Bp. of East Anglia (England) comments on SSPX excommunications

His Excellency Most Rev. Michael Evans, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia has commented on his website about the lifting of the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops.

Shall we have a look?  My emphases and comments:

STILL IN SCHISM AND VIEWS REJECTED [Has His Lordship really not heard that the Holy See does not consider the SSPX formally to be in schism?]

There has understandably been much reaction, mostly very negative, to the news of the lifting of the excommunication of four bishops associated with Archbishop Lefebvre’s Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X, particularly in relation to one of those bishops, Richard Williamson, who has denied the full reality of the Holocaust, suggesting that ‘only’ 300,000 rather than 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, and none in gas chambers.  Dismay and anger sums up the response of many, especially members of the Jewish community, but also ordinary faithful Catholics.
The media presentation of the lifting of the excommunications has certainly helped to distort the meaning of this gesture [Catholic media included, as well as the erroneous statements of some high ranking churchmen] by the Holy Father, who wished to remove one important impediment standing in the way of opening the door to dialogue with this schismatic group [again, the Holy See does not consider the SSPX to be in formal schism, though that is the fear as time passes] which has long refused to accept key teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The media has generally confused ‘lifting an excommunication’ with ‘reconciliation with the Catholic Church’, and therefore suggested that these four bishops and their groups are now fully restored to the Catholic Church.  This is not the case.  [The fact is, the lifting of the excommunications means that those four men may now enter a church and go to confession or Last Rites, and if they are in the state of grace receive Communion like everyone else.]
In recent years, various excommunications have been lifted as first steps in the hope of ending schisms and enabling unity.  The lifting of the excommunications between Rome and the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1965, by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, was a good example: this great gesture of friendship has not yet led to full communion between the two Churches.   [The problem is that the Orthodox were a real Church in formal schism.  The SSPX is neither in the eyes of the Holy See.]

Although the lifting of the excommunication has freed these bishops from a grave canonical penalty, it has not changed the juridical situation of the Priest Fraternity of St Pius X, which does not have canonical recognition within the Catholic Church.   The four bishops, although no longer excommunicated, have no canonical function within the Church and cannot licitly exercise ministry within it.
The Holy See has made clear that an indispensable condition for any future recognition of the Fraternity of St Pius X is the full acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  This is a vital point!  [And it is a point which hasn’t been made very clear, either.  It is hard to know what "acceptance" means.]
The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father.  In order to function as a bishop in the Church in the future, [why would he have to do that?] he would have to distance himself – in an absolute, unequivocal and public way – from his present position on the Holocaust.
The Lefebvrist movement is schismatic, [But it is not in schism.  It might be schismatic in the sense that it is tending toward schism if this goes on, but it is not in schism formally, according to the Holy See.] and cannot be restored to full communion with the Catholic Church until it accepts the teaching of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of all Popes after Pope Pius XII as well as those they accept before then.

Your Excellencies… please get this straight?  Otherwise, it was a fairly sound letter.

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  1. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    How many of these bishops such as that of East Anglia do not want any reconciliation of the FSSPX…period?

    Could such persons ever really accept full communion with the local Lefebvrist Mass centre?

    As time moves on, where will the real schism be?

  2. dcs says:

    I’m not sure that the lifting of the excommunications by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras are a good analogy anyway. The people involved (Caerularius, Cardinal Humbert, St. Leo IX) were long dead at the time. (Which just goes to show, contra some commentators, that a censure cannot be lifted from a dead person, so perhaps Msgr. Lefebvre’s censure can be lifted after all.)

  3. FrGregACCA says:

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see how Rome cannot regard the SSPX as being in schism. Not only do the four bishops remain inhibited, but the lower clergy as well, and they all continue to function sacerdotally in spite of that fact. Or is this a question of a material schism that does not sink to the level of formal schism? But what could such a distinction mean in this instance?

  4. Antiquarian says:

    It’s nit-picking to the Nth degree, but I note that in the article itself, he refers to the SSPX as “schismatic” which, as Father Z points out, it might be in one sense of the word. But only the headline uses the term “in schism.” Newspaper columnists rarely write their own headlines– might His Excelleny’s webmaster have written this one?

  5. Martin J. says:

    Father Z. When has there been a formal announcement from the Holy See or the Vatican that the SSPX is not in schism? I understand that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has made some statements in press interviews where he doesn’t seem to want to use the word but those statements are certainly not official. Everything that I have seen that is an official statement regarding the SSPX, “Ecclesia Dei”, the Council for Bishops, the Pontifical Council for Interpreting Legislative Texts and the numerous responses from Msgr. Perl have all used the word schismatic. Msgr. Perl, especially, used the words “formal adherence to the schism” many times.
    It seems to me that there is more than a bit of private interpretation used regarding this subject.

