Month: February 2009

The Great NYU Kimmel Food Court Occupation comes to a bloodless end. (Or "how NOT to spend your college tuition")

Last week a group of “student-empowering, social-justice-minded” students and assorted ragamuffins and rabblerousers from neighboring colleges (many affiliated with TakeBackNYU) had the stunningly-brilliant idea of barricading themselves in a food court in New York University’s Kimmell Center, “in a historic effort to bring pressure on NYU for its administrative and ethical failings regarding transparency, democracy and protection of human rights.” (more…)


Pope Benedict, the SSPX, and the dispute over Religious Freedom and Church-State Relations

Last year, commenting on Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to the United States, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, remarked:

And now, we have a perfectly liberal Pope, my very dear brothers. As he goes to this country [the United States] which is founded upon Masonic principles, that is, of a revolution, of a rebellion against God. And, well, he expressed his admiration, his fascination before this country which has decided to grant liberty to all religions. He goes so far as to condemn the confessional State. And he is called traditional! And this is true, this is true: he is perfectly liberal, perfectly contradictory. He has some good sides, the sides which we hail, for which we rejoice, such as what he has done for the Traditional liturgy.

What a mystery, my very dear brothers, what a mystery!

As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (What Does The Prayer Really Say?) noted, Fellay’s remarks are indicative of a point he has maintained: the greater dispute between the SSPX and Rome is not so much over questions involving liturgical reform (and the ‘reform of the reform’) — on which there is a great deal of room for agreement — or even the matter of the excommunications; rather, the chief problem hinges on the Society’s objections to Vatican II’s articulation of the principle of “religious liberty” and the relationship of civil and religious authority.

This point was made recently in an article by George Weigel: “Rome’s Reconciliation: Did the Pope heal, or deepen, the Lefebvrist schism?” Newsweek January 26, 2009):

… Lefebvre was also a man formed by the bitter hatreds that defined the battle lines in French society and culture from the French Revolution to the Vichy regime. Thus his deepest animosities at the council were reserved for another of Vatican Council II’s reforms: the council’s declaration that “the human person has a right to religious freedom,” which implied that coercive state power ought not be put behind the truth—claims of the Catholic Church or any other religious body. This, to Lefebvre, bordered on heresy. For it cast into serious question (indeed, for all practical purposes it rejected) the altar-and-throne arrangements Lefebvre believed ought to prevail—as they had in France before being overthrown in 1789, with what Lefebvre regarded as disastrous consequences for both church and society.

Marcel Lefebvre’s war, in other words, was not simply, or even primarily, against modern liturgy. It was against modernity, period. For modernity, in Lefebvre’s mind, necessarily involved aggressive secularism, anti-clericalism, and the persecution of the church by godless men. That was the modernity he knew, or thought he knew (Lefebvre seems not to have read a fellow Frenchman’s reflections on a very different kind of modernity, Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”); it was certainly the modernity he loathed. And to treat with this modernity—by, for example, affirming the right of religious freedom and the institutional separation of church and state—was to treat with the devil.

The conviction that the Catholic Church had in fact entered into such a devil’s bargain by preemptively surrendering to the modern world at Vatican Council II became the ideological keystone of Lefebvre’s movement. And the result was dramatic: Lefebvrists came to understand themselves as the beleaguered repository of authentic Catholicism—or, as the movement is wont to put it, the Tradition (always with a capital “T”). …

As Weigel rightly notes, the scandal over Richard Williamson’s anti-semitism is but a sideshow; “what is at issue, now, is the integrity of the Church’s self-understanding, which must include the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican Council II“:

Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the pope’s spokesman, emphasized to reporters on Jan. 24 that the lifting of the excommunications did not mean that “full communion” had been restored with the Lefebvrists. The terms of such reconciliation are, presumably, the subject of the “talks” to which Bishop Fellay referred in his letter. Those talks should be interesting indeed. For it is not easy to see how the unity of the Catholic Church will be advanced if the Lefebvrist faction does not publicly and unambiguously affirm Vatican Council II’s teaching on the nature of the church, on religious freedom, and on the sin of anti-Semitism. Absent such an affirmation, pick-and-choose cafeteria Catholicism will be reborn on the far fringes of the Catholic right, just when it was fading into insignificance on the dwindling Catholic left, its longtime home.

