its growing membership and vocation rate.

Speaking to members of the SSPX who are wary of reconciliation, Bishop Fellay said “one of the great dangers is to end up inventing an idea of the church that appears ideal, but is in fact not found in the real history of the church.”

“Some claim that in order to work ‘safely’ in the church, she must first be cleansed of all error. This is what they say when they declare that Rome must convert before any agreement, or that its errors must first be suppressed so that we can work,” he said.

OK, so here’s my take: It seems that some in the Vatican are backtracking on whether the Second Vatican Council is an ecumenical council (which is binding on everyone) or just a local one (which isn’t necessarily binding). That distinction will make a big difference. They’ll probably point to confusion of some sort because one Pope started it and another Pope finished it (John XXIII and Paul VI). It’s ridiculous if that’s the case. It surely was intended to be an Ecumenical council and many traditionalist were up in arms at the time because it was precisely an ecumenical council.

Is the church changing in this regard? Regrettably, some would say so. Even the SSPX’s Bishop Fellay says in his article that they have not changed as a group but Rome has.

An interesting point to consider is that often on matters of belief and tradition many will say that the church must consider how change might effect the entire church and not just some small faction of it. For example, how would ordaining women to the diaconate be received in Africa? But by the same token, how would saying that the tenets of the Second Vatican Council need not be accepted, be received in the United States?

In fairness, because I’m the king of fairness, the issue at hand is really one of media literacy (again!). How many nominal Catholics or even Catholics who attend mass regularly can even name the tenets of Vatican II? I’d presume not a whole lot. How many people under the age of 50 even have had an experience of what Vatican II meant for the church? For most, Vatican II is the only experience of church that they’ve had. They haven’t had an experience of what the church was like before the council, so they have no experience of a Pre-Vatican II church. Even those who esteem things like a Latin Mass, it’s not nostalgia that they seek. Perhaps it’s more curiosity than anything else in these cases or a desire for silence in a world of noise or engaging with mystery.

With this in mind the Vatican is gambling that Americans, in particular won’t put up much of a fight about eschewing with some of the tenets of Vatican II. This may in fact be at the heart of Benedict’s “smaller and more pure” view of the church. They’ll assume that most will just go along with them because it doesn’t effect their lives all that much. For most, just attending mass is their only participation and it doesn’t seem like the Pope is going to change having mass in the vernacular, but rather will make the option of Latin mass for those who want it more available (which has already been done).

I doubt that this will go smoothly, especially since the SSPX are so controversial, but more importantly, it seems like they are back-pedaling on Vatican II and that we should not stand for as an informed laity. The informed will be the ones who need to stand up against this. The only question I have is “Will they?” and “How many will?”

Regardless, this should be interesting as we move into the summer months.

Pope Apologizes for Public Relations Fiasco

With regards to the SSPX public relations nightmare where Pope Benedict thought that the headlines would read “Pope Heals Schism” and instead got “Pope welcomes back Bishop who denies Holocaust” the Pope had the following very humble words to say. A hat tip to Deacon Greg this morning who beat me to the papers.

One mishap for me unforeseeable, was the fact that the Williamson case has superimposed itself on the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards the four bishops ordained validly but not legitimately, suddenly appeared as something entirely different: as a disavowal of the reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and therefore as the revocation of what in this area the Council had clarified for the way for the Church. The invitation to reconciliation with an ecclesial group separating itself had thus become the opposite: an apparent way back behind all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews which had been made since the Council and which to make and further had been from the outset a goal of my theological work. The fact that this superposition of two opposing processes has occurred and has disturbed for a moment the peace between Christians and Jews as well as the peace in the Church I can only deeply regret. I hear that closely following the news available on the internet would have made it possible to obtain knowledge of the problem in time. I learn from this that we at the Holy See have to pay more careful attention to this news source in the future. It has saddened me that even Catholics who could actually have known better have thought it necessary to strike at me with a hostility ready to jump. Even more therefore I thank the Jewish friends who have helped to quickly clear away the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust, which – as in the time of Pope John Paul II – also during the entire time of my pontificate had existed and God be praised continues to exist.

