Pope Thanks Spain's Bishops After Lefebvrite Row

Expresses Gratitude for Prayers in Unity Mission

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is thanking the Spanish bishops for their spiritual closeness after the turmoil that surrounded the lifting of excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Marcel Lefebvre.

In a letter sent by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s secretary of state, to Cardinal Antonio María Rouco, chairman of the Spanish bishops’ conference, the Holy Father expressed his great appreciation for «the prayers offered for his person and his ministry of ‘custodian of unity.'»

The Pontiff invoked «abundant divine graces on Your Eminence and on all the Spanish bishops to encourage and sustain you in your pastoral service to the people of God.»

A press release from the bishops’ conference reported Thursday that this letter was the Holy Father’s response to a message of support sent to him earlier by the Spanish prelates.

The lifting of the excommunication in late January caused turmoil mostly because of a situation surrounding Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the prelates concerned. In an interview, the prelate denied the gassing of the Jews. Coincidentally, the interview aired at about the same time as the bishop had his 20-year excommunication lifted, in the framework of the Pontiff’s continuing efforts to heal the schism with the society.

A Vatican spokesman later said the tension that arose around the Jan. 24 decree was due to the «dramatic coincidence» with the publication of the bishop’s comments. The Pope was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views on the Holocaust at the time the decree was publicized.

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