Here is the official account of the statement by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, that accompanied the pope’s letter of explanation on his remittance of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops:


VATICAN CITY, 12 MAR 2009 (VIS) – In an explanatory note accompanying the Holy Father’s Letter to bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. explains that “it is an unusual document worthy of great attention. Never before in his pontificate has Benedict XVI expressed himself so personally and intensely on a matter of public debate”.

“The Pope experienced the … remission of the excommunication and the consequent reactions with evident concern and suffering”, and felt the obligation “to intervene in order to contribute to peace in the Church”.

“With his habitual lucidity and humility he recognises the limitations and errors that had a negative influence on the affair, and with great nobility he does not seek to attribute the responsibility for them to others, but expresses solidarity with his collaborators. He speaks of inadequate information in the Williamson case and of insufficient clarity in explaining the procedure and significance of remitting excommunication”.

The Williamson case, “fortunately now surpassed”, gives the Pope “an opportunity to recall with satisfaction” that moves towards reconciliation with Jews, “beginning with Vatican Council II, is something his own ‘work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support'”.

Above all, however, the Holy Father wishes “to clarify the nature, significance and aims of the remission of excommunication. He explains that since the excommunication was a punishment for individuals who had performed an act that put the unity of the Church at risk by failing to recognise the authority of the Pope, now – after the individuals concerned have expressed their recognition of the Pope’s authority – the remission of the excommunication is a warm invitation for them to return to unity”.

“Benedict XVI is profoundly aware of his responsibility as pastor of the universal Church and feels the need to give his brothers in the episcopate unambiguous clarification … of the priorities and spirit with which he is undertaking his service”. These are: “leading men and women to God, the God Who speaks in the Bible and in Christ; unity among Christians; dialogue among believers in God in the service of peace; witness of charity in the social dimension of Christian life.

“The Pope continues his considerations”, Fr. Lombardi adds in his note, “by inviting his interlocutors to serious reflection, at both the personal and the ecclesial level. The paradoxical fact that a gesture that aimed to be merciful and conciliatory actually created a situation of acute tension, means we must ask questions to discern what spiritual attitudes where … at work in this case”, he says.

Moved by his “deep concern for unity”, Benedict XVI does not lose his “critical realism” as he recalls “the grave defects of many of the traditionalists’ statements”; yet he reserves the same critical realism “for the members of the Church and society who meet all efforts of reconciliation, or even of the recognition of positive elements in others, with rigid intransigence”.

The Pope’s Letter concludes, says Fr. Lombardi, “by reiterating an impassioned appeal for love as the absolute priority for Christians, and by expressing a hope for peace in the community of the Church”.


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