BORDEUX, France, JAN. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The lifting of excommunication for four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X is just the beginning of a process of dialogue with the traditionalist group, says a member of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeux, is part of the pontifical commission established by Pope John Paul II in 1988 to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of people linked with the Society of St. Pius X but who desire to remain united to the Pope in the Church.
The commission was established in response to the initial excommunication of the four bishops freed of that sanction on Wednesday. They were excommunicated because the founder of the Society, Marcel Lefebvre, ordained them bishops without papal approval.
But the decree lifting the excommunication is not the end of the road leading to the group’s full communion with the Church, clarified Cardinal Ricard in a statement made public by the French bishops’ conference on Saturday.
In fact, he explained, there are two fundamental issues still to be resolved before the schism can be considered healed: “the integration of the juridical structure of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in the Church” and “agreement in dogmatic and ecclesiological questions.”
Among these issues to consider, Cardinal Ricard noted the issue of the Second Vatican Council and its acceptance as a “magisterial text of primary importance. This is fundamental.”
The prelate also referred to cultural and political difficulties, including “unacceptable declarations from Bishop Williamson negating the drama of the extermination of the Jews.”
The cardinal was referring to uproar caused by Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the bishops whose excommunication was lifted, in an interview in which the bishop claimed that historical evidence denies the gassing of Jews in Nazi concentration camps.
Cardinal Ricard affirmed that with issues such as these, “the road will undoubtedly be long, and will demand better understating and mutual esteem. But the lifting of the excommunication will permit walking it together.”
The step of lifting the excommunication came after various requests from Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X. In particular, that bishop wrote a letter Dec. 15 to Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, president of Ecclesia Dei. The letter, cited by the Congregation for Bishops decree lifting the excommunication, assures of the society bishops’ adherence to the Pope and the Church.
Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ricard said, “has wanted to go as far as possible with his hand extended, as an invitation to reconciliation.” This, he added, is part of his mission to “do everything possible to re-weave the torn threads of ecclesial unity.”
“The Pope, theologian and historian of theology, knows the drama that schism represents in the Church,” the prelate said. “He understands the question that often arises in the history of schism: Were all of the means to avoid it truly employed?”
Cardinal Ricard further noted: “The Pope knows well this case, since John Paul II charged him with getting in contact with Bishop Lefebvre to try to stop him from committing the irremediable act of the episcopal consecrations.
“The then Cardinal Ratzinger was marked by the failure of that mission.”
Cardinal Ricard expressed his confidence that “the dynamic stirred up by the lifting of the excommunication helps the starting-up of the dialogue desired by the Pope” and he asked the faithful to “pray for Christian unity.”
“Let us not forget,” the prelate said, “that the surest road to advance in the unity of the disciples of Christ continues being prayer.”