Holy See – “no qualms” with the SSPX’s criticism of the Council?

Taking issue with Weigel (“A bad year for the Neocon Catholics” February 20, 2009), Brian Mershon asserts:

Maybe Weigel has not read what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the Bishops of Chile in his 1988 address where he said that Vatican II was a pastoral Council. And as a pastoral Council, the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” must be understood “in light of Tradition” as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his 1988 address. In other words, the proper and orthodox Catholic understanding of the meaning of Dignitatis Humanae in light of the traditional teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ is only still being worked out within the Church. It surely does not negated the perennial teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ the King as Weigel asserts with his typical “altar and throne” analogy.

Far from being a dogmatic document, the fact remains that there has been precious little theology done to show the connections between the Council’s teaching on religious liberty and the continuous, unbroken line of teaching from multiple Popes previous to the Council that condemned “religious liberty.” This is not to say it cannot be harmonized or reconciled, but merely that Weigel seems to posit that traditionalists must accept it as an article of Faith. It is not. And its theological implications have certainly not been defined nor well developed since the Council by theologians or the magisterium.

Likewise, Atheistane — one of the more thoughtful (less knee-jerk) readers of WDTPRS — comments:

Weigel seems to regard DH, and its prescription for religious liberty and church-state relations, as a settled issue. He is a vigorous advocate for this view and he is vested in it. I can only note that DH was the most contested document at the Council, and stirred the greatest opposing vote (although it still passed comfortably). And that some very respectable (hardly traditionalist) scholars, such as Ernest Fortin and (Weigel’s friend) Russell Hittinger have raised real questions about the tensions between DH and previous Church teachings, and how we are to receive DH in continuity with the latter. Which is another way of saying the issue is not quite as settled as Weigel might like to think. I’m not sure SSPX has the full answer either. But I am intrigued to see how this issue might be opened up again as they try to reintegrate fully with the Church.

I think Mershon is correct in noting the contested meaning of Dignitatis Humanae. However, I think Mershon himself might indulge in hyperbole when he boasts: “It seems that the Holy See has no qualms with the SSPX’s Catholic understanding about Vatican II.”

We’ll address this in detail in a minute, but first — to indulge our curiousity — let’s run through some of Pope Benedict XVI’s own thought on this particular subject and see if it does in fact coincide, to some degree, with Weigel’s?

Benedict XVI on church-state relations

In Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism, Weigel speaks of the Church’s encounter with democracy as a development from hostility (Gregory XVI and Pius IX) to toleration (Leo XIII and Pius XI) to admiration (Pius XII and John XXIII) to endorsement (Vatican II and John Paul II), and in the late 1990’s, to internal critique — such that

Prior to the Council, the Church was speaking to democracy from “outside”; since the council, the Church has, in a sense, spoken to democracy from within the democratic experiment as a full participant in democratic life, commited, through its own social doctrine, to the success of the democratic project.

To describe the relationship in these terms is by no means to subordinate the Church to politics; it is to note, however, that as the Church’s understanding of democracy has evolved, so has the Church’s understanding of itself vis-a-vis democracy. Because of the teaching of the Council and John Paul II, an “exterior” line of critique has given way to an “interior” critique. Far from being a neutral observer, and without compromising its distinctive social and political “location,” the Church now believes that it speaks to democracy from “within” the ongoing democratic debate about the democratic prospect.

John Paul II developed this “internal line” of analysis — which now constitutes the world’s most sophisticated moral case for, and critique of, the democratic project — in a triptych of encyclicals: Centesimus Annus (1991), Veritatis Splendour (1993) and Evangelium Vitate (1995).

