LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent 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. That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication. The excommunication affects individuals, not institutions. An episcopal ordination lacking a pontifical mandate raises the danger of a schism, since it jeopardizes the unity of the College of Bishops with the Pope. Consequently the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity. Twenty years after the ordinations, this goal has sadly not yet been attained. The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return. This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council. Here I return to the distinction between individuals and institutions. The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties. This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.

In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” – the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope – to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes. The collegial bodies with which the Congregation studies questions which arise (especially the ordinary Wednesday meeting of Cardinals and the annual or biennial Plenary Session) ensure the involvement of the Prefects of the different Roman Congregations and representatives from the world’s Bishops in the process of decision-making. The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

I hope, dear Brothers, that this serves to clarify the positive significance and also the limits of the provision of 21 January 2009. But the question still remains: Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important? Of course there are more important and urgent matters. I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning. Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action. The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: “You… strengthen your brothers” ( Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” ( 1 Pet 3:15). 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 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 o
n Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1) – 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.

Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority. Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims that God is Love “to the end” has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church’s real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small. That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept. But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who “has something against you” (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation? Should not civil society also try to forestall forms of extremism and to incorporate their eventual adherents – to the extent possible – in the great currents shaping social life, and thus avoid their being segregated, with all its consequences? Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole? I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole. Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church? I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?

Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things – arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc. Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart. But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.

Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this “biting and devouring” also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love? The day I spoke about this at the Major Seminary, the feast of Our Lady of Trust was being celebrated in Rome. And so it is: Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times. And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers. My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter. May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace. This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.

With a special Apostolic Blessing, I remain

Yours in the Lord,


From the Vatican, 10 March 2009

This is, I think, a most remarkable letter. It reads like a letter of St Paul himself – you can hear the Holy Father speaking, expressing his regrets, pleading for his brother bishops to work in unity with him. Even making a wry joke! (“At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate.”)

There is so much in this letter – the style and content of which is quite unique. Prompted by Cardinal Pole, I was going to write about the Papal Bull Exsurge Domine (1520). What a comparison these two letters would make! And about such similar issues!

Ah, that’s for another time. Tell me what you think about this letter (and, PE, please be restrained in your invective – remember Galatians 5:13-15 – and the port bottle).

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36 Responses to LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

  1. Athanasius says:

    Even making a wry joke!

    Actually David, I don’t think that was a joke.

    I agree it is a marvellous letter. If only something similar had been released when the lifting of the excommunications was originally announced.

  2. Schütz says:

    True. One takes the Holy Father at his word when he apologises for this and says “I have learned the lesson”.

  3. Vicci says:

    Bxv1: “I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case."

    DS: "This is, I think, a most remarkable letter. It reads like a letter of St Paul himself"

    ! (only kidding ..)

    Good letter.
    Puts the case for Peace, announces a bit of a 'portfolio reshuffle', &
    doesn't duck responsibility..personal or organisational. Also, stregically, puts a fair bit of onus on The other Party…

    ( Schutz not mentioned personally, but a strong hint to his Good (blog) Works:
    I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.
    Credit where due.

    (it was helpful to cut’n’paste the Letter into a doc, and remove the editing (bold), so that it could be read ‘as written’.)

  4. Vicci says:

    “..stregically ..”
    what the..?

    is “strategically” closer ?

    cridg response to typos

  5. Past Elder says:

    One of the cleverest traps I have ever read.

  6. Schütz says:

    Very restrained, PE. You think he speaks with forked tongue? Who do you think the trap is set for?

    Vicci, I added the bold just to draw attention to those passages I thought to be of greatest interest. You could always have got the original off http://www.vatican.it

    As for Paul’s rhetoric, there is a definite similarity. Having taught Paul a little, I find rhetorical criticism the best way to get into his letters. Similarly, the rhetoric in this letter is pretty strong – eg. the paragraph of the (literally) rhetorical questions.

  7. Peregrinus says:

    Practically everything that man writes blows me away.

    In the interests of insufferably smug self-congratulation, I have to point out that the Pope’s letter confirms a number of points that I made, and that other commenters were very unwilling to accept at the time.