Another mishap which I sincerely regret, is that the scope and limits of the measure of 21 January 2009 have not been set out clearly enough at the time of the publication of the procedure. The excommunication affects persons, not institutions. Episcopal consecration without papal mandate means the danger of a schism, because it calls into question the unity of the Bishops’ College with the Pope. The Church must, therefore, react with the harshest punishment, excommunication, and that is to call back the persons thus punished to repentance and into unity. 20 years after the ordinations this goal has unfortunately still not been achieved. The withdrawal of the excommunication serves the same purpose as the punishment itself: once more to invite the four bishops to return.

You can read more here

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Pope Assures Jewish Leaders

Pope Benedict talked with Jewish leaders and apologized for the bad relations that Catholics may have had with our Jewish brethren in the past and assured them that Catholics do not deny the holocaust.

The BBC has more:

The Pope told about 60 delegates from the Conference of American Jewish Organisations that “any denial or minimisation of this terrible crime [was] intolerable”, especially from a priest.

“The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah [Holocaust] was a crime against humanity,” he said.

“This should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures…”

Pope Benedict admitted that the 2,000-year-old relationship between Judaism and the Church had passed through some painful phases.

But he repeated the prayer the late Pope John Paul made when he visited Jerusalem in 2000, pleading for forgiveness from Jews for Christians who had persecuted them throughout history.

He will also be traveling to Israel in May.

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When starting a blog..expect something like this

I “rejected” this comment but thought it merited some thoughts.


Um, no. I’m not an Episcopalian. I’m not a Unitarian. I’m not a Wiccan. I don’t like the song Kum-by-ya! But as I travel around the country I notice a few things about young adults, in particular, (people in their 20s and 30s who I minister with and to) that I found interesting.

a) The events of the world often shape their religious responses and participation. Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, the Indian Tsunami and Virginia Tech all have had a huge influence on them. Many think that because they have some desire for “traditional” worship practices and like some of the old-school traditions (like adoration, the rosary and even yes, the Latin Mass) that this means that they are harkening back to a time before the council, retrieving some of the ancient rituals from long ago and reviving them. But these people and even their parents in some cases have had no experience of the church before the council, so what is going on is different here. I claim that it is a reaction to a culture of insecurity. People long for security in a world gone mad with terrorism, violence and even natural disasters and they look for religion to provide what the world cannot. Our opportunity as ministers is not to mistake this longing for some kind of political affiliation with conservatism but rather to engage their longing and give them appropriate opportunities for worship that also explain and engages their minds as well as their hearts with these rituals.

I would also say I notice something that a friend recently pointed out to me. At let’s say at a Catholic event focused on social justice–there are great things going on, great witness by people living out gospel values and even great community, but there seems to be very little regard for prayer, contemplation and personal piety.

At Catholic events that are more focused on family, life issues or even liturgy there seems to be only a contemplative focus and not much on social justice, community, diversity or culture.

Aren’t BOTH of these things important?

Now the writer above, claims that I hate “orthodox” Catholics. I say two things in response.

1) I am an orthodox Catholic. The Jesuits who I met at Fordham were orthodox. The Paulists I work for now are orthodox. As are anybody who are in the big tent of Catholicism. We are all in the SAME church and do the same things and are engaging the same tradition. Being orthodox means being part of the entire experience of our church. It also means that we don’t reject the Second Vatican Council which is the exact heresy that the “Bishops” who are running the Society of St Pius X were in fact, excommunicated for. Pope Benedict has already said without an adherence to all that the council has placed into our tradition there cannot be ANY reconciliation (this includes the holocaust in light of the document Nostra Aetate)

2) What I am not is a fundamentalist. I don’t read a literal translation of the bible. I don’t think that the Second Vatican Council was a bunch of hogwash. I don’t blindly toss away people’s questions when they ask them and tell them to simply read the bible or the catechism and that their questions will magically dissolve. I engage Catholicism with culture and with experience and try to help people navigate that path and show where they are less divergent than what they may think.

