VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is making it clear that for the Society of St. Pius X to be reconciled with the Church, the issues that need to be cleared up are doctrinal.
The Pope affirmed this in a March 10 letter to bishops of the world, made public by the Vatican today.
The Holy Father reiterated a clarification made by the Vatican Secretariat of State last month, which affirmed that the society has no canonical status in the Church. And, he said in his letter, this is “not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons.”
The consequence of this lack of canonical status, he explained, is that the society’s “ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. [U]ntil the doctrinal questions are clarified, the society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers — even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty — do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
To resolve the pending doctrinal issues, Benedict XVI announced that he will join the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, established precisely to oversee the process of healing the society’s separation from the Church, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“This will make it clear,” he said, “that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes.”
The Holy Father went on to speak of the centrality of the Second Vatican Council for any progress with the Society: “The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 — this must be quite clear to the society.
“But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.”
The Pontiff recognized that the members themselves of the society have shown both positive and negative attitudes.
He said: “Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things — arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc.
Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart.”
And the Bishop of Rome asked if the Church should not be able to show generosity.
He said: “But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles?
“At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them — in this case the Pope — he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.”
Priority of love
Benedict XVI concluded with a reflection on Galatians 5:13-15, where St. Paul says, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.”
He contended that “this ‘biting and devouring’ also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?”