Tornielli’s commentary on the Pope’s Letter

The intrepid Andrea Tornielli, who was first to speak in the press of Pope Benedict’s letter to bishops of the workd world about the SSPX excommunications, has a comment on the Holy Father’s gesture.

Damian Thompson posted an English translation.  I touch it up here and there and add here my emphases and comments:

It is an articulated, beautiful, humble and at the same time strong text: the Pope wants to create clarity about the controversy raised by the lifting of the excommunication of the four Lefebvrian bishops and by the Williamson case, and comments upon criticism flared up also and especially within the Church. He does so with a letter sent to all Catholic bishops, recalling that the case "has raised inside and outside the Catholic Church a discussion of such vehemence as had not been experienced anymore for a long time." Benedict XVI recalls the "avalanche of protests" and the accusation made against him of wanting to go back on the Council. "A misfortune 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 a group which had separated itself has then been presented as a desire to create new divisions between Christians and Jews. In the words of Pope Ratzinger emerges all the pain that this instrumentalisation has caused to him, given that precisely the reconciliation between Christians and Jews "from the outset had been a goal of my personal theological work." Benedict XVI explains that in future the Holy See will have to pay more attention to news disseminated on the Internet [d'ya think?] (the statements of Williamson were in fact circulating on the Web even before the publication of the revocation of the excommunication) and adds: "I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who ultimately could have known better how things stand, have thought it necessary to strike at me with a hostility ready to attack. [You can feel this palpably from the Pope's letter.] Precisely for this reason I thank the more the Jewish friends who have helped to promptly clear away the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust." The Pope then deplores the fact that the revocation of the excommunication itself, "the scope and limits of the measure" were not "set out clearly enough at the time of its publication." [read: it was botched] And he specifies that the excommunication affects persons, not institutions: the withdrawal is a disciplinary act, which is quite separate from the doctrinal area: "The fact that the Fraternity of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical position in the Church is not based ultimately on disciplinary grounds but on doctrinal ones"  [It is not merely a matter of obedience to the Roman Pontiff, but also doctrinal.  An interesting clarification from the Roman Pontiff.] and its ministers, even if "they were freed from ecclesiastical punishment, do not exercise in a legitimate way any ministry in the Church."

Continuing on this theme, the Pope announces his intention to connect the Ecclesia Dei commission, which deals with the Lefebvrians, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. [This is interesting. It would have been thought more natural to join it to the Congregation for Divine Worship.  But the fact that it is to be associated with the CDF, indicates that in the Pope's mind the liturgical matter is settled.]  And speaking of the Council he says: "The magisterial authority of the Church cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this should be quite clear to the Fraternity. But to some of those who designate themselves as defenders of the Council it must also be recalled to memory that Vatican II brings with it the the whole doctrinal history of the Church. Who wants to be obedient to the Council must accept the faith professed in the course of the centuries and cannot cut the roots of which the tree lives."  [Exactly!]

Benedict XVI – and this is the most moving part of the letter – then answers the critical question that many have asked him in these weeks: was the lifting of the excommunication necessary? Was it really a priority? The Pope replies that his priority as universal pastor "is to make God present in this world and to open to men the access to God. Not to just any god, but to the God who spoke on Mount Sinai, that God whose face we recognise … in Jesus crucified and risen." At a time when God disappears from the horizon of men, we must "have at heart the unity of believers", because their discord and confrontation "calls into question the credibility of their talking about God." [wonderful] Even "small and medium-sized reconciliations" are therefore a part of the priorities for the Church. The "quiet gesture of a hand stretched out" has instead resulted in a great noise, thus becoming "the opposite of a reconciliation." But the Pope explains how on the contrary it is necessary to strive to reintegrate, to prevent further radicalisations, to make efforts to loosen hardenings and to give room to what there is positive. "Can a community leave us totally indifferent" – the Lefebvrians – "in which there are 491 priests, 215 seminarians … 117 brothers, 164 sisters and thousands of the faithful? Should we really leave them to drift away far from the Church?". Benedict XVI does not hide from himself that from the Fraternity for a long time have come "many dissonant things – pride, a patronising know-it-all attitude, unilateralisms etc. For the love of truth I must add that I have also received a series of moving testimonials of gratitude, in which was made perceptible an opening of hearts." But he adds that also in the ecclesial environment dissonances emerged: [Watch this:] "At times – he ends with a pinch of bitterness – one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which it does not reserve any tolerance; which one can unperturbedly set upon with hatred. And if someone dares to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses the right to tolerance and even he may be treated with hatred without fear and restraint." [Very poignant and exactly right.]