If a single sentence could sum up the main thrust of this new “internal critique” of democracy in the social magisterium of John Paul II, it might be this: Culture is “prior” to politics and economics.

Chapter 6: “Catholicism and Democracy: Parsing the Twentieth-Century Revolution” pp. 99-125 charts in greater detail the development of the Church’s relationship and critique of liberal democracy described above. Weigel’s views on religious freedom (and the expansion of the Catholic understanding of such by Pope John Paul II) and democracy are also conveyed in Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (1991).

Let’s now consider just a few commentaries by the Pope Benedict himself on matters involving religious freedom and the jurisdictions of church and state:

  • During his induction into the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of the Institut de France in 1992, when he remarked that Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America has always made a strong impression on me”:

    Describing Tocqueville as “ le grand penseur politique ,“ the context of these remarks was Ratzinger’s insistence that free societies cannot sustain themselves, as Tocqueville observed, without widespread adherence to ” des convictions éthiques communes. “ Ratzinger then underlined Tocqueville’s appreciation of Protestant Christianity’s role in providing these underpinnings in the United States.

    (Dr. Samuel Gregg goes on to suggest a Tocquevillian influence in the Pope’s warning of the “soft-despotism” of a State which regulates and controls everything in Deus Caritas Est.

  • Excerpt from Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology]:

    Practically speaking, only in those places where the duality of state and church, of sacral and political authority, is maintained in some form or another do we find the prerequisite for freedom. Where the church itself becomes state, freedom is gone. But freedom is lacking also in places where the church is abolished as a public and publicly relevant authority, because there again the state claims to be the sole basis for morality. In the secular, post-Christian world, it does so, not by assuming the form of a sacral authority, but rather as an ideological authority. … The ideological state is totalitarian: it necessarily becomes ideological when there is no free but publicly recognized authority of conscience in opposition to it. Where such duality is lacking, totality, that is, the totalitarian system is inevitable.

    With that we have defined the basic task of Church politics, as I understand it: it must maintain this balance of a dual system as the foundation for freedom. Therefore the Church must lay claim to public rights and cannot simply withdraw into the realm of private rights. For this reason, however, she must also make sure that Church and state remain separate and that membership in the Church clearl retains its voluntary character. [p. 157]

    * * *

    The distinction, consequent upon Christianity, between the universal religious community and the necessarily particular civil community in no way means a complete separation of the two realms so that religion would now withdraw into the merely spiritual and the state would be reduced to a purely political pragmatism without ethical orientation. It is, however, correct that the Church does not directly prescribe political orders. To find the best answer in the changing of the times is now entrusted to the freedom of reason. That this reason is instated in its full rights in the political realm and that political solutions are only to be sought in the communal exercise of practical reason is one of the aspects of Christian liberation, of the separation of the religious and civil communities. [p. 252]

  • During a Vatican Radio interview in 2004, in comparing the European and American attitudes toward religion, Ratzinger commmended the United States’ model of laicism:

    “I think that from many points of view the American model is the better one,” while “Europe has remained bogged down in caesaropapism.”

    “People who did not want to belong to a state church, went to the United States and intentionally constituted a state that does not impose a church and which simply is not perceived as religiously neutral, but as a space within which religions can move and also enjoy organizational freedom without being simply relegated to the private sphere,” he explained.

    On this point, “one can undoubtedly learn from the United States,” as it is a “process by which the state makes room for religion, which is not imposed, but which, thanks to the state, lives, exists and has a public creative force,” the cardinal said. “It certainly is a positive way.”

  • Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in his 2005 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, Benedict notes that one of the challenges the Council faced was “to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion.”

    It was also at this time that:

    People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution. …

    The two parties were gradually beginning to open up to each other. In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.

