VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The best news of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a step taken with Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X, says a Vatican spokesman.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, shared this sentiment when he commented on a decree published Saturday by the Congregation for Bishops. The decree advised of the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre in 1988 without papal permission.
Lefebvre, who died in 1991, founded the traditionalist group in 1969. Bishop Bernard Fellay, one of the bishops Lefebvre ordained in 1988, is the current leader of the group.
Father Lombardi called the lifting of the excommunication “great news that we expect to be a source of joy for the whole Church.”
“The lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X is in fact a fundamental step in achieving definitive reconciliation with the movement begun and led by Monsignor Lefebvre,” he stated.
In reflecting on the decree, the Jesuit recalled an assertion from Benedict XVI in the letter accompanying his 2007 “Summorum Pontificum.” The Holy Father wrote that a look at the history of divisions in the Body of Christ suggests that Church leaders often could have done more to prevent the hardening of these divisions.
The Pontiff’s letter insisted on an “obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. […] Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”
The decree from the Congregation of Bishops notes that the prelates of the Society of St. Pius X express their desire for unity. It cites a letter from Bishop Fellay, which said: “We are always fervently determined in the will to be and to remain Catholics and to place all of our strength at the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept all of her teachings with a filial spirit. We firmly believe in the primacy of Peter and in his prerogatives.”
The decree goes on to express the hope that the lifting of the excommunication will be “followed by the solicitous fulfillment of full communion of the Church with the Society of St. Pius X, thereby witnessing to authentic fidelity and a true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope, with the proof of visible unity.”
Father Lombardi further recalled that this step to unity is something Benedict XVI has been seeking for years.
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger personally followed the talks with Lefebvre, who in the end opposed an agreement with the Holy See and consecrated the bishops, breaking ecclesial unity, Father Lombardi noted.
And, he stressed, Cardinal Ratzinger “already at that time tried to do everything possible to serve the unity of the Church.”
The Ecclesia Dei Commission, created by John Paul II in those circumstances, “worked patiently to keep channels of dialogue open and various communities linked with the Lefebvrist movement in various ways were already able, over the course of the years, to return to full communion with the Catholic Church,” the Vatican spokesman continued. “The Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, with the four bishops, remained in any case the most important community with which to re-establish communion.”
Father Lombardi said that Benedict XVI has promoted this objective not only with the publication of “Summorum Pontificum,” which facilitated the celebration of the Mass according to the rite that preceded the liturgical changes made with the Second Vatican Council.
Already as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the spokesman noted, he signed a document that clarified certain disputed points of the ecclesiological doctrine of the Council. And as Pope he has made speeches that indicate the “correct hermeneutic of the Council itself, in continuity with tradition,” and not in departure from it.
“Naturally, all of that created a favorable climate in which the bishops of the Fraternity of St. Pius X asked for the lifting of the excommunication, explicitly attesting to their desire to be in the Roman Catholic Church and believing firmly in the primacy of Peter,” Father Lombardi said.
Seeking full communion
The Vatican spokesman noted the special date on which the lifting of the excommunication was made public.
“It is a beautiful thing,” the priest said, “that the lifting of the excommunication occurred on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council, in such a way that this fundamental event now cannot any longer be considered an occasion of tension but of communion.”
And he acknowledged that there is still a road to walk before there can be full communion between the Society of St. Pius X and the Church.
“The text of the decree shows that we are still on the way toward the full communion that the Holy Father wishes to see promptly realized,” Father Lombardi said. “For example, aspects of the status of the Fraternity and of the priests who belong to it are not defined in the decree published today. But the prayer of the Church is in complete concord with the Pope’s, that every difficulty soon be overcome and that we be able to speak of communion in the full sense and without any uncertainty.”
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Full text of decree: http://www.zenit.org/article-24901?l=english