Tuesday, March 10, 2009
END OF A SCHISM?
The Pope's reasons for "un-excommunicating" the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X on January 24 have not been properly understood. This is in part due to the uproar which accompanied the revelation of the revisionist views on the Holocaust of one of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson. So questions remain. What did Benedict really intend? Why did he take this decision? What next?
We decided to ask an authority at the Pope's right hand, Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier.
Cottier was for many years the theologian of the pontifical household, or the Pope's personal theological advisor, with his residence inside the Apostolic Palace a short distance from the Pope's own rooms. During a candid interview with the Inside the Vatican journalist Wlodzimierz Redzioch a few days ago, Cottier discussed at length the meaning of the lifting of the excommunications. The interview will appear in the March 2009 issue of Inside the Vatican, now at the press. This same issue also includes a detailed report on the latest developments in the "Williamson affair."—The Editor
by Wlodzimierz Redzioch
Your Eminence, let us first look at the whole question in historical perspective: How did Archbishop Lefebvre’s schism come about?
Cardinal Georges Cottier: It took place during the pontificate of Paul VI (1963-1978), after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Archbishop (Marcel) Lefebvre began by establishing a seminary at Ecône, Switzerland. At first the bishops of Fribourg and Sion gave their consent to this initiative, seeing it as an opportunity to keep some traditional values alive which were being lost in the turmoil that followed the Second Vatican Council. Unfortunately, this initiative turned out to be a rejection of the Council.
Monsignor Lefebvre, emeritus bishop of Dakar, Africa, had participated in the Council, but he opposed its teachings in several fields: religious liberty, ecumenism, the liturgy, and, later on, interreligious dialogue. Many people followed Monsignor Lefebvre as a reaction to liturgical abuses taking place in the post-conciliar period. Monsignor Lefebvre’s movement grew in several countries and within several circles, but most of all within the French far right (the old Action Française movement was inspired by religious values). Monsignor Lefebvre’s seminary received many seminarians and in time began ordaining priests. At a certain point (1988) he took a further step, ordaining bishops. In the Catholic Church bishops are appointed by the Pope and they cannot be ordained without his consent (in the Eastern Catholic Churches, the bishops are elected by the synod, but they need the approval of the Holy Father). With the illicit but valid ordination of bishops, Monsignor Lefebvre fell under latae sententiae excommunication.
What is meant by excommunication latae sententiae?
Cottier: It means that on having committed the grave offense, the faithful is automatically excommunicated. In the case of the Society of St. Pius X, the offense was that listed in canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, i.e., the consecration of a bishop without papal mandate. The excommunication concerns both the consecrating bishop and the consecrated bishops.
Monsignor Bernard Fellay the superior of the Society of Saint Pius X, ordained several deacons and announced the ordination of new priests. Are these ordinations valid?
Cottier: They are valid, but illicit. It is surprising therefore that Monsignor Fellay announced new ordinations to the priesthood after the repeal of his excommunication.
John Paul II was greatly pained by this schism and tried to bring them back…
Cottier: A schism within the Church is a highly painful wound. When today we speak of ecumenism, of the will to find anew the unity of Christians, we cannot accept the existence of a new schism. For this reason John Paul II established the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a Vatican body with the set mission of maintaining a relationship with the Society of Saint Pius X and with those who have left it so as to remain in communion with the Pope and so as to work towards the ending of the schism. The commission is presided over by Columbian Cardinal Dario Castrillòn Hoyos, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.
The four excommunicated bishops asked Benedict XVI to repeal the excommunication, stressing their desire for unity and showing the pain caused to them by the present situation. Did the Holy Father repeal the excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Monsignor Lefebvre so as to respond to this request of theirs?
Cottier: In the discussions these bishops always declared themselves to be Catholics and said how they suffered as a result of the excommunication. But they wished to preserve the old liturgy. Benedict XVI took the first step by issuing the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which extended the existing possibility to celebrate Mass and to administer the sacraments according to the old rite. (This rite is hurriedly and superficially referred to as the Latin Mass, but in fact it is the use of Saint Pius V’s missal in the version reformed by Blessed John XXIII – W.R.)
The Pope’s repeal of the excommunications does not mean that the four bishops have been reintegrated within the Catholic Church; they remain suspended a divinis, (i.e. from the exercise of their functions), but an obstacle in the progress of discussions has been removed. The central issue, i.e. the negation of the validity of the Second Vatican Council, is extremely difficult. Catholic communion implies the acceptance of this Council that is so important for the Church’s life.
The focal point of the Society of St. Pius X seems to be centered on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Some Catholics regard this Council as a break with the past; they speak of the hermeneutics of discontinuity (hermeneutics refers to the interpretation of ancient texts, the Bible in particular). Benedict XVI, on the contrary, maintains that “the Church and her faith can neither change nor have they ever changed,” and he is taking pains to explain “how the Catholic faith, though undermined by the temptation of discontinuity and departure from the past, has never undergone any transmutation.” (This is what the Pope stated in the important speech addressed to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005.) Do you not think that behind the hostility that some liberal or progressive Catholic circles show towards Lefebvre’s movement there is a certain degree of antagonism towards the Pope, who insists upon the “hermeneutics of reform and continuity”?