Benedict XVI has therefore lifted the excommunication of the Lefebvrian bishops with the eyes of a pastor concerned for the unity of the Church, who stretches out his hand and offers mercy. This quiet gesture does not yet mean full unity, as long as the doctrinal issues are not clarified. The unfortunate negationist interview of Williamson was not known to the Pope when he approved the decree: to read what happened as a change of direction with respect what was determined by the Council in the relations with the Jews was an instrumentalisation, to which even Catholics lent themselves, although the Pope admits that the scope of the measure should have been better clarified. The Church does not go back on Vatican II, but Vatican II does not constitute a fracture, a new beginning, with respect to the two thousand years of Christian history. It is to be wished for that all the bishops, also and especially those who have criticised the Pope, read well the humble and strong words of the Servant of the Servants of God and understand the attitude of a merciful father, which seeks to foster the unity of those who believe in Christ, to bear witness of Him in a world that has made God disappear from its horizon.

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28 Responses to Tornielli’s commentary on the Pope’s Letter

  1. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    May God bless His Holiness, Pope Benedict!

  2. Paul M says:

    It is an articulated, beautiful, humble and at the same time strong text That absolutely nails it. I am ever amazed at the clarity and sincerity of the Holy Father’s writing and speeches.

    Do you think this quote, “I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who ultimately could have known better how things stand, have thought it necessary to strike at me with a hostility ready to attack. is directed at some bishops or at laity?

    It is also clear that the Williamson case has really opened his eyes to the power of modern communications. I do hope that he is better served by his communication folks in the future.

  3. Creagh says:

    “The fact that the Fraternity of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical position in the Church is not based ultimately on disciplinary grounds but on doctrinal ones”

    With respect, Fr Z. I read this passage differently and hence would disagree with your commentary. I would argue that the Holy Father is of the mind that that the issue with the SSPX is not a matter of disobedience but rather doctrinal. i.e. doctrinal disobedience, if you like, rather than disciplinary. Hence his move towards incorporating Ecclesia Dei into the CDF?

  4. PMT says:

    Laudetur Iesus Christus, Nunc et Semper!

    Not just does this put into perspective the whole SSPX issue and Williamson but makes clarifying statements about Vatican II and the entire patrimony of the Catholic Church. The Hermeneutic of Continuity is clearly expressed. John Henry Newmann and Johann Adam Mohler would be quite proud! I think this letter also provides a great starting point and Instrumentum Laboris for doctrinal dialogue with the SSPX. I am glad that he has called the SSPX out for their pride and unilateralism. Its about time that all parties involved be fairly treated in Truth and Justice!

    Deo Benedicat Benedictus Magnus!

  5. Paul Haley says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,

    Supposedly, the letter contains the following text:

    I hear that closely following the news on the Internet would have allowed knowledge to be obtained of the problem. I learn from the fact that we at the Holy See have to pay careful attention to this news source in the future.

    Wouldn’t it be grand if you were to offer the Holy Father a sub-forum on this forum entitled: “Ask the Holy Father”. and he was to accept graciously? Like maybe one day a week, with only respectful questions allowed – No Pope or bishop or church bashing allowed? Whatddya think, is it possible? Can you get an invitation to him? [I could, in fact, get the invitation to him and no, I won't send it, for it is impossible.]

  6. Luigi says:

    “…to read what happened as a change of direction with respect what was determined by the Council in the relations with the Jews was an instrumentalisation, to which even Catholics lent themselves…”

    Indeed a great deal if not the majority of this heartache can be laid directly at the feet of renegade Catholics. At least of the Jews who misread it this way we can say they were largely moved by fear and sensitivity borne of the horors of the Shoa, but the progressive Catholics were largely moved my sheer hatred of Benedict XVI and the faith that he embodies.

  7. Michael says:

    I think that one can discern that the heaviest words are between the lines, and addressed to the hierarchies, which, with admirable individual exceptions, have done everything to widen the chasm with the SSPX; by neglecting their duties as teachers, pastors and sanctifiers. And, obviously, an ex-territorial world-wide diocese with its own parishes, schools and seminaries, directly under the Holy See, would be a nightmare for them – that is what they are afraid.

  8. Creagh: i.e. doctrinal disobedience, if you like, rather than disciplinary. Hence his move towards incorporating Ecclesia Dei into the CDF?

    A closer connection of the PCED with the CDF would not be for reasons of disciplining members of the SSPX, through the canonical section of the CDF.

    This connection would more than like aim at preparing the way for doctrinal discussions with the SSPX’s leadership and their delegates.

