My bulletin item this coming weekend:
What’s up with the pope? Many have heard bits and pieces about the pope lifting an excommunication of four breakaway bishops, one of whom said awful things about the Holocaust, and then there was a firestorm, and now the pope has sent out a letter explaining what he did, and why.
Here are some key points:
> This is about healing a wound in the unity of the Church.
The pope is taking steps to resolve a longstanding dispute between a small, but significant group of tradition-minded Catholics who have been at odds with the larger Church since 1988. The issues are many, even European politics and history which won’t concern us—but the key is Vatican II.
The group, the Society of St. Pius X, grew concerned that Vatican II—or at least its presentation—was fundamentally at odds with longstanding Church teaching—and that is unacceptable. They have a point: Vatican II cannot teach anything contrary to our constant tradition. So what to do?
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have tried to resolve the issues and build bridges—which is what “pontiff” means.
> What was it originally about? Pope John Paul excommunicated the four bishops in 1988 because they became bishops without his permission. That is a grave danger to the unity of the Church, because it could easily give rise to a breakaway Church. The excommunication was meant as a warning and a call back to unity.
> Why did Pope Benedict lift the excommunications?
Because of signs of thawing, and that the Society sought reconciliation and healing. That was the goal all along.
> What about the bishop denying the Holocaust? The pope doesn’t agree with it of course and everyone knows it. The bishop—Richard Williamson—hasn’t been given any role or responsibility in the larger Church, and won’t. By lifting the excommunication, the path is opened for full reconciliation.
> Why didn’t the pope leave it alone? Protecting the unity of the Church is uniquely his job! He believes this is a key opportunity. What if a past pope had prevented the Protestant rifts and divisions of the 1500s? Much suffering would have been avoided.
The pope agrees the Vatican has some lessons to learn about the modern media. But the pope cannot be held back by those who want to stir trouble or undermine his efforts. Some actually don’t want reconciliation—on both sides. They should not prevail. Our Lord wanted us to be one. I hope we all agree that the pope should succeed in keeping the unity of the Church.—Father Martin