    First, the lifting of the excommunications was not “clearly and adequately explained” at the time; this was a “mistake” which the pope “deeply regrets”. The pope is evidently furious about this. In what by Vatican standards is a fairly public rebuke, he makes it clear that he feels that this happened because the Ecclesia Dei commission had become detached from the real world; organisational steps are to be taken to correct this, and to ensure that the advice and conclusions of the Commission get wider input from people who understand the context better.

    Secondly, the adverse reaction to the lifting of the excommunications was not the result of bigotry and anti-Catholicism. It was the result of the “unforseen mishap” that “the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication”. As a result of this, a “discreet gesture of mercy” [I feel sure that “discreet” is a mistranslation here; the lifting of the excommunication was the subject of a Vatican press conference] “suddenly appeared as . . . the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews”; a “gesture of reconciliation . . . turned into its very antithesis”. The pope presents this in objective terms; the gesture of reconciliation wasn’t “presented” or “perceived” or “misprepresented” as a gesture of repudiation; his language makes it clear that he accepts that was it turned, by the circumstances, into a gesture of repudiation. And there isn’t a hint, a whisper, that this reading of the situation was the outcome of any kind of bigotry, prejudice or bad faith. The pope blames it squarely on (1) the unfortunate coincidence of the Williamson case, and (2) the fact that the remission of the excommunication was “not adequately explained”, which left the field clear for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

    And, thirdly, the Williamson problem was coincidental, but at the same time it was foreseeable. The pope has been told – quite correctly – that “consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on”, and he says that he has learned the relevant lesson. (Google is your friend, your Holiness.)

    He does, to be fair, take a (justified, in my view) swipe at Catholics who “might have had a better knowledge of the situation”, and who chose to attack him, but he only does this in the context of a letter which concedes that it was in large measure the Vatican’s fault that they didn’t have a better knowledge.

    The second half of the letter – I move on from smugness and self-congratulation here – is stunning. The presentation of unity among believers, within and without the church, as a seamless garment underlines how painful to him it must have been to have his overtures towards dissidents within the church turned into an apparent repudiation of the Jews.

    And what David describes a wry joke I don’t think is a joke at all. The reference to our need for a “group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate” points to a real challenge. The group referred to here is antisemites, as exemplified by holocaust deniers, and the impulse referred to here, to find outsiders to despise and hate and fear, is exactly the impulse that we would see them as being in the grip of. Richard Williamson is called to love the Jews, but we are called to love Richard Williamson.

    [biotart: I absolutely refuse to define this one.]

  8. Louise says:

    Secondly, the adverse reaction to the lifting of the excommunications was not the result of bigotry and anti-Catholicism.

    Yeah right!

    I’m sorry, but even if the Pope made an error in this matter the reaction was totally over the top.

    I think I can agree with everything else you wrote, however, Pere.

  9. Peregrinus says:

    Hi Louise

    All I’m saying is, the pope is not backing you up on this.

    As I read it, apart from some Catholics “who might have had a better knowledge of the situation”, the pope sees the reaction as pretty much what was to be expected of an objective reading of his actions, in the unfortunate circumstances in which they took place, and given that no real effort was made to communicate or explain them. He is furious with Cardinal Hoyos (who has been publicly named by other curial cardinals as the man resopnsible for the shambles) and has publicly moved to rein him in and subject his Commission to supervision by other Cardinals. Cardinal Hoyos turns 80 next July; expect his resignation to be accepted within 12 months.

  10. Joshua says:


    I entirely take your point, and my only quibble would be that “group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate” is in fact Traditionalists, both those in some sort of schismatic state – the SSPX – and those who are definitely not schismatics – those who do or would if they could attend the Traditional Mass, and all associated therewith (in which category “here stand I, I can do no other”).

    In my own experience, every species of doctrinal or moral deviation is smiled at by the average Catholic (even the average priest or bishop), but for the “unforgivable sin” of saying “the old is better”: I know personally of priests persecuted, bishops afraid to publically celebrate the Mass they really prefer, and many laity condemned and mocked, despised and given no pastoral charity at all. The liberals stand self-condemned for their hypocrisy in this.

    (Amusing detail I’ve just learnt: two of the monsignori at the front desk of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the very ones who deal with complaints coming before the Commission, in fact hate the old Mass! Staggering but true.)