  6. Matthew M. says:

    At the risk of being harangued for striking a pose ‘more catholic than the Vatican’, may I suggest that there is a difference between the Vatican declining to call it schism, and the Vatican saying explicitly that it is not a schism?

    There may be many good and prudent reasons for the holy offices to not throw the word ‘schism’ around. The word certainly doesn’t build good will from the FSSPX, and good will is sorely needed to heal the.. um… breach.

    But unless I am mistaken, no office of the Vatican has come right out and said no no, it’s definitely not a schism. So why would a bishop (or a lowly commenter on a blog) be wrong to use their common sense and conclude that a group of priests long acting in defiance of Rome and the bishops of the Church is, in fact, in a schism? Or is there some higher threshold that must be met to be a ‘schism’?

  7. Shzilio says:

    This is my favorite part:

    The media presentation of the lifting of the excommunications has certainly helped to distort the meaning of this gesture [Catholic media included, as well as the erroneous statements of some high ranking churchmen]

    Now that’s funny I don’t care who you are. With regard to one of the other issues being discussed: “I intend to believe what Fr. Z intends to say.”

  8. veritas says:

    Does anybody at the BBC know anything about any religion other than Islam? The newsreport about the arrival of Williamson back in England is quite misleading and would greatly benefit from Fr Z’s red pencil and comments. The gentleman in illicit episcopal orders is being used to discredit catholicism.

  9. William Young says:

    On a point of information: English Bishops are styled “Right Reverend”, Archbishops “Most Reverend”.

  10. supertradmom says:

    Are Catholic Bishops in England no longer addressed as “My Lord”? I lived in England until 1996 and was married by a Bishop. At that time, the Bishops were all addressed as “My Lord”, because they used to be in the House of Lords like the Anglican Bishops. When did this custom change? Addressing them as such shows their continuity with the pre-Reformation Catholic Church in England.

    And, no wonder people in the pew are confused if Bishops cannot define proper relationships, such as that of the SSPX with the Church.

  11. Paul Haley says:

    Hatred and enmities die hard don’t they? If you can’t be merciful like the Holy Father, continue to use the “s” word to castigate. ostracize and marginalize the Fraternity. This is getting to the point where it is outrageous – to continue to attack the Fraternity when they are so close to being regularized by the Holy See. It makes one wonder about the true motives of some bishops who claim to be in communion with Rome. But, I think the Holy Father knows full well who his friends are and I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those who claim friendship but sow division and hatred.

  12. Bob K. says:

    Father when you go to London, why don’t you try to meet with Bishop Michael and discuss this article with him.

  13. Ron says:

    I don’t understand this part: “The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father. In order to function as a bishop in the Church in the future, [why would he have to do that?] he would have to distance himself – in an absolute, unequivocal and public way – from his present position on the Holocaust.”

    What does Williamson’s view on the historical event of the Holocaust have to do with him being in full communion with the Church? Is it now a dogma demanding assent?

    I am genuinely confused about that.

    Pax Christi tecum

  14. Simon-Peter says:

    A predecessor of the present bishop of East Anglia was very much ‘my Lord’. The use of the term is dependent on whoever the bishop is at the moment. Some mind, some don’t.

    Thanks for commenting on the article by my bishop; it’s good to see something local on WDTPRS. We get left out a bit in East Anglia!

  15. Michael says:

    Father Z,

    Re: Orthodox. Is there any formal document asserting that they are “in formal schism”?

    Re: SSPX v. Post-Pius XII teaching. Are you suggesting that the reconciliation is possible without the SSPX accepting all that, with the “Religious Assent” at least? Or that they can pick and choose, according to their notion of “tradition”?

  16. Paul Haley says:

    Comment by Michael — 25 February 2009 @ 7:56 am

    Re: SSPX v. Post-Pius XII teaching. Are you suggesting that the reconciliation is possible without the SSPX accepting all that, with the “Religious Assent” at least? Or that they can pick and choose, according to their notion of “tradition”?

    I believe their position will be something along the lines of:

    What the Church has always taught, held and professed to be true, we give our full assent. What appears to us to be something new, we promise to study and reflect upon with the hope that we can reconcile it to what the Church has always taught, held and professed to be true.

    But, I hasten to add the foregoing is only my take on what their position might be. Now, the million dollar question is\” Will the Holy See accept that as sufficient for regularization? I dunno.

  17. LeonG says:

    This is how the irresponsible majority of bishops in SE Asia behave towards any tradition at all. And mention SSPX and they foam at the mouth: murmuring schism, excommunication and loss of faith. You have to live here to witness some of the appalling ignorance of churchmen about Catholicism itself and events in The Church. If it were not so damaging it would be risible.
    For those who would like to cross over, as it were and go to a normal Roman Catholic Holy Sacrifice of Mass in its customary tongue they fear episcopal reprisals.

