George Weigel has predictably chimed in on the Pope’s Letter about the lifting of the SSPX excommunications. He wrote on the site of National Review.
My emphases and comments.
March 12, 2009, 0:00 p.m.
Pope Benedict Explains — and Challenges
His March 10 letter reveals a man of exquisite manners and deep pastoral sensitivity.
By George Weigel
One wishes that Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the world’s Catholic bishops on the controversy surrounding the lifting of the excommunications of four dissident Lefebvrist bishops — which was dated March 10 and released publicly today — had not been necessary. Benedict was badly served by the Curia in this affair. A different kind of man and a different kind of pope might have been inclined to take the Olympian view and simply ignore the firestorm caused by the fact that one of the Lefebvrists, an international crank named Richard Williamson, was a longtime Jew-baiter who had recently indulged in the most grotesque form of holocaust denial. For all that the world media’s Rottweiler Brigade has been nipping at his heels ever since the Lefebvrist storm broke, [longer] however, Benedict XVI is not that kind of man, and he’s not that kind of pope. He is, in fact, a man of exquisite manners and deep pastoral sensitivity, who knew that something unprecedented was required of him to set things aright. Both of those qualities are amply displayed in his letter.
[So far so good.]
The letter makes several crucial points.
The pope candidly acknowledges that what he had intended as a gesture of mercy backfired badly [Well… the story isn’t over yet. It hasn’t backfired until it has failed, which is by no means the case yet.] : “A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation . . . turned into its very antithesis: an apparent [apparent is the key here] step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the council — steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.”
The pope further acknowledged that this fiasco was in part the fault of inept work by the Curia, and that it was “our Jewish friends who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore [an] atmosphere of friendship and trust. . . .”
As for ensuring against such problems in the future, the pope made the necessary bureaucratic move: [Weigel now assumes that the PCED is to be blamed and that the Pope blames the PCED for the "fiasco".] the Ecclesia Dei Commission, established as an independent agency by John Paul II afer [sic] the Lefebrvist [sic] schism in 1988, and charged with reconciling Levebvrists [sic] and others who wanted to return to full communion, has been [will be, I believe, not "has been", or am I missing something?] put under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There will be no more free-lancing [interesting… an image also used by John Thavis of CNS… ] from Ecclesia Dei, which had become a loose cannon careening around the ecclesial deck. [Do you accept the premise that the PCED was a loose cannon? I don’t. Perhaps this is simple prejudice on the part of the writer. Instead, I think that the Card. Castrilon did in fact in the main keep Pope Benedict informed about the over all vector of his pursuits.]
The reining in of Ecclesia Dei and its subordination to the Catholic Church’s principal doctrinal office also sends an important signal to the Levebvrist leadership, which has continued to insist throughout this affair that it represents “the Tradition” (always capitalized) and that it continues to have the gravest doubts about the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on religious freedom, [Which itself is not sinful, I think.] on the nature of the Church, [Does the SSPX have doubts about the "nature of the Church"? I can think of a few progressivists who do, but I thought the SSPX was pretty clear about the nature of the Church. Therein lies part of the conflict with many in the mainstream. Or am I getting this wrong?] and on the Church’s relationship with other religious communities. [Again… I think the SSPX has a few doubts on this score. But, what seems to be going on here is that the writer is painting the SSPX with a very broad brush indeed, and in the colors he chooses, rather than those which accurately depict it.] Benedict XVI’s letter makes clear that, while he recognizes that most of the Lefbvrist [sic] faithful couldn’t care less about Catholic church-state theory and simply want to worship in the manner of their grandparents, [Does the Holy Father recognize this in the Letter? Surely it is true, but is that in the Letter?] he also understands that the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX], which is the embodiment of the Lefebvrist [sic] movement, tilts toward forms of doctrinal dissent more typically found on the Catholic Left. [This is left unexplained by Weigel, but it may be in some way true. I have mused about this possibility elsewhere.] The unmistakable implication is that there will be no reconciliation or restoration of full communion until the Lefebvrist leadership acknowledges Vatican II as an authentic expression of Catholic faith. One might suggest that this process would be advanced were the leadership of the SSPX to cease referring to itself as the incarnation of “the Tradition,” [Yes, that is annoying and unhelpful.] as if it were the rest of the Catholic Church that went into schism in 1988.
At the same time, the pope’s letter reminds Catholic progressives that Catholicism did not begin at Vatican II, or even begin anew at Vatican II. The Council’s documents have to be read in the light of 2,000 years of Christian tradition, not read against that tradition. The Church began with the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, which Christians will celebrate one month from now on Good Friday and Easter; the Church did not begin on December 7, 1965, when Paul VI promulgated the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”
The papal letter also includes a powerful plea to Catholics to re-focus on the real issues of the day: “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority [for everyone in the Church] is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai . . . that God whose face we recognize . . . in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.” Thus the pope puts into the proper context the problems posed by both the Lefebvrist schism [Note that in the Letter, the Holy Father speaks of "danger" of schism, not its fact. Also, Card. Castrillon, presently the favorite scapegoat, has been saying what the Holy Father said: there is danger of schism. Now… believe me… I am a strong proponent of the duck argument in these matters. But when I hear more than once from the President of the PCED and now the Pope a particular manner of speaking of the SSPX and schism, I tend to accept it more easily. But "Lefebvrist" is spelled correctly here. Read on, however…] and the psychological schism in which some Catholic progressives live [NB: I am willing to accept "psychological schism" on both sides, but at this time not the implication that the SSPX is in formal schism.] — both forms of schism [problem: I don’t think there are twor forms of schism at work here. Weigel suggests that there are similarities between the progressivists’s errors and those of members of the SSPX. Fine. I think his train of thought derails with the implication of a formal schism on the part of the SSPX. Also, I would ask: If there is a schism on both sides, which side would really be harder to reconcile? The SSPX or the progressivists. I think we are talking about very different attitudes, all in all. Simply to place them on opposite extremes isn’t quite right.] impede the evangelical mission of the Church at a moment when that mission has acquired a new urgency. [If I am not mistaken, the Holy Father in his Letter implies that the SSPX members, once reconciled, have something positive to contribute. I don’t get that same sense from the contributions of the other type of rupture Catholics.]
It remains to be seen whether Benedict XVI will now take in hand a reform of the personnel and practices of the Roman Curia, which is essential if the evangelical brilliance of this pontificate is to fulfill its great potential. [That is fair. A change in personel is very much needed. I think Rodari’s assessments are useful in understanding this.] For the moment, however, the Rottweiler Brigade [and ironic and nice turn of phrase, considering that Papa Ratzinger for a long time was contunamciously nick-named "God’s Rottweiler".] has been put in its place; a major flaw in the Roman bureaucracy has been fixed; the Church has been reminded of the dynamic relationship between tradition and development in Catholic self-understanding; Catholics living in both formal and informal schism [there it is again… the wrong move that undermines Weigel’s argument] have been told, politely but firmly, that they are impeding the Church’s mission; the psychological path has been cleared for a successful papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May; and, as Jews approach Passover and Christians approach Easter, both have been reminded that their inevitable entanglement is of the will of God, as St. Paul tried to explain to the Romans two millennia ago. That’s accomplishment enough for one letter.
— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
The piece has marks of haste, including the typos we who work under stress often slip into with the willing pushes of Titivillus.
I sense at the back of this both haste – and therefore a not entirely well-considered argument – and a measure of intolerance. Am I being unfair if I wonder if Mr. Weigel is harder on the "rupture" that comes from lack of continuity with the present and future than he is on the rupture that comes from lack of continuity with the past?