  11. Joshua says:

    And my last comment correctly diagnoses what seems so bizarre, illogical and fantastic: that priests of a certain age actually have a visceral reaction of hatred and anger when confronted with “the Mass that would not die” – these are the men of the kind who (as I have eyewitnesses to vouch for) literally danced around the pyre as with joy they burnt the Latin liturgical books whose rites only scant years before they had venerated with awe as most holy, and who were encouraged by their own Ordinary, no less, to laugh and mock the sacred ceremonies of the Mass. I have been about to serve Mass and had to bear the priests in the sacristy make rude and philistine comments about even a skerrick of Latin appearing in the list of music to be sung; I have beheld a bishop and his priests in the sacristy, while about to come out to lead devotions before the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, evincing their disgust at having to do so with a straight face, wishing that they had turned down the tour of her holy remains when they had the chance; I have heard so much ignorance and spite expressed by those in sacred orders whenever anything alluding to what came before come up!

    I tremble at what I will face at the Judgement, but would not for the world wish to be in the shoes of such iconoclasts.

  12. Fraser Pearce says:


    I agree that he does seem to be referring to anti-semites as the hate targets.

    When says: ‘And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.’

    I take it that the pope is saying that the violent reaction against the move toward reconciliation was the result of anti-anti-semitism, rather than anything else (say, anti-catholic bigotry).

    Can I take it this is how you see it?

    From my perspective the pope is giving us a wonderful example of Christian charity.

    I happen to read the letter as the pope giving the opportunity for those (including those within the Roman Catholic Church) who reject magisterial teaching to interpret their rather visceral reactions to the lifting of the excommunications as perhaps excusable responses to perceived anti-semitism.

    For what it’s worth, from my non-Roman Catholic perspective, the whole initial reaction seemed to be an opportunity to show rejection of Catholicism and the Pope in particular. It seems likely to me that most of those who responded care more about their rejection of the pope and all he stands for than they care about goodwill to Jewish people.

    But the pope has given me a good witness of a charitable exercise of authority.

    So perhaps it’s just as well that the pope is the pope. He seems to pope pretty well, really.

  13. Paul says:

    It seems very clear to me that the "hate targets" Pope Benedict is referring to are the SSPX community, not anti-semites.

    On a tangent…. the issue which the media links with this is the StMary's parish in South Brisbane. Fr Peter Kennedy is appearing on national TV next Thursday (ABC Q&A
    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/ )
    with, among others, Tony Abbott. Expect a lot of illogical arguments and support for PK, but it might be fun.

  14. Past Elder says:

    Joshua is quite right — Paul too — as to who the needed object of derision is. I could add to Joshua’s list of examples many of my own. You should have seen the fever pitch of this when the Vatican II church was coming about. That is why, in my penchant for Nietzschean flairs, I call it Kristallnacht.

    On other aspects, that a group of professionals assigned to the case should have missed Williamson’s comments re Jews etc, whereas someone like myself who does not follow the RCC except when it hits the general media and who has Wikipedia bookmarked and ran “Williamson” once and who has never Googled him at all should be quite aware of his statements — beyond belief. If it is true, it reveals a level of incompetence that is staggering, and shuddering to think it is manifest at the highest levels of a world-wide corporate structure involving miliions — so staggering and sheddering as to suspect it is not true at all.

    Last, this letter reveals nothing except one more example that Rome cares about nothing, nothing but itself. What was formerly simply Catholic is now dissent; what was formerly dissent is now Catholic; the only thing supplying a continuity for hermeneutics is that the same corporate structure that held the one now holds the other but throught cares for nothing except submission to itself thus showing that submission to be all that “Catholic” is — or, as it turns out, ever was.

  15. Terra says:

    Joshua is surely absolutely right about the group referred to – this is a continuation of a theme of this Pope, most clearly reflected in his comments in France so lovingly misquoted by our friends in South Brisbane regularly.

    And the examples he gives could be magnified a thousand times.

    The Pope has an interesting message about the positive contribution made by traditionalists within the Church since 1988, and the capacity of the SSPX to assist the return to orthodoxy I think.

  16. Tony says:

    The liberals stand self-condemned for their hypocrisy in this.

    While I don’t doubt your experience Joshua, I do take exception to your conclusions.