  • On October 17, 2005, in a letter to the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera (with whom he co-authored Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam), Pope Benedict expressed his support for a “healthy secularity of the state” — or that which guarantees “to each citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom, including in the public realm” and includes “a commitment to guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own religious convictions.” (The full text of the letter can be found here).
  • From Jesus of Nazareth (2007):

    The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

  • From Benedict’s Apostolic Journey to the United States White House Welcoming Ceremony, April 16, 2008:

    From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations. …

    Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

My intention here is not to brand the Pope as a ‘Catholic neocon’ (aka. George Weigel, Michael Novak and the late Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus) — but rather, to simply demonstrate that, regarding the subject of religious liberty, civil and religious authority, Pope Benedict appears to have a more in common with them than Brian Mershon supposes.

Benedict’s ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ and defense of Vatican II

When Mershon complains that “there has been precious little theology done to show the connections between the Council’s teaching on religious liberty and the continuous, unbroken line of teaching from multiple Popes previous to the Council that condemned ‘religious liberty'” — it seems to me that Benedict himself (following his predecessor) might be in a position to best explicate the ‘Conciliar’ understanding of this, according to a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’.

Returning to Benedict’s 2005 address to the Roman Curia, for instance, he asks the question: “Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?” and answers it in terms of a battle of two hermeneutics.

The first is one of “discontinuity and rupture” between the Council and all that which preceded it — which, considering the Conciliar texts themselves compromised by concessions to past tradition, moves beyond them in pursuit of an undefined “spirit of the Council”, open to the whims of change and sentimentality.

Benedict contrasts this with a hermeneutic of reform (or ‘continuity’) – presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council’s conclusion on 7 December 1965, according to which the intent of the Council was to “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion” in faithfulness to the deposit of faith — seeking only contemporary ways of expounding and presenting it.

Later, the Pope applies this in defending the Conciliar understanding of “religious freedom”:

… if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith – a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience. A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all.

Benedict closes his address by asserting that “today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”

Will the SSPX come to terms with Benedict?

Is the SSPX amenable to such a “right hermeneutic” as proposed by Benedict? — — A sampling of commentary directly from the SSPX’s own website may instil some doubts about the possibility of them ever seeing “eye to eye” on the Council:

  • From “The Post-Conciliar Church: A New Religion?” ( Featured in the Q&A section of the April 2003 issue of The Angelus):

    “… the spirit of Vatican II is not just an abuse of some liberal theologians and bishops, but that it is contained in the very texts of the Council itself. If the liberals continually refer to the texts of Vatican II, it is because from these texts themselves emanates, under the sweet appearance of kindness and dialogue, the stench of naturalism, of the corruption of the Faith.”

  • Two Interpretations of Vatican II: Myth or Reality? (Si Si No No August 2008):

    If, in the case of the hermeneutic of rupture, the danger is loss of faith, in the case of the hermeneutic of continuity, the danger is renunciation of the principle of non-contradiction, logical rigor, correct thinking, because one must convince oneself that two things placed in a relation of contradiction are in fact the same thing, like post-conciliar ecumenism and the condemnation of ecumenism by the preceding Popes; the traditional vision of the relation between Judaism and the new heterodox conception of Judeo-Christian “dialogue”; the condemnation of religious liberty and liberalism by the Syllabus and the new Catholic-liberal conception of politics. This deterioration of thought cannot, in the long run, fail to have an effect upon the life of faith.

    Moreover, the proponents of the hermeneutic of continuity renounce, or rather, avoid addressing the crisis in the Church; they minimize it, they do not speak of it for the simple reason that they have excluded a priori that the crisis might have been caused by Vatican II. between Vatican II and the previous Magisterium. The result is an impasse: either minimize or deny the crisis, or else admit it but refuse to explain it by its only likely cause, by linking it to the Council.