3) I also am not someone who thinks we should just ignore everything that the Second Vatican Council says, but rather we should be critical about what we didn’t do well after the council, namely Catechesis, explanation (one Sunday they just turned the altar around!) and a lack of ritual done with mystery and reverence at times. The Second Vatican Council provided some great things for the church that we should not blindly think about tossing away (the proverbial baby with the bathwater) in favor of a reversion to a time before the council. However, we did lose some of what was good about ritual and liturgy from before the council. There was a sense of mystery and rhythm that perhaps we don’t do as well currently. Something different and “other-worldly” was going on at mass which perhaps today seems more common to our experience. And yet, people don’t know what’s going on at mass even when it is in English! So going back to Latin mass may not do anything except serve to confuse even the most ardent mass attender. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions and I think many of our brothers and sisters who find value in the Society of St Pius X are onto something. Most of these people are not like the so-called Bishop Williamson who denies the value of the second vatican council and the holocaust. I think most of the people who follow the SSPX are simply people who long for a sense of mystery in liturgy and who are tired of having an experience on Sunday that is very much like their experience of daily life. They are looking to TRANSCEND daily life for an experience that brings them into a mysterious connection with the divine.

So no, “anonymous” (who didn’t even have the guts to write their name), I don’t hate those who use the title Orthodox. I’m actually one of the few people who actually looks at your experience and values it and doesn’t dismiss it.

I’m a Catholic. I love our Pope. I love Cardinals (see, here I am with Cardinal George). I love the church. And I hope our experiences can be less judgmental of one another and more focused on providing a window into where we all long for a connection for God.

And I also know how to write in complete sentences.

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Cardinal Egan adds to SSPX outrage

Rocco has the scoop:

“Yesterday, the Vatican condemned in the clearest terms a statement made by an illicitly consecrated Bishop by the name of Richard Williamson in which the evil of the Shoah was questioned or at least minimized. As Archbishop of New York, I add my voice to that of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in rejecting Williamson’s words as hurtful, baseless, and outrageous…”

Head over to Rocco for more.

It’s good to see the Bishops speaking with some unity on this albeit a few days late.

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Being the Pope is Lonely

Sandro Magister–Vaticanista par excellence, has much to add about the SSPX story.

In the disaster, Pope Benedict XVI found himself to be the one most exposed, and practically alone.

Both within and outside of the curia, many are blaming the pope for everything. In effect, it was his decision to offer the Lefebvrist bishops a gesture of benevolence. The lifting of excommunication followed other previous gestures of openness, also decided personally by the pope, the last of which was the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” dated July 7, 2007, with the liberalization of the ancient rite of the Mass.

As he had done before, this time as well Benedict XVI did not demand in advance anything from the Lefebvrists in return. So far, all of his acts of openness have been unilateral. The pope’s critics have seized upon this in order to accuse him of naivety, or appeasement, or even of wanting to take the Church back to before Vatican Council II.

In reality, Benedict XVI has explained his intention absolutely clearly, in one of the key addresses of his pontificate, the one delivered to the Roman curia on December 22, 2005. In that speech, pope Ratzinger maintained that Vatican II did not mark any rupture with the Church’s tradition, but in fact it was in continuity with tradition even where it seemed to mark a clear break with the past, for example when it recognized religious freedom as an inalienable right of every person.

In that speech, Benedict XVI was speaking to the entire Catholic universe. But at the same time, he was also addressing the Lefebvrists, to whom he pointed out the direct route for healing the schism and returning to unity with the Church on the points that they oppose most vigorously: not only religious freedom, but also the liturgy, ecumenism, relations with Judaism and the other religions.

