Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Pope's Letter

Let's talk about this. If you want to read it, check out Rorate Caeli, which also has some good commentary on it.

The bunch that he's mostly addressing this to:

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.

Ok. Simple enough. What was the main problem?

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.

Here's where it starts to really get interesting and we see the true focus of the letter starting to materialize.

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.

How much ink and bile was spilled on this issue? A freaking ton. And mostly because of (a) media-types who have asinine ideas about what an excommunication is and (b) Catholics who are so terrified of the Faith's traditions that they are willing to destroy the Vicar of Christ's reputation to put tradition in a bad light, in this case, the light of alleged anti-Semitism.

Pope Benedict then goes on to clear up any other "misunderstandings" on the whole excomming issue.

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.

This is a big deal and merits a lot more attention than I think it's getting. We are not going to get past the current issues in the Church unless the doctrinal ambiguities that have been exploited post-VII are cleared up. That this is being acknowledged is a great and wonderful thing. It's not just about the liturgy.Folks actually seemed to think that once the TLM was "freed" (or whatever) that this whole thing would go away. It's not that simple. What with it being doctrinal and all, the Pope mentioned that he's moving the whole discussion to the CDF now.

And then, he unleashes the awesomeness:

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.

You got that, McBrien? Kaspar? Apparently 90% of the Society of Jesus? This cannot be repeated enough, and I very much hope that His Holiness will continue to pound on this issue. Quite frankly, the SSPX should pound on it just as much.

And for those who don't seem to know what the mission of the Successor of Peter is, there are some words for you as well.

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).

It's not enough to unified in the name of nothing. Only for God. And, I love this bit, not just any god. THE God.

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 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.

I hate to say this, but it's almost nice to hear a pope being pessimistic again. As much as I may have like JPII, it drove me crazy sometimes to hear him talk about how great everything was, when it really seemed like things were going to crap at epic speeds.

The Pope then shifts to this point and does so for a very specific purpose, I think. All you folks out there who go into ecstasy at the thought of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, take note.

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.

Unity is with Peter, of course, which is the way God wanted it to be.

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?. . . .

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?

From ecumenism to this. Maybe it's just me, but I think the Pope is wanted all the ecumenical grandstanders out there to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves just what they are working for. How does one go so overboard to hold hands and "celebrate" and "dialogue" with those who aren't even Catholic, yet react with such viciousness when attempts are made to mend fences within the Church Herself? This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, I think. I wonder if Cardinal Kaspar will pay attention to this part.

I think this interpretation is well-founded by the closing remarks.

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.

In other words, folks are always there who will say- step outside the agenda, and we'll bury you. But that's ok. It's what the Successor of Peter does. It's who he is. Suffering this kind of stuff goes with the territory, and Pope Benedict seems to embrace it.


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?

Biting and devouring. Not a very pleasant image, yet precisely what we have seen lately as folks have been stepping all over themselves to criticize the Holy Father. I think that the George Weigel summary that Todd gives in the comments below sums it up rather well.

Viva il papa!

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