Because of the good progress of the last few years with the SSPX, His Holiness has now taken the next, logical step.
Pope Benedict has now implemented what he said he would do concerning the ad hoc Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei". He has fused it into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, making the Prefect of the CDF, ex officio, the Commission’s President and retaining the office of a Secretary and giving it also staff.
The Pope did this by means of a new Motu Proprio, Ecclesiae unitatem, signed on the anniversary of the establishment of the PCED in 1988.
This was the next and logical step in a long process.
Keep in mind that Cardinal Castrillon sent a letter to SSPX Bishop and Superior Bernard Fellay enumerating various point that the SSPX had to adhere to before any further dialogue could take place. The SSPX effectively signed off on those points. This signaled an attitude toward continuing dialogue. The next step could be taken.
The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (which was right to issue regardless of the existence of the SSPX) was gesture of good will concerning a division over liturgy. This was a relatively easy thing to do, despite the controversy, because it merely expanded the rights priests should have already clearly enjoyed.
The Holy Father then did another relatively easy thing in lifting the excommunications incurred with the four SSPX bishops in accepting illicit consecration in 1988. Censures are meant to remedy a problem. The problem wasn’t being remedied. It was clear that something else had to be done to remedy the situation. Thus, despite the controversy, this was a relatively easy thing to do.
Once those relatively easy things were done, the really hard part begins. The doctrinal discussions. The Holy Father has now provided a structure in the Curia, in the proper dicastery, for those doctrinal discussion.
Keep in mind that no one in the Curia has a better handle on the issues surrounding the SSPX and their concerns than Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.
Here is my fast translation of Ecclesiae unitatem, released in Latin and Italian only, with my emphases and comments. I worked mainly from the Italian text, since surely that was the language of composition, checking against the Latin. Thus, I included the papal "We" from the Latin (not the Italian) because … well… I like it.
of the Supreme Pontiff
given Motu Proprio
1.The task of guarding the unity of the Church, with the concern for offering to all the aids for responding in an opportune way to this vocation and divine grace, pertains in a particular way to the Successor of the Apostle Peter, who is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity both of Bishops and of the faithful. The supreme and fundamental priority of the Church, in every age, of leading men towards an encounter with God must be promoted through the undertaking of attaining the common witness of faith of all Christians.
2. In adherence to this mandate, subsequent to the act by which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on 30 June 1988, illicitly conferred episcopal ordination on four priests, Pope John Paul II, of venerable memory, instituted, on 2 July 1988, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei "with the task of collaborating with the bishops, with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, in order to facilitate full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, communities or individual religious men and women until now in various ways connected to the Fraternity founded by [Archbp.] Lefebvre, who would wish to remain united to the Successor Peter in the Catholic Church, preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in light of the Protocol signed on 5 May, last, by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mons. Lefebvre". [This was the Protocol which spoke of a canonical status for the SSPX and which said they could have a bishop. That same night, Archbp. Lefevbre, for whatever reason, repudiated the Protocol and determined to consecrated bishops himself. Pope Benedict is citing this old Protocol as a signal. It is a reference to a moment when the Church and SSPX were very close to pulling the pieces together.]
3. In this way, adhering faithfully to the same task of serving the universal communion of the Church in her also visible expression and fulfilling every effort so that to all those who truly have the desire for unity it might be made possible to remain in it or to find it anew, We (Lat. voluimus) desired to widen and update, with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the general indications already contained in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei concerning the possibility of using the Missale Romanum of 1962, through more precise and detailed norms.
4. In the same spirit and the same effort of fostering the overcoming of every break and division in the Church and to heal a wound felt in an ever more painful way in the ecclesial fabric, We desired to remit the excommunication of the four Bishops ordained illicitly by Mons. Lefebvre. With such a decision, We intended to take away an obstacle which could have jeopardized the opening of a door to dialogue and in this way invite the Bishops and the "Fraternity of Saint Pius X" to regain the path towards full communion with the Church. As We explained in the Letter to the Catholic Bishops of 10 March, last, the remission of the excommunication was a provision in the sphere of ecclesiastical discipline in order to free those persons from the burden of conscience represented by the gravest ecclesiastical censure. But the doctrinal questions, obviously, remain and, so long they are not clarified, the Fraternity does not have a canonical statute in the Church, and its ministers cannot in a legitimate way exercise any ministry. [Again, the canonical status of the priests of the SSPX and the bishops has not changed.]
5. Precisely because the problems which must now be treated with the Fraternity are of an essentially doctrinal nature, We have decided – twenty-one years after the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, and as We had planned to do – to rethink the structure of the Commission Ecclesia Dei, joining it more closely with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
6. Consequently, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will have the following configuration:
a) The President of the Commission is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
b) The Commission has its own staff structure, comprising a Secretary and Officials.
c) It will be the task of the President, aided by the Secretary, to present the principle cases and questions of a doctrinal nature to the study and discernment of the ordinary instances of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as to submit the results to the superior dispositions of the Supreme Pontiff. [So… this seems to restrict the mandate of the PCED. There will probably be some other document, probably not released to the public, which specifies the Commission’s mandate.]
7. With this decision, We have desired, in particular, to display our parternal solicitude to the "Fraternity of Saint Pius X" in order to regain full communion with the Church. We address a pressing invitation to all to pray to the Lord without ceasing, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "ut unum sint".
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 2 July 2009, the fifth of Our Pontificate.
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
1. Cfr Conc. Oecum. Vat. II, Const. dogm. de Ecclesia, Lumen gentium, 23; Conc. Oecum. Vat. I, Const. dogm. de Ecclesia Christi Pastor aeternus, c. 3: DS 3060.
2. Ioannes Paulus II, Litt. ap. motu proprio datae Ecclesia Dei (2 Iulii 1988), n. 6: AAS 80 (1988), 1498.
3. Cfr Benedictus XVI, Litt. ap. motu proprio datae Summorum Pontificum (7 Iulii 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 777-781.
4. Cfr ibid. art. 11, 781.
Again… and this cannot be repeated often enough… this was the next logical step.
The PCED is now the the tip of the CDF’s spear for the doctrinal discussions with the SSPX.
I suspect that because that in this new Motu Proprio the Holy Father was silent about the liturgical dimension of the work of the PCED, silent about its ability to reconcile individual priests and religious or resolve liturgial questions, the PCED may retain those functions for the time being.
Let us not forget that Summorum Pontificum states in its provisions that the PCED is the dicastery of competence in the Curia when there are problems in the implementation of its provisions.
I suspect that, in time, the liturgical dimension of the PCED’s work will be teased out of its mandate and given to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Whether the reconciliation of priests and religious go to the respective dicasteries, I can’t guess at. That is far more problematic. In any event, the CDF is nearly always involved with those cases at some stage anyway.