Society of St Pius X & Vatican II

Dialogika Resources

Talking Points: Lifting of Excommunications of the Four Bishops of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X

•1. What happened? The Holy Father, in an effort to heal the only formal schism to have resulted from opposition to the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), gave the faculties to His Eminence, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to remit the censure of excommunication, originally declared on July 1, 1988, from Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galaretta of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. The Holy Father's act of pardon is to be understood as a "gift of peace at the end of the Christmas season ... intended to promote ‘unity in charity' in the universal Church, and to take away the scandal of division." The Holy see acted in response to a letter of Bishop Fellay (December 15, 2008), speaking on behalf of all four bishops, to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which affirmed the desire of the four bishops to remain Catholic "at the service of the Catholic Church" and under the Primacy of the Pope.

•2.What does the removal of the excommunication mean? The lifting of the excommunication implies that these bishops are no longer in formal schism with the Catholic Church. It follows from their sincere act of repentance for having rejected the governance of the Roman Pontiff (cf. Canon 751), which was implicit in their reception of episcopal ordination by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. This act constitutes the beginning of a process of dialogue that aims to incorporate into full visible communion with the Catholic Church the bishops, priests and lay faithful who are served by the clergy of the Priestly Society. The decree did not address other questions regarding the legal status of the bishops, such as, for example, any possible irregularities for the exercise of orders that would ostensibly have been incurred at their own reception of ordination as bishops or their subsequent exercise of that order. Nor did the decree address the legal status of priests who belong to the Priestly Society or the lay faithful who adhere to it. Other outstanding questions not addressed by the decree include any legal status the Society might obtain in the Catholic Church.

•3.Will these bishops have to accept the teachings of Vatican II? Full communion with the Catholic Church implies a divine or firm assent to all that has been defined by the Church's Magisterium, and religious adherence of mind and will to all authentic teaching. While not pronouncing any new dogmas, the last General Council, validly convened and executed, contained both defined and authentic teaching that calls for acceptance by the Church's members. Any future discussions between the Holy See and the Priestly Society would naturally entail discussions of the teachings of Vatican II, not limited to but certainly including those texts in Nostra aetate regarding the Jewish people, and in Dignitatis humanae affirming religious freedom. As true teachers of the Catholic Faith, bishops must exercise their Magisterial office in concert with their brothers of the Episcopal College and with its Head, the Pope.

•4.Does Bishop Richard Williamson speak for the Priestly Society? The Priestly Society has stated that the unacceptable comments of Bishop Richard Williamson "do not reflect in any sense" its own position. According to Bishop Bernard Fellay, these comments are "a personal opinion" of Bishop Williamson. A clearer repudiation of the latter's stated views on the Shoah is required as the dialogue between the Priestly Society and the Holy See continues. The members of the Priestly Society must reflect on the unspeakable tragedy that was the Holocaust in light of what history clearly demonstrates and what the Holy See itself said in its March 16, 1988 Statement, We Remember: "This century has witnessed an unspeakable tragedy, which can never be forgotten: the attempt by the Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people, with the consequent killing of millions of Jews. Women and men, old and young, children and infants, for the sole reason of their Jewish origin, were persecuted and deported. Some were killed immediately, while others were degraded, illtreated, tortured and utterly robbed of their human dignity, and then murdered. Very few of those who entered the Camps survived, and those who did remained scarred for life. This was the Shoah. It is a major fact of the history of this century, a fact which still concerns us today."

•5.What is the Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism? The most authoritative teaching is found in Nostra aetate, paragraph 4: "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle" Anything reminiscent of the teaching of contempt, including the charge of deicide (that Jews were or are responsible for the death of Jesus), is unacceptable from the standpoint of Catholic teaching today. The Catholic Church continues to take heart from the example of the late Pope John Paul II who made it his consistent aim to heal the memories of the past and forge deeper bonds of friendship with the Jewish people of the present age. We recall and abide by what the Pontiff, addressing the leaders of the Jewish community in Strasbourg in 1988, stated: "I repeat again with you the strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism and racism, which are opposed to the principles of Christianity. The Catholic Church therefore repudiates every persecution against a people or human group anywhere, at any time. She absolutely condemns all forms of genocide, as well as the racist ideologies which give rise to them. Looking back over this century, we are deeply saddened by the violence that has enveloped whole groups of peoples and nations."


•(A) Note also Pope Benedict XVI in the Synagogue in Cologne, Germany in 2005:

"This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, in which millions of Jews - men, women and children - were put to death in the gas chambers and ovens. I make my own the words written by my venerable Predecessor on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I too say: "I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis."

•(B) Comments by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux, Member of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on January 26, 2009:

"The lifting of the excommunication is not the end, but the beginning of a process of dialogue. It does not resolve two fundamental questions: the juridical structure of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in the Church and an agreement on dogmatic and ecclesiological questions. But it opens a path to walk together. This path will undoubtedly be long. It will require better mutual knowledge and respect. At a certain moment the question of the text of the Second Vatican Council, as a document of the Magisterium of primary importance, must be faced. This is fundamental. But all the difficulties will not necessarily be only of a doctrinal order. Others, of a cultural and political nature, will also emerge. The recent unacceptable statements of Bishop Williamson, denying the drama of the extermination of the Jews, is one example."

•(C) Statement of His Excellency Bernard Fellay, Superior of the Fraternity of St. Pius X:

We have become aware of an interview released by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Fraternity of St. Pius X, to Swedish television. In this interview, he expressed himself on historical questions, and in particular on the question of the genocide against the Jews carried out by the Nazis. / It's clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on questions that regard faith and morals. Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, expressed in the dogmas of the faith. It's for this reason that we are known, accepted and respected in the entire world. / It's with great sadness that we recognize the extent to which the violation of this mandate has done damage to our mission. The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity. For this reason I have prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions. / We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission. / This is something we cannot accept, and we declare that we will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to administer the sacraments of grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. / Menzingen, January 27, 2009