The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

An apology from the pope: “A mishap I sincerely regret”

As has been widely reported, Pope Benedict penned a letter to the world’s bishops about the Williamson boondoggle — and expressed regret for how it was handled.

You can read the entire text here.

A snip:

One mishap for me unforeseeable, was the fact that the Williamson case has superimposed itself on the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards the four bishops ordained validly but not legitimately, suddenly appeared as something entirely different: as a disavowal of the reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and therefore as the revocation of what in this area the Council had clarified for the way for the Church. The invitation to reconciliation with an ecclesial group separating itself had thus become the opposite: an apparent way back behind all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews which had been made since the Council and which to make and further had been from the outset a goal of my theological work. The fact that this superposition of two opposing processes has occurred and has disturbed for a moment the peace between Christians and Jews as well as the peace in the Church I can only deeply regret. I hear that closely following the news available on the internet would have made it possible to obtain knowledge of the problem in time. I learn from this that we at the Holy See have to pay more careful attention to this news source in the future. It has saddened me that even Catholics who could actually have known better have thought it necessary to strike at me with a hostility ready to jump. Even more therefore I thank the Jewish friends who have helped to quickly clear away the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust, which – as in the time of Pope John Paul II – also during the entire time of my pontificate had existed and God be praised continues to exist.


Another mishap which I sincerely regret, is that the scope and limits of the measure of 21 January 2009 have not been set out clearly enough at the time of the publication of the procedure. The excommunication affects persons, not institutions. Episcopal consecration without papal mandate means the danger of a schism, because it calls into question the unity of the Bishops’ College with the Pope. The Church must, therefore, react with the harshest punishment, excommunication, and that is to call back the persons thus punished to repentance and into unity. 20 years after the ordinations this goal has unfortunately still not been achieved. The withdrawal of the excommunication serves the same purpose as the punishment itself: once more to invite the four bishops to return.

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posted March 12, 2009 at 9:18 am

It is a good letter. But I feel I must say it falls short of a great letter. The Holy Father mentions the harst judgment of some, and there were such voices. During the holy season of Lent, I think it would have been better to ignore and forgive the wrongs he suffered there and acknowledge (which he sadly did not) there were also some respectful voices who raised issues as to the unfortunate way this whole matter was handled. I think the Holy Father might have favorably referenced those respectful and charitable voices of correction that spoke up.

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Christopher Milton

posted March 12, 2009 at 9:40 am

I saw it as less of an apology, and more of a wonderful critique about how the news was recieved.Such a great man!Viva il papa!

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Hoosier Paul

posted March 12, 2009 at 9:55 am

Sounds like His Holiness needs to learn how to give a proper apology. Here’s some do’s and don’ts.Don’ts:* Don’t be nuanced, or insightful* Don’t make any attempt to actually explain your true intentions, or outline what went wrong* Don’t put your apology in the form of a letterDo’s* Do schedule a press conference* Do bite your lip and nod slowly* Do have your wife standing behind you (this one might be a little difficult)* Do use the phrases, “my actions were misintepreted,” and “I apologize to anyone who was offended.”* Do mention that you have tremendous respect for Rush Limbaugh (optional)

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posted March 12, 2009 at 10:33 am

I think Bishop Donald Sanborn wrote an excellent critique about this silly conundrum in his article “Logical Chickens, coming home to roost.”Williamson never denied the holocaust lol. I still can’t get over the news calling him a “holocaust denier” and an “ultraconservative” lolI’m taking the news less and less serious, and I love how the attention turned to B-16 to reverse the excommunications! If people thought before they spoke issues like these would never exist, unfortunately non-Catholics, and unorthodox Catholics alike enjoy a democratic Catholicism.

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James H

posted March 12, 2009 at 10:47 am

It was a wonderful letter. It is was very human. I think it riles people that he still does not think it was a mistake but the mistake was how it was handled.People used this opportunity to attack Benedict and use it as a vehicle for other agendas. The fact that they were using the Holoucost to advance those agendas seemed not to bother them.I think the Holy Fathers words to his detracotrs and this situation backed by scripture should cause people to think a little.

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posted March 12, 2009 at 11:21 am

I don’t think this letter is an apology.Our Holy Father doesn’t apologize for anything. He just admits two mishaps, and the first one is that the Vatican should take the internet more seriously, and it is right, as Mr. John Allen already remarked in his comment on the Williamson Case in February.And obviously, our Holy Father considers the second mishap to be more serious: by making public the lift of communication, the Vatican, or the commission that released this should have made it more clearly to the public, how far this lift of excommunication reaches and what it means. And thus our Holy Father blames not people outside the Church, but catholics especially the theologians who know clearly what the lift of excommunication should mean, but still joined the attack, instead of explaining the case to the laity or people outside the Church, to which they are obliged. It is not an apology, and there is nothing his Holiness should apologize for. He has just done the right thing.But divers bishops and secular presses take it to be an apology, because they disagree with our great Pope. They don’t want to loose face. And in the magazine Spiegel they are still combining this letter with the photos of Bp. Williamson. It is ridiculous! Really, this letter has very little to do with the person Monsig. Williamson, but has mainly to do with the SSPX, which has worldwide ca. 1 million members.But the enemies outside and inside the Church are not willing to lay down the weapon, which they have been using for weeks.

