Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pertinent Excerpts from the Pope's Letter

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.  [His Holiness puts his finger on the true issue: the filth-ridden torrent of bile spewed forth in response to his paternal concession proves the existence of a most serious infection in the Mystical Body, riddled as it were with hideous buboes and pus-ridden sores, themselves the result of deep and dangerous injuries sustained by the Church, left denied and untreated for too long.]
An unforeseen mishap for me [how candid!] 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.  [Fr Z for Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Internet!]  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.  [To think that this is the Pope himself speaking in the first person - what a scandal that he must admit to the open hostility shewn him by bad Catholics!]
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. [As Bp Jarrett once said on this topic, "I believe in all 21 Ecumenical Councils."] 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.  [In other words, continuity not rupture is the only rational hermeneutic to be applied to the Council: else we fall into a like error to Pol Pot, who committed genocide in his attempt to return Cambodia to Year Zero.]
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 [When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?], 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 on 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.  [Insert the endless list of human follies, wickednesses, tragedies and crimes...]

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 heresy and schism are the worst of scandals, since they afford easy rationalizations for the scoffing world to remain impenitent and unbelieving, mocking Catholic and Christian disunity.]
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. [What a source of horror and sorrow!] 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? [This reminds me of the way the Anglican Communion has shewn the door to those now taking refuge in the Traditional Anglican Communion, and also in a local way to the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania speaking matter-of-factly about "acceptable losses", implying that the Anglicans he drives out of their churches by his Low Church mania are somehow undeserving of any pastoral care.  I know Catholics who would write off Traditionalists, and I mean unschismatic ones such as myself, in just the same way.]

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. [What a damning diagnosis: it is so sadly true that "Scratch a liberal, find a fascist," and that "Where orthodoxy is reduced to a tolerated position, soon enough it will no longer even be tolerated".]
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. [A Lutheran pastor of my acquaintance tells me that Catholics are shockers in ecumenical circles, since - even as official representatives of the Church - they criticise and deride the hierarchy in the worst of uncharitable ways, causing great scandal; likewise, he told me of how a Catholic lady he knows through his work in hospital chaplaincy (herself both ignorant of the faith - he's read more Catholic theology than she seems to even be aware of - and shockingly vocal in her dissent) put him onto the appalling a-Catholic website active here in Australia, which he looked at in amazement for its complete lack of charity combined with vile vituperation in no way consonant with the Gospel.] 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?
It's Lent: we all need to repent.  God grant us the grace to do so.  And let us sing in filial devotion to Christ's good Vicar, "God bless our Pope, the great, the good!"


Anonymous said...

A wonderful letter from the Pope. I suspect real fault-lines will slowly begin to emerge as it becomes obvious to the world's more liberal Catholics that they are, in essence, now in opposition to the desire of the Holy Father in doing what he is doing. This silly idea that Vatican II was a rupture with the past is becomeing increasingly less tenable (if it ever was). I think under JPII, many of these liberals could hide a bit more; that is no longer the case. The more they speak out now with their liberal sentiments, the more in opposition to the Pope they become. The Pope needs our prayers. In a sense the SSPX is uncovering another issue here: namely, that many within the Church desire to rupture with the past. It will be interesting to see whether these individuals seek to submit or openly show disobedience. What an irony if the SSPX ends up showing obedience, whilst those liberls who chided the SSPX for being disobedient, will end up showing that perhaps they are the real enemies.

Hmmm, better get back to work,
Rob A

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a marvellous letter.

Bishop Jarrett's well-made comment about beleiving in all 21 ecumenical councils reminds me of another problem with the egregious Bishop Williamson. I recall some spectacularly silly comments from him in which, in bending over backwards to be un-Protestant, he says that 'salvation has to be earned'. (References, I recall, can be found in our own Bishop Fisher: Anthony Fisher: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?", on the outlook of the Jansenists and their "Rigorist Mentality", New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)_. According to the canons of the Council of Orange, Willaimson is thus anathema; and according to the Council of Trent if he bothered to read its decrees carefully.