  • From an Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX (conducted by Catholic Family News Editor, John Vennari on February 11, 2009):

    Rather than read Vatican II in light of Tradition, we really should read and interpret Vatican II in light of the new philosophy. We must read and understand the Council in its real meaning, that is to say, according to the new philosophy. Because all these theologians who produced the texts of Vatican II were imbued with the new philosophy. We must read it this way, not to accept it, but to understand it as the modern theologians who drafted the documents understand it. To read Vatican II in light of Tradition is not to read it correctly. It means to bend, to twist the texts. I do not want to twist the texts.

Speaking to his general audience on January 28, 2009, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that his gesture (in lifting the excommunications) would be followed “by the hoped-for commitment on [the part of the SSPX] to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council.”

In an interview with the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos indicated that “in our discussions, Bishop Fellay recognized the Second Vatican Council, he recognized it theologically. Only a few difficulties remain… it involves discussing aspects such as ecumenism, liberty of conscience.”

Clarifying his response to Cardinal Hoyos in a subsequent interview with the Remnant, Fellay responded:

If someone thinks that I have watered down our position, he is wrong. Our position remains exactly the same.

Related Articles & Recommended Reading

Nancy Pelosi gets schooled by Pope Benedict XVI

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking Democrat to meet with the pope since the election of President Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, their 15-minute private meeting did not turn out to be the photo-op she had desired.

Following the meeting, the U.S. Speaker of the House released a statement highlighting the positive aspects of the meeting but ignoring the Pope’s correction of her support for legal abortion:

“It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, today. In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel. I was proud to show His Holiness a photograph of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.”

In contrast, here is the statement released by the Holy See:

Following the General Audience, the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage. His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists, and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of development.

George Weigel is prompted to wonder: “Were they at the same meeting? or even in the same city?”:

Charity requires that one concede the possibility that genuine piety was a part of Pelosi’s (rather boorish, and certainly irregular) insistence on being given a private moment with the pope during her current taxpayer-funded junket to Rome. But her office’s statement on today’s meeting makes it clear something else was afoot: that Pelosi, who shamelessly trumpets her “ardent” Catholicism while leading congressional Democrats in a continuing assault on what the Catholic Church regards as the inalienable human rights of the unborn, was trying to recruit Benedict XVI (“Joseph Ratzinger, D., Bavaria”?) to Team Nancy.

His Holiness wasn’t buying it.

And as the National Catholic Reporter‘s Vaticanist John Allen Jr. observes, “Seen through the lens of Vatican diplomacy, this combination of public welcome and after-the-fact rebuke covered all the bases”:

Pope Benedict XVI’s much-awaited encounter this morning with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most prominent pro-choice Catholic in America, amounted to a classic Vatican “both/and” exercise, striving to balance the demands of external diplomacy and internal church discipline.

By meeting Pelosi, Benedict signaled that he wants lines of communication to remain open with the new American leadership, even if the Vatican has deep differences with its policies on the “life issues.” The Holy See is a sovereign state with diplomatic relations with 177 states around the world, which, among other things, means the pope can’t always act like the head of a special interest group.

Yet by issuing an unusual public statement after the session with Pelosi — which insisted that all Catholics, including legislators, are obliged to work for the defense of human life from conception to natural death — the pope also made clear there will no let-up in the pressure on pro-choice Catholic politicians to change their ways. […]

Not only was it unusual to issue a statement after a meeting with an official who’s not a head of state, routine Vatican declarations after diplomatic meetings also generally sum up the range of issues discussed rather than concentrating on a particular point.

In that sense, the statement can only be read as a rejection of Pelosi’s statements last summer, and, in general, of her argument that it’s acceptable for Catholics in public life to take a pro-choice position.

In August of 2004, Nancy Pelosi attempted a botched “Catholic” defense of her pro-choice position on abortion, provoking public corrections by individual Catholic bishops nationwide and a formal rebuttal from Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Pope Benedict XVI meets with Jewish delegation from the United States, confirms intention to visit to Israel and the Holy Land

Benedict XVI’s preparations for his trip to the Holy Land are under way, as he himself confirmed today in a meeting with a Jewish delegation from the United States (Zenit News, February 14, 2009):

According to sources from both Jerusalem and Rome, the Holy Father’s first pilgrimage to Israel and the surrounding region will take place during the second week of May.