    My experience of lovers of the extraordinary mass are not ‘here stand I, I can do no other’, it’s ‘here everyone should stand or go to hell in a handbasket’. The contempt for other forms of the mass or just about anything post-VatII is palpable.

    Frankly, I’d only heard of the trads within the last 10 years or so. My first reaction was positive. I thought the mass of my childhood was worth preserving and looked forward, when the opportunity arose, to go to a traditional mass.

    Since then I’ve been thouroughly put off by the arrogance and incapacity to see the POV of others and, as I said, the contempt for ‘everyone else’.

    Notwithstanding all that, I don’t feel I have the right to say ‘The trads stand self-condemned for their hypocrisy in this’ or some other sweeping statement. As with so many other issues, there are extremists on both sides.

    Beyond that, I think Pere’s take on PB16’s missive is right on the money.

    [ungsties: ungainly underwear]

  17. Fraser Pearce says:

    Fun comments!

    Having gone back and read the paragraph (and the preceeding and following paragraphs) again, I have to agree that the pope must be talking about the SSPX in particular.

    What threw me was the use of ‘our society’.

    I thought ‘our society’ meant, well, the Western World. In that case, ‘our society’ wouldn’t have a clue about the SSPX, other than that they are (at least in the media presentation) anti-semites.

    But if ‘our society’ in context of the preceding and following paragraphs means the Catholic church (and it does seem to), well, he must be talking about the SSPX as such.

    And that’s my final decison.

    Unless somebody else changes my mind.

  18. Lucian says:

    Cheap anti-Catholic rant, fitting the season … >:)

  19. Joshua says:

    Yes, Tony, I have come across such self-righteous Traddies – but do make allowances for all that they’ve suffered, which tends to make them very suspicious, very touchy, and prone to delusions of persecution. Because they find the Novus Ordo traumatic, they tend to make sweeping statements about how it ought be got rid of – forgetting that the same was done to them, and that that was a disaster. As I’ve pointed out to Traddies, no one seems to know except anecdotally how many Catholics were driven away by all the liturgical and other changes, which to simple folks appeared to call all of what had been taught as the truth into question; those still at the Ordinary form of Mass are those who either have put up with the changes, liked them, or know nothing else. Obviously, while a Reform of the Reform is I think called for, it must not be done in the heavyhanded unpastoral manner that the suppression of the old Mass and introduction of the new was implemented in the late 1960’s. Finally, for years (and again now) I’ve been only on the edge of Traddie circles, since I didn’t have access to the Traditional Mass more than say once a month or so; it was only my two years in Perth, Western Australia, where I went to the Traditional Mass almost exclusively (with toward the end a modern Mass only once a month), that I became integrated into the Trad. mindset, and frankly I grew to dislike by comparison the modern Mass (though of course fully admitting its validity, liceity and spiritual benefits), and even to avoid it. And you’ll be aware that it is the mediocre state of liturgy in most parishes that is revolted against by Traddies – all the annoying rubbish one has to endure.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “While I don’t doubt your experience Joshua, I do take exception to your conclusions.

    My experience of lovers of the extraordinary mass are not ‘here stand I, I can do no other’, it’s ‘here everyone should stand or go to hell in a handbasket’. The contempt for other forms of the mass or just about anything post-VatII is palpable.”

    Come, come, Tony. Of course there will be those with that opinion. But many are not. Many of course would like the Extraordinary Form Mass to be the normative rite, mainly because they feel that its strengths should be experienced by the entire church (as well as being allowed to them). Objectively, they would argue, the Extraordinary Form is a superior right because, inter alia, it more clearly expresses Catholic belief in the Real Presence and the alternative NO is (a) deficient – not invalid – but deficient as a rite and (b) AS CELEBRATED virtually everywhere ranges on a spectrum from uninspiring, to tawdry to heretical.

    Thankfully we are now getting to the point where the Novus Ordo can legitimately be criticised for its deficiencies without that indicating a rejection of its validity. Whilst many traddies would like the NO deleted for such reasons, the minimum would be for it to be re-written, more in line with traditional belief and practice. Hence we come to the Reform of the Reform, which is beginning to get serious.


  21. Past Elder says:

    Would that it were so.

