VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is offering a personal explanation for his decision to remove the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops ordained without papal permission.
The Pope spoke today at the general audience of the decree made public Saturday, which lifted the excommunication of four prelates of the Society of St. Pius X, illicitly ordained to the episcopate by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988.
The move has been criticized as an affront to Jewish-Catholic relations because one of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson, told an interviewer that he didn’t believe 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Another of the cleared bishops, the superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has since silenced the prelate.
But, the Holy Father made clear today that the lifting of the excommunication is about one thing only: Church unity.
“In the homily delivered on the occasion of the solemn inauguration of my pontificate, I said that the ‘call to unity’ is an ‘explicit’ duty of the pastor,” he said.
The Pontiff recalled how he reflected in that first of his papal homilies on the story of the miraculous catch of fish, and how Christians could now say: “Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it [the net] has been torn.”
But, he continued quoting from his homily, “We must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised. … Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity!”
Weaving torn threads
Benedict XVI said that it was “precisely in fulfilling this service to unity, which determines in a specific way my ministry as the Successor of Peter,” that he decided to lift the excommunication.
And, he clarified, “I have carried out this act of paternal mercy because repeatedly these prelates have manifested their sharp suffering in the situation in which they found themselves.”
Furthermore, the Holy Father stated, there is the expectation of further steps from the four newly released bishops.
“I trust that following from this gesture of mine will be the prompt effort on their part to complete final necessary steps to arrive to full communion with the Church,” the Bishop of Rome said, “thus giving testimony of true fidelity and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope and the Second Vatican Council.”
Benedict XVI then immediately turned his attention to his own reflections on the Holocaust.
“In these days in which we remember the Shoah, my memory turns to the images taken in during my repeated visits to Auschwitz, one of the concentration camps in which was carried out the brutal massacre of millions of Jews, innocent victims of a blind racial and religious hate,” he said.
“As I renew with affection the expression of my total and indisputable solidarity with our brother recipients of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah moves humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the human heart,” the Holy Father added.
He expressed his prayer that the Holocaust be a warning for everyone: “May the Shoah teach especially, as much the old generations as the new ones, that only the tiring path of listening and dialogue, of love and pardon, leads peoples, cultures and religions of the world to the desired encounter of fraternity and peace in the world. May violence never again humiliate the dignity of man!”