On all of these points, after Vatican Council II the Lefebvrists had gradually separated from the Catholic Church. In 1975, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X – their organizational structure – did not obey an order to disband, and formed a parallel Church, with its own bishops, priests, seminaries. In 1976, its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was suspended “a divinis.” In 1988, the excommunication of Lefebvre and of four new bishops he had ordained without papal authorization – who were in turn suspended “a divinis” – was the culminating action of a schism that had been underway for years.

The lifting of this excommunication therefore did not by any means heal the schism between Rome and the Lefebvrists, just as the lifting of the excommunications between Rome and patriarchate of Constantinople – agreed on December 7, 1965, by Paul VI and Athenagoras – did not by any means mark a return to unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches of the East. In both cases, the dropping of the excommunication was intended to be simply a first step toward reversing the schism, which remains.

He goes on to add something even more profound:

The question comes naturally: was all of this really inevitable, once the pope had decided to lift the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops? Or was the disaster produced by the errors and omissions of the men who are supposed to implement the pope’s decisions? The facts point to the second hypothesis.

The decree revoking the excommunication bears the signature of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the congregation for bishops. Another cardinal, Darío Castrillón Hoyos, is the president of the pontifical commission “Ecclesia Dei,” which, ever since its creation in 1988, has dealt with the followers of Lefebvre. Both of these cardinals have said that they were taken by surprise, after the fact, by the interview with Bishop Williamson, and that they were never aware that he was a Holocaust denier.

But wasn’t it the primary responsibility of these two cardinals to carry out an in-depth examination of Williamson’s personal profile, and of the three other bishops? The fact that they did not do so seems inexcusable. Such an examination wasn’t even difficult. Williamson has never concealed his distaste for Judaism. He has publicly defended the authenticity of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In 1989, in Canada, he risked being taken to court for praising the books written by Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. After September 11, 2001, he supported conspiracy theories to explain the collapse of the Twin Towers. Just a click on Google would have turned up all of this background material.

Another serious lapse concerned the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity. Reversing the schism with the Lefebvrists is logically part of its competencies, which also include relations between the Church and Judaism. But the cardinal who heads the council, Walter Kasper, says that he was kept out of the deliberations: this is all the more surprising in that the issuing of the decree lifting the excommunication took place during the annual week of prayer for Christian unity, and a few days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Church politics at its best. I wonder if Cardinal Kasper who is known in many circles for being somewhat progressive in his thought was shut out of these conversations simply because of his purported liberalism? A clear case of people not checking with those in the know.

I also wonder how long it’s been since either of the Cardinals have touched a keyboard, much less done a google search. They should both hold their staff’s feet to the fires for this one. And yet, I wonder if the Cardinal’s staff people even had any inkling of this. It seems to me that the two Cardinals “rubber stamped” this along without much consideration. The prevailing wisdom seems to be one of arrogance.

Vatican bureaucrats think only in terms of what the main purpose of events like this are. In this case, it was the start of healing a schism. So if the Pope wants to start that process the Cardinals look at this as something minor–after all, it is just the start of these talks, primarily in theory designed to separate the wheat from the chaff anyway. Or in this case the nutters from those who just value the Latin mass.

But only geeks like me and Vaticanistas like Sandro or Rocco would know that. Joe Catholic has no idea and neither does the mainstream media. A huge learning session needed to go along with this action–and I suppose the Pope will end up taking his lumps for this but it’s really the fault of anybody else who knew about the start of this process and didn’t act to advise the pope.

And now he’s left to take most of the heat in this regard.

Being the Pope is lonely. Even when good intentioned in Peoria, you might make Catholics in Zimbabwe angry. When something makes sense to Chinese Catholics, it might seem repressive or scary to U.S. Catholics.

Moral of the story: Always have good PR people posted at all four corners of every room you’re in.

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Pope mandates recant to reconcile with SSPX

For those who doubted:

The Vatican demanded Wednesday that a bishop who denied the Holocaust recant his positions before being fully admitted into the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican also said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI didn’t know about Bishop Richard Williamson’s views when he agreed to lift his excommunication and that of three other ultraconservative bishops Jan. 21.