    Unfortunately, this “reform of the reform” stuff of late still does not understand what the “reform” really is, a more conservative point on the same spectrum as that which thinks “excesses”.

    This whole “reform of the reform”, if it is to have any real meaning at all, is the first step toward understanding that the reform was no reform at all, but revolution.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I can appreciate the idea of pastoral solicitude and the remission of excommunications as an act of mercy. What is puzzling to me is why, if such an act is appropriate for these four bishops, it is not equally appropriate for countless others, especially those in mixed marriages. Although the SSPX bishops profess most of what the Catholic Church teaches, the pope acknowledges that doctrinal differences remain. He asks for a distinction between the disciplinary and the doctrinal, expressing the hope that relieving a “burden of conscience” will serve the cause of unity. I share his hope, but why should not this logic be more widely applied? Like you, David, I am in a mixed marriage; I am sure you agree that the inability of spouses to commune together imposes a painful burden of conscience. In many cases, the non-Catholic spouse in a mixed marriage is in a similar position as the SSPX bishops: linked to the Catholic Church by bonds of love and largely shared faith, albeit with some unresolved doctrinal issues. To put it bluntly, David: if admission to Eucharistic communion is an appropriate act of mercy for these four men, why not for the members of your family or mine?

  23. Past Elder says:

    Excommunication and closed communion are not the same thing.

    On another matter, the problem is, the SSPX professes exactly what the Catholic Church teaches, and the Catholic Church now teaches what the Catholic Church taught was dissent. It is they, and not the SSPX, who have invented something new, though some elements remain in common.

  24. William Tighe says:

    “To put it bluntly, David: if admission to Eucharistic communion is an appropriate act of mercy for these four men, why not for the members of your family or mine?”

    Because these four bishops profess orthodox Catholicism, and non-Catholic members of a “mixed marriage” do not, or else they would become Catholics. In other words, the SSPX bishops indict greater part of the Catholic bishops worldwide for not defending and upholding Catholic orthgodoxy, but they profess it, and most certainly on the Eucharist (wrt Sacrifice and Transubstantiation). Would the non-Catholic parties to a mixed marriage be willing to profess that they embrace and uphold all that the Catholic Church professes to be revealed by God — even, for the moment, restricting that to the nature of the Mass and of Christ’s Presence? If so, then why not become Catholic; if not, then why should they wish to commune in and with a Church whose beliefs on the matter they decline to accept?

  25. Louise says:

    It seems likely to me that most of those who responded care more about their rejection of the pope and all he stands for than they care about goodwill to Jewish people.

    Fraser so well expresses what I was getting at, Pere.

  26. Anonymous says:

    “[W]hy should [non-Catholic Christians] wish to commune in and with a Church whose beliefs on the matter they decline to accept?”

    To proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

    To receive His true body and blood, really and substantially present, for pardon, peace, and strength.

    To celebrate a real, albeit imperfectly realized, baptismal communion.

  27. William Tighe says:

    The “real, albeit imperfectly realized, baptismal communion” is just that, a communion in Baptism — not a communion in the Eucharist.

  28. Past Elder says:

    And on that, Dr Tighe and Dr Maher agree.

  29. William Tighe says:

    And, to take our unwonted concord a bit further, there is a very good Lutheran book on this very issue, *Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries* by Werner Elert (d. 1954) — first published in English by Concordia Press in 1966, and reprinted by Concordia in paperback in 2003.

    I have various problems with the ecclesiological “fine print” of Elert’s book (notably his including of Donatists and Novatianists in “the Church”), as I have stated elsewhere, but, that stated, it is a very fine book.

  30. Vicci says:


    David? (..others?)
    -what is meant by ‘Holiness’ in this context?
    Is it the Biblical meaning.. or something else?


  31. Past Elder says:

    It is something else.

    “His Holiness” or “Your Holiness” is a rhetorical construction called a style of office, a manner of address by either custom or law to the occupant of a certain office.

    Another example would be, here in the US judges, justices and ambassadors are styled “The Honorable” and addressed “Your Honor”. It is not a statement of the personal honour of the office holder.

    “Holiness” was originally a style for any bishop, but in time was used only for the bishop of Rome and certain Eastern patriarchs.