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posted March 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

But the enemies outside and inside the Church ….This is exaclty what is wrong. Everyone who had any criticism of how this was mishandled is an “enemy of the church.” That is totally wrong.

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Chris Sullivan

posted March 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I agree with Katerine that the tone is too harsh in places and the Holy Father ought to have been more gracious and thanked those who loyally spoke up to identify the problems.Lifting the excommunications was exactly the right thing to do (pity we couldn’t do the same for the 9 year old child in Brazil and the women we’ve recently excommunicated).The Holy Father has made a whole serious of faux pas but he shows a remarkable ability to learn from them which is a very encouraging sign.The key problem behind all this seems to be an isolated and remote pope. We need more collegiality, a wider input into decision making, and a greater respect for others and other views, something which perhaps doesn’t come easy for a man like Joseph Ratzinger.And we need to explain decisions clearly and make it very very clear that Vatican II is not up for negotiation.I’m not sure that being SCDF head is necessarily the best background for a future Pope.God Bless

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posted March 12, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Dear Katherine:I am not saying that nobody should criticize what the Holy Father does. As long as he is not speaking ex cathedra, he is not infallible.For example, I think it right what Mr. Allen says about the missing communication and thorough investigation during the whole case.Of course we can help to make things better.But there are also enemies, whether you would like to recognize or not.Why do the secular presses all the time on posting the photos of Bp. Williamson together! with the photos of the Holy Father? And you certainly know well enough that there are persons in the church herself who hate the brotherhood intensely.So it is also time to criticize these people for lacking of charity.Critics of the Holy Father, if meant to help, is well, but people who are eager to criticize the Pope and the traditionalists should also endure critics of themselves from other people.

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posted March 12, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Randal,You make the point should have done “both/and” and your thoughts there have merit. Unfortunately he only did one of those. And if he had limited himself to responding to one element rather than both as you recommend, I would have understood if he only thanked his helpful critics while keeping silence about the others in a Lenten spirit of “…and forgive those who trespass against us.”

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Wm Riley

posted March 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Chris,Are you stuck in the sixties?Have you read anything by Joseph Ratzinger or do you get your information through the journal of Jurassic Park, The National Catholic Reporter? That is a dead honest question to you. I have and can name books, including secondary works on his ecclesiology. Your views, however, are the same old tired code words for “I don’t like what’s happening and me and my buddies want to have it our way.” The same sort of nonsense is spouted by the doddering old vanguard of religious communities that are being selected against by the Spirit. Christ constituted the Church as a hierarchical, time for you to deal with it.By the way the title to the story is wrong. The letter is not meant as an apology, but an explanation and a vision. Too bad some can’t see it.Will Riley

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Francesco B.

posted March 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I love how so many people are so quick to take the opportunity to teach the Vicar of Christ how to be a Catholic. This letter was not meant to be an apology and really the pope has nothing to apologize about. He did nothing wrong; in fact he acted on his faith, which teaches to be merciful and in his case especially to make sure there is unity among the brethren. Also, the Catholic faith teaches that sometimes it is necessary for those with authority to give fraternal correction, which the pope did as well. If a person with proper authority fails to give correction when it is needed then that is a sin of omission. No, this letter, as stated by the Holy Father himself, is a “word of clarification.” Those who have something to apologize for, however, are the enemies of the Church, both within and without, that were so quick to heap such vitriol and slanders against the Holy Father. I am not talking about criticisms about the way the people in the Curia handled the media; these are valid criticisms. I am speaking about accusations of anti-semitism and of being “backwards” and of calling for the pope’s resignation to give a few of the more mild examples. This is not to mention the outright rebellion by certain bishops and priests against the Holy Father. Let me finish with two quotes from the letter that make points extremely relevant to this discussion:”The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.”and “At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.”VIVA IL PAPA!

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Phil Onochie

posted March 13, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Very well said Francesco!

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posted March 14, 2009 at 12:37 am

Agree with Francesco. Great letter which is what this Pope does well. Read everything he writes and ask God to help let it enter your heart, soul, and mind. This helps one on the journey to love God with all our strength, all our heart, mind, and soul.

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