Society of St Pius X & Vatican II

Dialogika Resources

Statement on the Lifting of the Excommunications of Four SSPX Bishops

The decree, signed on 21 January 2009 by Cardinal Re, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, at the request of Pope Benedict XVI lifts the incurred excommunication latæ sententiæ of bishops ordained on June 30, 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre and the formally declared order of Cardinal Gantin, on 1 July 1988.

This waiver was requested more than once by Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, especially in a letter to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, 15 December, on behalf of the four bishops concerned. It was, along with the possibility for any priest to celebrate Mass with the Missal of St. Pius V, one of two prerequisites for opening a dialogue with Rome. He had his followers pray for this purpose.

Pope Benedict XVI wanted to finish what he could do as a helping hand, as an invitation to reconciliation. The Pope, a theologian and historian of theology, knows the tragedy of a schism in the church. He hears the question that is often raised regarding such schisms: Were all steps really taken to avoid this schism? He himself felt invested with the mission to make every effort to reweave the torn fabric of church unity. Let us not forget that the pope is familiar with the case because he had been charged by Pope John Paul II to contact Archbishop Lefebvre and try to prevent him from committing the irremediable act of ordaining bishops. The one who was then Cardinal Ratzinger was marked by the failure of his mission.

The lifting of the excommunication was not an end but the beginning of a process of dialogue. It does not resolve two fundamental issues: the legal structure of the Society of Saint Pius X in the Church and an agreement on the dogmatic and ecclesiological questions. But it opens a path to traverse together. This path will doubtless be long. It will require better understanding and mutual esteem. At some point, the question of the text of Vatican II as a magisterial document of primary importance should be raised. It is fundamental. But all the difficulties are not necessarily doctrinal. Others, such as cultural and political matters, may also emerge. The recent unacceptable denial by Bishop Williamson of the tragedy of the extermination of Jews, is one example.

Yet one can imagine that the momentum created by the lifting of excommunications should assist in the launching of the dialogue called for by the pope.

At the end of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let us not forget that the surest path to walk to the unity of all disciples of Christ is prayer.

Bordeaux, on 24 January 2009
Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard
Archbishop of Bordeaux