  18. Calleva says:

    I’m not sure what the purpose of this letter is. It looks like a polite distancing of himself from the position of the Holy See. If the bishop of East Anglia were Pope, no doubt he would not have lifted the excommunication from Williamson, and probably not the SSPX either, but he’s not the Pope. I am more impressed by those bishops in Germany and North America who have rallied to defence of the Holy Father and tried to put right the erroneous reporting in the secular media, and the stubborn misrepresenting by the liberal wing of the Church.

  19. LeonG says:

    Anyone who is up-to-date with the episcopate in UK has to admit much of it is bordering on de facto schism itself. Parishes have been seriously decimated and the shortage of vocations is terrifying. The cardinal Archbishop of Westminster seems to have invented a new religion at times.

  20. LCB says:

    I look forward to all the men of undoubtable goodwill, who are demanding that the SSPX “accept the teaching of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council”, acknowledging documents such as Sacrosanctum Concillium:

    “22.3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

    I trust that His Lordship will be championing that cause throughout his Diocese and all England.

  21. LeonG says:

    The exploitation of labels like “lefebvrism” and “lefebvrist” gives away the bias of the user – such a movement has never existed except in the fear of minds that are antipathetic towards a Confraternity that unambiguously defends traditional Catholicism and desires only The Holy Mass as it was before The Councils. The Archbishop never wanted to create a separate church but defend what he had been given and to hand it on to others.

  22. Lourdes says:

    The more I read about the SSPX issue and acceptance of the Second Vatican Council, the more I wonder whether or not our current bishops and clergy show the same acceptance of that Council. It appears that there is quite a distorted interpretation of Council documents in many parishes and dioceses. Perhaps we should have the whole of the hierarchy re-state their acceptance of the Council and its documents “as written”. That may flush out more dissenters than the 4 SSPX bishops!

  23. LeonG says:



    Have you read this article?


    A more complete version is available on Catholic World News.

  24. John Kusske says:

    Am I the only person who immediately thinks of the old Monty Python skit about people pretending to be the Bishop of East Anglia when I see this story?

  25. John Kusske,

    You are not – it was the first thought that crossed my mind as well!

  26. Michael says:

    Paul Haley,
    I was interested to learn Fr. Z.\’ view, because he frequently refers to this subject in such a way that I wonder what he has in mind.

    As to your view, I think the Pope would turn a blind eye and let it go that way, because there are much worse things going on among many who are in \”full communion\” and of \”good standing\”, and are tolerated.

    The SSPX could be a right hand to the Pope, if independant of local Bishops, and yet lawfully on their territories; if only they would stop insisting on their nonsense \”theology\”.

  27. LCB says:


    I have. The New Liturgical Movement should be required reading for everyone, daily.

  28. Michael J says:

    Martin et al

    No, the Holy See has not come out with a definitive statement saying that the SSPX is not in schism. Neither has it come out with a definitive statement that the society is schismatic either (use of the word “schismatic” in “official” documents notwithstanding). Cardinal Hoyos, Msgr. Perl and (indirectly) the Holy Father have all stated that there is no schism. Why you choose to disbelieve them or believe that they are lying and instead use your “common sense” to come to an opposite conclusion is beyond me.

  29. ssoldie says:

    It amazes me how so many are so upset with the Holy Father lifting the excommunion of the four Bishops of the Fsspx. I am so very happy and will leave everything of this in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI,the four Bishops and the Holy Ghost.I believe we all would be better to pray,pray,pray for the Holy Father and these four Bishop, now that would be a much more productive, and much more Catholic.

  30. Patrick says:

    This letter seems to be very good. The bishop is clarifying the situation for his flock so that they understand what is being done, and so they are not informed solely by a completely mistaken media. This is a good move and should be applauded. I hardly think we can fault the Bishop for referring to the SSPX situation in the same terms as the Holy See. Shouldn’t we all be glad that a bishop is clearly telling his flock what the Holy See has declared?

  31. Mark says:

    Ms. Deborah Lipstadt, whose blog I enjoy reading very much for her insights, generosity of spirit, and integrity, is following the Williamson scandal, which seems to be heading deeper into the same hole. It would not surprise me if Mr. Williamson, Mr. Irving and Lady Renouf joined in a “coalition”, and split the SSPX. One way to gage the internal condition of this group is to see how much of a following Williamson will pull with him.

    Link is below:


  32. FrGregACCA says:

    Mark, I’d never heard of Lady Renouf before, but David Irving, of course, is notorious on the question of the Holocaust. Be that as it may, I’ve been waiting for the SSPX to split for some time, with Williamson and others venturing into sede land.

  33. Mark says:

    Williamson undoubtedly knows how miserably Irving lost with Ms. Deborah Lipstadt, yet these reports indicate he’s associating with his camp.

    Why would Williamson toy with the idea of precipitating a rerun of the Irving trial, unless he truly believes he’s on some kind of crusade?

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