    Hell, for that matter, there’s more than one pope, and I don’t mean antipopes. The bishop of Alexandria is also called pope, and considered the successor to St Mark who is considered to have founded that church.

    They ain’t Catholics. Guess that broad consensus missed that. It’s the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

    For that matter, the Dalai Lama is also styled “His Holiness”.

    detomall: a mall built with microexplosives embedded in case of economic failure.

  32. Joshua says:

    On one level, the title “His Holiness” (used for the Pope) is simply an honorific title like, for example, “His Excellency” the Governor-General, or “His Worship” the Mayor. Of course, one would hope that these titles were held by fitting persons, so that they were not unfulfilled wishes, let alone lying words, but actually described something of the high standard of person that hopefully hold such important offices. Would that all Mayors were worthy of reverence, that Governors-General were uniformly excellent, and that all Popes were holy! Christians are of course in St Paul ‘s Epistles termed both “saints” (holy ones) and “called to be holy”; it is much to be hoped that by God’s grace we may be found worthy of our high calling, and be accounted holy and God-pleasing in fact not just in name. How so? by the saving passion of Our Redeemer, being washed whiter than snow in the Lamb’s laver of blood. While there are many Popes who were martyrs and great saints, others as is notorious were unworthy sinners – think of the dreadful Alexander VI, whose death was as terrible and evident a manifestation of the judgement of the Almighty as was his life an open display of cynical hypocrisy, scandal and crime. We ought pray that we all be found holy, lest as wolves in sheep’s clothing we be cast down into hell; pray of your charity that the Pope live up to his title – else he too must fear the Judgement.

  33. Vicci says:

    Thank you both.

    I have an understanding that “Holy” (bible) meant “set apart” : (eg: the holy people of God = Israelites = ‘separate’)

    So I was just wondering ….

  34. Anonymous says:

    Well I don’t think the papal letter is anything remarkable, except that the original excommuns should never have been granted to the schismatic bishops. JP II never removed them before he died. So how come they ought now be lifted when the 4 bishops have not sworn their loyalty to the Pontiff and all Church teaching up to and including Vatican II? This should be the benchmark of any return as it would be for any consecrated bishop as a successor to the apostoles.
    But I wish to make a point that the Pope seems to be getting weary of attacks on him. Now, in the last year he cancelled a visit to a Rome uni that was going to have a demo against him speaking there. Why was the visi cancelled? Christ suffered the ignominy of the cross and died for all of us in front of the raging mobs and mockers. Did he pull out, withdraw, disappear back to the last supper room? No, he went on and bore the brunt of the attacks.
    But popes today need to know that they too must follow the footsteps of the Lord just as all those who suffer.
    It seems the Vatican wants to shelter the pope. One cardinal has said anonymously that he retreats to his study. Well I think this is becoming more obvious. He is protected by his close aides as he is not the strong pontiff as was JPII.
    But I think there is no need to winge and complain about attacks. They will come as Jesus said.
    I is how they are answered.
    Well may bishops issue nice letters from their palaces, as has Jarret the former Anglican.
    But the letter are not the answer.
    The world needs to see a dynamic papacy that fights for the gospel and does not just issue letters of concern and expect all to jump in agreement.
    There is a real danger this pope is too protected and not well advised by those near him.
    They need to get out, hear what the people are saying and then respond by preaching with vigour and conviction. No moaning or complaining as many now do.
    Semper fidelis

  35. Joshua says:

    “Well may bishops issue nice letters from their palaces, as has Jarret the former Anglican.”

    As a friend – he was my parish priest, prior to his being made bishop – I must say this sentence posted above has a nasty and critical quality about it that I must protest.

    Having become convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, Jarrett – do try and spell people’s names right! – became a Catholic in 1965, and later was ordained a priest. I think it rude to somehow imply that being a former Anglican is a mark against a person.

    As for his “palace”, he has a modest home in Lismore that is far less palatial than my own residence!

  36. Joshua says:


    Yes, holiness does imply the idea of being set apart and separated – separated from all sin and evil, set apart for goodness and grace. God is absolutely opposed to wickedness, and everything vile: we ought by our repentant faithful adhesion to Him seek to likewise slough off all that is bad, and clothe ourselves in charity by the power of Christ our Saviour. In this way we may come nigh unto the Lord, Who gently calls us to Himself.

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