Pope Benedict's Tightrope Act

March 2009

Pope Benedict XVI is no stranger to controversy. His recent decision to lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops has sent shockwaves reaching far beyond Christendom. This controversy may prove the greatest challenge of his pontificate to date -- for more reasons than one.

Benedict's watershed move was a follow-up to Summorum Pontificum, his July 7, 2007, motu proprio that opened a path to wider use of the Tridentine Latin Mass -- an incredible act of openness and courage considering the amount of resistance the idea received even at the highest levels of the Vatican. The Pope's motu proprio was not only addressed to the Catholic Church as a whole; his intention was also to work toward healing the decades-long rift with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). With more than 700 chapels and six seminaries spread across the world, the SSPX's following is not insignificant. On January 21, the Holy Father took this reconciliation process one step further: Benedict unilaterally lifted the excommunications of the four bishops illicitly consecrated by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alphonso de Galerreta -- along with Lefebvre -- had incurred excommunication latae sententiae, meaning that it was activated automatically by the very act of the illicit consecration.

The Pope's January decision marks the close of years of dashed hopes on the part of the Vatican. Benedict's repeated "magnanimous gestures of peace" made toward the Lefebvrists have not been followed, so far, by any significant step of reconsideration and reconciliation on their part. The Pope's previous effort at reconciliation fell apart just last year when the SSPX failed to respond to a set of conditions laid out by the Holy See, most notably that the Society would avoid "the pretext of a Magisterium superior to that of the Holy Father." Of all the concerns, this one likely remains the most problematic. The Lefebvrists have long given the distinct impression that they have set up a parallel Magisterium -- yes, one they seem to consider superior to that of the See of Peter.

Pope Benedict purposefully performed his act of mercy on the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's decision to summon what would later become known as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Benedict's timing is both significant and controversial considering that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded his priestly fraternity as a wholesale rejection of Vatican II. The SSPX has been specifically critical through the decades of the Council's teachings on the liturgy (which led to the New Mass), religious liberty, ecumenism, and the Church's stance toward the Jews. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has even gone so far as to call for the Second Vatican Council to be erased and all of its teachings and recommendations abolished. In a 2007 interview with The Remnant, the Lefebvrite bishop confidently proclaimed, "You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work."

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New Oxford Notes: March 2009

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I'd have to agree with the previous poster that there seems to be a bit of imbalance here.

There are "Catholics" saying that abortion is ok and that the church has never taken a specific stand on it - they don't get excommunicated. (How on *earth* has Nancy Pelosi escaped?? Advocating mass slaughter is far more egregious than doubting the accepted version of history!)

There are "Catholics" claiming that God is a female, that Jesus didn't really live, that Mary couldn't possibly have been a virgin; in this very issue there is reviewed a book by a "nun" in which she claims that we need to move ahead to a new concept of "God," which is that "it" is in us all. Has she been excommunicated?

As far as I can tell from my limited study of the subject, ecumenism was not nearly the issue for Bishop Lefebre that the destruction of the liturgy was.

I had a friend who use to say that if you put a bad apple into a barrel of good ones, the good ones didn't turn the bad one good. That is to say, there is a difference between increased "tolerance" for other faiths, and "accepting" other faiths. I think that Lefebre and like-minded clerics also feared that we would end up with a watered-down Catholicism if we started sharing the altar with other faiths (as opposed to speaking civilly and respectfully to and about them).

Isn't this at least in part what your magazine is all about? That in many ways, we're not really "Catholic" any more?

I'm not saying that Williamson didn't speak out of turn. But in his misguided view of history is he any different from people who insist that the Inquisition was a pogrom that killed millions, that the Crusades were an evil act of aggression against harmless middle easterners, or that Galileo suffered torments at the hands of the Catholic Church? History is constantly be rewritten. Williamson should be ashamed of himself for bringing shame on the Church and on this wonderful Pope. But his idiotic views on history are one thing; he was not excommunicated on the basis of his questionable scholarship, or even because he is anti-Semitic.

This Pope, who would like to take steps toward restoring the liturgy, and toward healing the rupture in the continuity of the Church, is trying to bring all his sheep into the same pasture, where they can share with one another to bring about a stronger, better, truer Catholicism.

At the very least, while perhaps advocating that Williamson be retired from active ministry, we (above all those of us who value the traditional Church and liturgy)should be praying for him, and praying for the reconciliation of all the members of the Church - and we should be vocal and passionate in our support of the Pope!
Posted by: nrobert2
March 12, 2009 09:57 AM EDT
Could not agree less with Jnewl’s response below. Did not Peter (the rock) do much worse than Bishop Williamson by denying The Christ? Did not St. Thomas deny the resurrection until he had seen with his own eyes the evidence he asked for? The honest Bishop has stated that he would reconsider his opinion (not a doctrinal issue) if evidence to the contrary is presented to him. To this day I have not seen or heard of any references. Instead, I should like to offer The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit, by E. M. Jones, as a summary of statements made by trustworthy Jews in agreement with the untrustworthiness of too many others. Who would ask a Mafioso if the Mafia's records on extortion are accurate – not this Italian. I visited Dachau in 1961 and did not see any evidence contradicting the Bishop’s opinion that no more than 300,00 were killed. Am I not as “objective” as I should be because only most of my good friends and my mother’s great aunt are Jewish? The writer of the March 2009 NOR Notes has some further xplaining to do after he carefully reconsiders. Posted by: fallace@optonline.net
March 12, 2009 11:01 AM EDT
"Considering that the SSPX bishops have thumbed their noses at the authority of the papacy for decades, and realizing that some of these prelates and their priests hold opinions that the Catholic Church -- and most of the world -- finds repulsive, it would be difficult for the Pope to justify giving them any sort of official position in the Catholic hierarchy."