He confirmed his intention to make the visit, despite doubts cast on the plan by the conflict in Gaza and the scandal caused by Lefebvrite Bishop Richard Williamson.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York told the Pontiff, “The promised land awaits your arrival.”

And noting that his guests were scheduled to visit the Holy Land after their time in Italy, Benedict XVI said: “I too am preparing to visit Israel, a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there.

“Indeed, the Church draws its sustenance from the root of that good olive tree, the people of Israel, onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles. From the earliest days of Christianity, our identity and every aspect of our life and worship have been intimately bound up with the ancient religion of our fathers in faith.”

Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Walter Kasper (centre L), pose during an audience with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations at the Vatican. Photo credit: Reuters

Click here for the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — in which the Holy Father recalled his meeting the Jewish community at Cologne (making history as the first Pope to visit a synagogue in Germany), in August 2005; his visit to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2006, his meeting with Rabbi Schneier and congregation of the Park East Synagogue in New York during his 2008 visit to the United States.

Chiefly, Pope Benedict recalled the importance of recognizing the Shoah (alluding to the recent controversy involving SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson):

The two-thousand-year history of the relationship between Judaism and the Church has passed through many different phases, some of them painful to recall. Now that we are able to meet in a spirit of reconciliation, we must not allow past difficulties to hold us back from extending to one another the hand of friendship. Indeed, what family is there that has not been troubled by tensions of one kind or another? The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration “Nostra Aetate” marked a milestone in the journey towards reconciliation, and clearly outlined the principles that have governed the Church’s approach to Christian-Jewish relations ever since.

The Church is profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities. If there is one particular image which encapsulates this commitment, it is the moment when my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, pleading for God’s forgiveness after all the injustice that the Jewish people have had to suffer. I now make his prayer my own: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant” (26 March 2000).

The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity. This should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures, according to which every human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable. Recently, in a public audience, I reaffirmed that the Shoah must be “a warning for all against forgetfulness, denial or reductionism, because violence committed against one single human being is violence against all” (January 28, 2009).

This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten. Remembrance – it is rightly said – is “memoria futuri”, a warning to us for the future, and a summons to strive for reconciliation. To remember is to do everything in our power to prevent any recurrence of such a catastrophe within the human family by building bridges of lasting friendship. It is my fervent prayer that the memory of this appalling crime will strengthen our determination to heal the wounds that for too long have sullied relations between Christians and Jews. It is my heartfelt desire that the friendship we now enjoy will grow ever stronger, so that the Church’s irrevocable commitment to respectful and harmonious relations with the people of the Covenant will bear fruit in abundance.

Difficult times for the Legionaries of Christ

Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That Its Founder Led a Double Life , by Laurie Goodstein. New York Times:

The Legionaries of Christ, an influential Roman Catholic religious order, has been shaken by new revelations that its founder, who died a year ago, had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter just as he and his thriving conservative order were winning the acclaim of Pope John Paul II.

Before his death, the founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, had been forced to leave public ministry by Pope Benedict XVI because of accusations from more than a dozen men who said he had sexually abused them when they were students.

But most members of the Legion continued to defend Father Maciel, asserting that the accusations had not been proved. Father Maciel died in January 2008 at the age of 87, and was buried in Mexico, where he was born.

Now the order’s general director, the Rev. Álvaro Corcuera, is quietly visiting its religious communities and seminaries in the United States and informing members that their founder led a double life, current and former Legionaries said.

Thomas Peters @ American Papist has more:

Suffice it to say that Pope Benedict’s disciplinary actions against Maciel and interventions in Legionary practice were fully justified, and that the Legionaries of Christ have some hard decisions to make with regards to how they respond to this crisis concerning the founder. The eyes of the world are on them, and the prayers of the universal Church are with them. It is somewhat encouraging to see that the current head of the LC’s personally saw to it that a thorough investigation took place. Now let’s hope they follow through on their discoveries.