The statement was issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State a day after German Chacellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to make a clearer rejection of Holocaust denials, saying there hadn’t been adequate clarification from the Vatican.

Read more here

This needed some public clarification–so while the Vatican is showing some semblance of PR savvy all of a sudden, they finally are showing the world what the process of reconciliation will entail. My guess is that Williamson won’t recant and that he will maintain some kind of renegade society while others in the SSPX will reunite with the Pope. As I believe I stated here and certainly stated to others who spoke to me about it, it seemed obvious to be that the Pope didn’t know about this guy even when an easy 30 second google search would’ve uncovered it. The headline was expected to be “Pope heals schism” which shows the single-mindedness of his intentions but a lack of seeing the big picture. It also shows that the Pope considers this guy a minor player in the society as a whole since he obviously wasn’t on his radar.

Perhaps we should consider him in a similar vein. After all, there are nuts in every walk of life and although we don’t always like to admit it, in every corner of the church as well.

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Williamson apologizes, perhaps also dying

Scott over at about.com and Deacon Greg have the info here:

The apology is dated January 28, 2009, and the text below is from the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli:

To His Eminence Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos

Your Eminence

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12:

“Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.

Sincerely yours in Christ
+Richard Williamson

Most unexpected. My initial inclination was that this Bishop might not even reconcile when the rest of the Society does–but now perhaps he’s seeing things differently?

At the same time, he doesn’t renounce what he believes to be true about the Holocaust. He simply apologizes for making things hard on the Vatican officials. Perhaps an apology to the Jews might also be in order here? Or perhaps, something else is at play here–something that may humble all of us who have been offended by his remarks.

The London Telegraph reports that Williamson may indeed be dying of cancer and that perhaps these statements may be attributable to this illness. In other words, he may not indeed know what he is saying at times because the cancer may be effecting his brain. Given his long track record this seems unlikely, but not completely out of the question.

Rumours have surfaced that Bishop Williamson, the SSPX bishop whose Holocaust denial has caused such horror, is seriously ill with cancer. Father Z passes on a report in La Repubblica that the bishop – whose excommunication was lifted at the weekend – “has a tumour and is dying”.

Similar reports have reached me, but I haven’t wanted to print them without some sort of confirmation. Apparently Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has asked for prayers for Williamson, whose recent statements – outrageous even by his standards – may be attributable, in part, to his illness.

Meanwhile, I address the issue in a more reflective and prayerful matter in this week’s Busted Halo Cast in the Out of the Haze segment. Check it out.

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The White Chapel of Dachau

Fr James Keenan, SJ is a moral theologian at Boston College but I simply knew him as the Jesuit who lived in our dorm, who led us on retreats and who was funny and droll at dinner. He is recuperating from Cancer these days, so I ask for prayers for him–but with the talk of the holocaust these days I have been reminded of a moving story he told me once.

He was in Germany and had to go to Dachau. It occured to him that for the people who live in Dachau it had to be embarrassing. I mean who in their right mind would want a city that was known for the concentration camps to be their home? Why would anyone freely choose to live there?

He went and visited the camps and was moved and angered by what he saw. He needed to pray, but upon finding the church nearby, he was turned away by an angry nun who had told him firmly that the church was closed and then slammed the door in his face.

As he began his walk back to his train, he caught sight in the distance of a small white chapel. He walked to that chapel and when he entered in, he found something that moved him to tears.

Above the altar was Christ in a cruciform–though he was not nailed to wood, rather he hung on barbed wires.

It seems the people of Dachau could not forget what had happened there and indeed had appropriated the horror of what happened into their need for prayer, their need to pray for an end to such madness. And it was in that prayer and in seeing the atrocities of Dachau that they met the living God, the one who suffers with his creation.

May their lesson and their prayer continue for all of us today.

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