Am I wrong in thinking that these words describe a very great percentage of *official* Catholic clergy in the United States and Europe? As a matter of fact, isn't that the very reason this magazine was founded? And yet, these same pope-defying, error-believing prelates not only possess "official positions" within the Catholic hierarchy, they are never, ever ordered by their superiors to publicly recant their private opinions (nor even their public ones)? Why is that, do you suppose? Why is it that it's only Traditionalists, who do no more than celebrate the Mass and conduct the Sacraments in the same fully valid fashion it has been done in for two millenia, are held out for special censure (over matters that don't even bear upon the Faith, no less)? Indeed, in a sane world, what opinion of Bishop Williamson's could possibly warrant venom of this toxicity:

"Bishop Richard Williamson, for one, is not fit to be a bishop in the Catholic Church -- not now, not ever."

Really? Ever? Even if Bishop Williamson (who, like it or not, *is* a validly ordained bishop) were to honestly and totally recant his opinion and spend the rest of his days running around kissing Jews and demonstrating how the gas chambers were used to kill all six million of them, he would still not be "fit to be a bishop in the Catholic Church?" It's frightening to consider the moral and spiritual darkness that must lie behind such a comment. I'm totally serious. I'm stunned. Kung, Schillebeeckx, and Rahner all rolled into one never elicited this level of vitriol. Perhaps the author overstated his case here somewhat? Let us hope so.

Then again, is it an accident that reference is then made to the Soviet gulags (or at least, that's what I naturally take from the mention of "Siberia"):

"Should the SSPX be fully reconciled to the Church, Williamson should be retired from active ministry, perhaps sent to Siberia to tend sheep."

At this point I am seriously questioning whether my subscription money has been properly spent here. I know this is not a trad journal and I wasn't expecting that, but really...this is just off the charts.
Posted by: jnewl
March 10, 2009 06:59 AM EDT
I am grateful for the NOR article, and I will be giving extra money to the magazine for having the courage to attack the evil of anti-semitism that runs in the hearts of far too many of those who falsely claim the title "traditionalist."

Defending those who would deny the holocaust or defending those who support what is evil in the name of our beautiful faith is repugnant.

Thank God someone at the NOR had the courage to write this! Let us hope and pray those "traditionalists" who did SO MUCH DAMAGE to our beautiful traditional Mass and our wonderful Pope because of their extremism learn some much needed humility.

God bless the NOR!
Posted by: cathguy
May 09, 2009 06:01 PM EDT
One more thing: There's no substantial difference between traditionalist dissent and liberal dissent --it's still dissent, a refusal to submit oneself to papal authority.

The SSPX just "ordained" more "bishops" illicitly in Germany. All their talk of wanting to reconcile is just empty words when seen in the context of their actions. They've institutionalized their dissent.
Posted by: Jack_Straw
August 05, 2009 11:47 PM EDT
Anti-Semitism is the elephant in the trad living room that nobody wants to discuss. When somebody points it out, they get their noses all bent out of shape and start up with the defensive nonsense. You can't overcome a problem if you refuse acknowledge it.

People "on the inside" need to start dealing with it.
Posted by: Jack_Straw
August 05, 2009 11:42 PM EDT
As an SSXP'er ?(and NOR subscriber) here are my two Cents,

A) in reply to Jack Straw I would say that the SSPX did not consecrte more Bishops, we ordained more priests with the Tacit approval of the Holy See (Bp Felley moved the ordinations to Econe at the Holy Fathers request)

B) Whilst I disagree with the article with regards to the valid ministry exercised by the SSPX I agree that unless Bp Williamson gets his act together he risks running headlong into sedevacantism

C) My main problem with the His excellency is that he tends to go off on wild tangents (conspiricy theories et al) and that this discredits the many gems of wisdom he dispenses in his weekly colunmm

D) whilst I am no theologian I do agree with Bp Tissier de mallarias that V2 ( a fuzzy council) should be sweapt under the carpet along with Constantinople 2 (another fuzzy council in which nobody really knew what it taught) and relagated to the history books for some historian to look at when compiling a book on bad times in Church History.
Posted by: jack hughes 123
August 18, 2009 10:27 PM EDT
You can be sure that if/when the SSPX are reunited with Rome, Bp. Williamson will grab his share of the SSPX flock and head to the hills to start his own spinoff sect ("The Society of St. Richard Williamson"?).

Not only is he a Holocaust-denier, he's a 9/11 conspiracy theorist too. Still, some people are quick to defend the "good and holy" bishop, but even Bishop Fellay has kicked him to the curb. In an interview with The Angelus, the SSPX official publication, Fellay said, "We no longer see Bishop Williamson amongst us. By this, I mean acting as a bishop, serving the Society." Fellay said he hurt the Society "materially."

For those people reconsidering their subscriptions to the NOR, they should more honestly reconsider their support of the SSPX, which has taken the same stance against Holocaust denial (and Williamson) as has the NOR. Bishop Fellay said debating Holocaust figures "has absolutely nothing to do with Revelation" and is "not heroism."

If you can't take the truth as reported here, then the SSRW awaits your membership.
Posted by: Jack_Straw
September 22, 2009 03:27 PM EDT
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