  9. Our diocesan paper hardly carries ANY news, but it did include a story about how the Pope had pardoned an anti-Semite. These people will have to answer before God for their actions.

  10. Craigmaddie says:

    I’m a little hesitant about the greater connection of PCED to the CDF as I am aware that some members of the doctrinal division of the CDF were not greatly enamoured of the motu proprio. But we shall see.

  11. Wonderful, This Man is a blessing to the Church,sadly however, how long will it take for someone to try and tear this apart

  12. Rita says:

    The media is already blazing the headline “Pope writes letter about Holocaust denier”. It is sickening.

  13. Martin G says:

    The New Liturgical Movement also has a full English translation
    http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/

  14. I think the letter (the translation at least through NLM) is very well done. I wish Pope Benedict was in his 60′s! We might then look forward to a 20 year pontificate!

    As to the transfer of Ecclesia Dei to the CDF, this makes great sense to me. He is dealing with the issues as they are. It is not simply a matter of liturgy, there is a doctrinal component that has to be addressed if the reunion is to be a lasting one.

  15. Steve K. says:

    Rita –

    “The media is already blazing the headline “Pope writes letter about Holocaust denier”. It is sickening.”

    This is why I believe that people made too much of the Vatican’s PR blunders when the Williamson affair broke. Many people chalked it up to PR issues, which fails to recognize the hostile media landscape we operate in. We need to exercise some expectation management: all the PR savvy in the world will still not win us a fair hearing in the media, so the distortion and lies will continue. Last I checked, the Prince of the Air was ultimately still owner and CEO of that operation.

  16. John says:

    If PCED is merging with CDF, does that man the clarification document on summorum pontificum is dead?

  17. Christa says:

    “At times” – he ends with a pinch of bitterness – “one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which it does not reserve any tolerance; which one can unperturbedly set upon with hatred. And if someone dares to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses the right to tolerance and even he may be treated with hatred without fear and restraint.”

    A more laser-like observation of the modern public arena I have not seen, and people from both sides of controversy, whether political or religious, should take this to heart.

  18. jacques says:

    In other words: The Vatican II Council never was intended to call a rupture in the Church’s story.
    Those who distorted it in a superdogma superseding 19 centuries of Tradition are guilty of a grave
    abuse of power on the theologically weak faithfuls who relied on their hierachy to clarify the issues at
    stake.
    Those who didn’t dare to oppose such views by fear of being referred as retrograde and narrow minded
    were almost as guilty.

  19. Very poignant, and very deeply moving. And it puts me in mind of one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes, from a Father Brown mystery:

    “We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”

  20. Fenton says:

    This should be sent to major newspapers (those that are still in business), especially the Richmond Time Dispatch, who wrote a scathing anti-Benedict editorial this week.

  21. Steve K. says:

    Fenton, I wonder if any Sullivanites in the diocese helped with that editorial?

  22. Kevin L says:

    Just finished the English version of the letter myself. If the love shown by this Pope, the straight forward thinking and plain speaking of this Pope can not bring us all together, I fear it can’t be done. God bless this true servant of God.

  23. Richard says:

    PCED to CDF? Angelqueen.org, 3-9-09, reports Card. Hoyos to retire before Easter. Levada in charge at CDF. Fr. Z, what do you speculate will happen? Like, John, I am wondering about the “clarifications”. I’m dealing with roadblocks to requests for implementation of SP. Fluency in Latin, suitable facility, etc.

  24. robk says:

    Our pope is wise indeed, and we are truly blessed to have him lead the Church. I pray that we sinners who fill the Church follow humbly where he leads us. May God bless the Pope as he has blessed the Church with his leadership!

  25. teresa says:

    I am confident that the SSPX wants to be a part of our Mother Church! They are recommending the standard work of Ludwig Ott “Grundriß der Dogmatik”, written in 1981, on their homepage now!

    And they posts the letter of the Pope on their homepage too.

    see:
    http://www.fsspx.info/news/

  26. teresa says:

    Oh, sorry, I made a mistake, the book of Ludwig Ott was written in 1951, but it’s still widely used in the Church.

  27. Paul Haley says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,

    I hope you didn’t take my suggestion on the Holy Father having a sub-forum the wrong way. It could be impossible for many reasons not the least if which is his busy schedule, [That, mainly, and other problems.] technical compatibility issues, your already busy schedule and the possible hate mail that might be sent his way and yours as well. I accept your comment on the idea and will leave it at that. Thanks for considering it.

  28. Emilio III says:

    I would imagine the clarification document on summorum pontificum would now come from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments rather than from PCED. There is no need to associate it with brethren separated for doctrinal reasons, is there?