Other points to consider:

  • There are many good and holy Legionary priests. I have been privileged to know several. The sins of the founder ought never be visited upon their heads, ever. Similarly, the Legionaries of Christ serve the Church in many important ways, these good things they have done must never be ignored.
  • People who entered the Church through contact with the Legionaries of Christ or Regnum Christi, or whose faith life is closely identifiable with the movement, ought not to have their faith in the one true Church of Christ be shaken by the personal faults and failings of Marcial Maciel.
  • However …. there remains a serious charge to be made about how the Legion has handled the allegations of misconduct against Maciel up to this point. Something along the lines of renouncing Maciel as their spiritual founder or perhaps spiritually “re-founding” the order might well be the appropriate response. For a start.

Further News

  • Legion Regrets Founder’s Conduct: Congregation Apologizes for Scandal Zenit News. February 4, 2009:

    Some aspects of the life of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, were incompatible with the priesthood, according to a spokesman for the congregation.

    “We are pained and grieved for any offenses that Father Maciel’s actions have inflicted on the Church and her members. We apologize for the scandal this has caused,” Jim Fair said in a statement today to ZENIT.

  • In the Wake of Painful News: Fr Alvaro´s Letter to Regnum Christi Members The following letter from Fr Alvaro Corcuera, LC, is addressed to all Regnum Christi members in the wake of the recent news about Father Marcial Maciel, LC. February 6, 2009.


  • “Way, Truth and Life” Amy Welborn (Charlotte Was Both).
  • “This is no time for happy face stickers”, by Patrick Madrid:

    One thing is for sure, though. If the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement are going to emerge from this crucible in one piece and remain in existence for the long haul, they cannot lapse into robot mode, they cannot don a happy-face mask and attempt to deny that this is a very serious problem for them. At this precise juncture, denial and dismissal of the clear and present danger that this situation poses to the Legion, will, I believe, sooner or later, prove fatal to its efforts at sustaining itself.

    Again, we must keep this unfolding situation clearly in perspective and not sucumb to the various myopic temptations that beckon: at one end, to shrug and simply ignore it as a non-issue, and at the other end, to join in a gleeful feeding-frenzy of morose delectation. Already, on the blogs, one can see people falling into both camps.

  • Stay tuned to American Papist, as Thomas Peters follows this story with roundups and exclusive commentary.
“God help the good ones, God heal the broken ones, and God have mercy on the ones who sinned.”
Cathleen Kaveny Commonweal

Michael Dubruiel November 16, 1958-February 3, 2009

Amy Welborn reports the death of her husband, Michael Dubruiel.

I ask all my readers to please lift up Amy and her family in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


The Vatican, The SSPX and the Repeal of the Excommunications – A Roundup

Note: This post will be continually updated with further news and commentary as events develop.

Statements & Developments

  • 01-24-09: Decree of the Congregation for Bishops Card. Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops:

    … His Holiness Benedict XVI – paternally sensitive to the spiritual unease manifested by the interested party due to the sanction of excommunication and trusting in the effort expressed by them in the aforementioned letter of not sparing any effort to deepen the necessary discussions with the Authority of the Holy See in the still open matters, so as to achieve shortly a full and satisfactory solution of the problem posed in the origin – decided to reconsider the canonical situation of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, arisen with their episcopal consecration.

    With this act, it is desired to consolidate the reciprocal relations of confidence and to intensify and grant stability to the relationship of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X with this Apostolic See. This gift of peace, at the end of the Christmas celebrations, is also intended to be a sign to promote unity in the charity of the universal Church and to try to vanquish the scandal of division.

    It is hoped that this step be followed by the prompt accomplishment of full communion with the Church of the entire Fraternity of Saint Pius X, thus testifying true fidelity and true recognition of the Magisterium and of the authority of the Pope with the proof of visible unity.

  • 01-26-09: Roundup of responses from various sources to the repealing of the excommunications, courtesy of Rorate Caeli.
  • 01-28-09: Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI on the remission of the excommunications on the SSPX hierarchy, followed by an expression of solidarity with the Jewish people:

    … Precisely in the accomplishment of this service of unity, which qualifies, in a specific way, my ministry as Successor of Peter, I decided, a few days ago, to grant the remission of the excommunication in which the four bishops ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, without pontifical mandate, had incurred. I fulfilled this act of fatherly mercy because those prelates repeatedly manifested to me their deep suffering for the situation in which they found themselves. I hope that this gesture of mine will be followed by the solicitous effort by them to accomplish the ulterior steps necessary to accomplish full communion with the Church, thus testifying true fidelity and true recognition of the Magisterium and of the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council.

    While I renew with affection the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our brothers receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah leads mankind to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man. May the Shoah be for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism, because the violence against a single human being is violence against all. No man is an island, a famous poet writes. The Shoah particularly teaches, both old an the new generations, that only the tiresome path of listening and dialogue, of love and of forgiveness lead the peoples, the cultures, and the religions of the world to the hoped-for goal of fraternity and peace in truth. May violence never again crush the dignity of man!

  • 01-28-09: Superior General of the SSPX: Bishop Williamson forbidden to speak on political or historical matters January 27, 2009:

    We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.

    It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.

  • 01-28-09: Note of the District Superior for Germany of the SSPX:

    The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.

    The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities.

    I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.

    Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps.

  • 01-29-09: Interview granted by the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, to French Catholic Magazine Monde & Vie.
  • 01-30-09: Letter of apology to Pope Benedict XVI from Bishop Bernard Williamson:

    Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

    For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12:

    “Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

    Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.

  • Interview with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission published today in Italian national daily Corriere della Sera.
  • Note of the Secretariat of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone L’Osservatore Romano, February 5, 2009:

    … The positions of Mons. Williamson on the Shoah are absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father, as he himself remarked on the past January 28, when, referring to that brutal genocide, he reaffirmed his full and unquestionable solidarity with our Brethren, receivers of the First Covenant, and affirmed that the memory of that terrible genocide must lead “mankind to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man”, adding that the Shoah remains “for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism, because the violence against a single human being is violence against all”.

    Bishop Williamson, for an admission to episcopal functions in the Church, will also have to distance himself, in an absolutely unequivocal and public manner, from his positions regarding the Shoah, unknown to the Holy Father in the moment of the remission of the excommunication.

    The Holy Father asks to be joined by the prayers of all the faithful, so that the Lord may enlighten the path of the Church. May the effort of the Pastors and of all the faithful increase in support of the delicate and burdensome mission of the Successor of Apostle Peter as “custodian of unity” in the Church.

  • Italian District of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX) has announced the expulsion of Father Floriano Abrahamowicz, the priest responsible for Northeast Italy. Rorate Caeli February 6, 2009.
  • Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos in the eye of the storm interview granted by the director of the Holy See Press Office and head of Radio Vaticana, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, to French daily La Croix. February 5, 2009.
  • Williamson “was removed from his charge as head of the seminary” of Nuestra Señora Corredentora of La Reja (Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina) – confirmed by Father Christian Bouchacourt to Argentinian daily La Nación. February 9, 2009.
  • Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre (March 10, 2009):

    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. …

  • Commentary on the Letter by Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, Head of the Press Office of the Holy See March 12, 2009:

    The “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre” is definitely an unusual document and deserves all our attention. Never before in his Pontificate has Benedict XVI expressed himself in such a personal manner and intensity on a controversial subject. There isn’t the slightest doubt: this Letter bears his mark, from beginning to end. …

  • Communiqué of Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, in response to Pope Benedict’s letter.

Further Resources, Commentary and Discussion