Cottier: Since the Second Vatican Council there have been abuses in both directions, the conservative and the progressive; but a progressive Church has never come into being.
But one could object that wherever bishops gave a markedly progressive interpretation of the Council, the Church has almost disappeared, as in Holland, Belgium and some parts of France...
Cottier: The so-called progressives were imprudent bishops or theologians who spoke in their own name. But the Magisterium was not silent in the face of these abuses. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has declared that many of their ideas or books are incompatible with Catholic doctrine.
Returning to hermeneutics, the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council is provided by the Magisterium itself of great Popes. Paul VI ended the Council and did a great deal to put its teachings into practice: he set up a number of new institutions, issued a great many documents and preached every Wednesday to expound the true hermeneutics of the Council. Also John Paul II always pointed out that his mandate involved the faithful application of the Council’s teachings. This is the way taken by Benedict XVI too. You referred to the Holy Father’s great speech on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and its correct hermeneutics addressed to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005. This was a critique of the claim that in the history of the Church there was a period before and a period after the Council. To insist that the Council was a break with the past is nonsense: suffice it to say that the Pope most frequently quoted in the conciliar documents is Pius XII, regarded as a preconciliar Pope! Without Pius XII the Council would have never taken place. This is one of the proofs of its continuity.
On the other hand the Magisterium has to offer answers to problems posed by every age (nowadays, for instance, we are confronted with the problem of Church-State relations all over the world) and to challenge the new threats which face the Church. But these are pastoral issues. Benedict XVI explained this very clearly. Unfortunately, after the Council, many bishops did not expect such strong reactions and did not know how to respond decisively against abuses (at the time they were referred to as “creativity”). The serious crisis that followed took everyone by surprise, even though history should teach us that periods of turmoil came after every Council.
Every schism inside the Church is a very tragic event; it is as though the body of Christ, who commanded us to be united, were torn apart. Should not all Catholics receive with great enthusiasm the attempt to put an end to Lefebvre’s schism, the latest schism of the modern age?
Cottier: The trouble is that Lefebvre’s schism occurred recently and that people see it as a present, not as a historical event, often with great emotionality. I could see this in the Valais Canton of my Switzerland, where the Ecône seminary is situated and where Monsignor Lefebvre’s movement has divided families. On the occasion of weddings or funerals, for example, there are often dramatic arguments and tensions if a part of the family supports Lefebvre’s movement.
At present there is the paradox that it is easier for us to speak peacefully with the Protestants, who are further away from the Catholic Church, and who often feel nostalgic about unity, than with the traditionalists, who have remained militant and aggressive (in Paris they went as far as to occupy a church by force). But this attitude of theirs does not change the fact that they remain our brothers in faith. We must therefore support the Holy Father’s attempt to put an end to this schism, which is a great and courageous act. History teaches us that when a schism lasts too long, it will become irreversible: Lefebvre’s movement may turn into a sect. Action needs to be taken without losing time.
Let us now talk of reactions outside the Church. Is it not astonishing that liberal circles, in theory opposed to every censure, limitation of freedom of speech and excommunication, should have criticized the Pope’s charitable gesture shown to the bishops belonging to Lefebvre’s movement and have called for a censure?
Cottier: It is obvious that, when led by partisanship, liberals become illiberal.
The negationist theses of Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four bishops belonging to Lefebvre’s movement, have completely distorted the meaning of the repeal of the excommunication. Jewish circles reacted to Benedict XVI’ s decision with unprecedented virulence, as if they had not taken into consideration the various aspects of the whole question, i.e. the ecclesial aspect, falling within the Church’s competence, and the personal aspect, i.e. private opinions, highly questionable and condemnable though they might be. Did this result from a lack of understanding of ecclesiastical matters or rather from bad faith?
Cottier: I think that above all there is incomprehension. People do not know what the repeal of an excommunication implies. Even many Catholics thought that the repeal of the excommunication means the Lefebvrists have been reintegrated into the Catholic Church.
The Church uses a number of “technical” terms that could be explained to the people better. As it is impossible to understand football without knowing the meaning of such terms as penalty, warning, offside, etc., so it is impossible to understand the Church’s action without knowing her terminology. This ignorance of ecclesiastical matters gave rise to serious misunderstandings. In short, everything should have been explained sooner and more clearly. What troubles me so much is the coincidence of the repeal of Bishop Williamson’s excommunication with the declarations he made several months ago, of which the Vatican was unaware.
No one in the Vatican knew about Williamson’s views, but somebody knew about them, and revealed them in an “appropriate” moment, i.e. in conjunction with the repeal of the excommunication....
Cottier: We can put forward various hypotheses, but one thing is certain: the Church will always be criticized and slandered. Jesus said: “They persecuted me, they will persecute you too,” so we must not be surprised. The Evil One is the father of all falsehood.
I am in contact with many Jewish friends. We must admit that the Church has taken many positive steps in the dialogue with the Jews, but the tragedy of the Shoah has left a tremendous mark on the present generation of the Jews. In Hitler’s plans the elimination of the Jewish people was a prelude to the destruction of the Catholic Church; there is a great mystery in this attempt to destroy God’s plan. Denying all this creates uneasiness not only for the Jewish, but also for the Christian conscience.
As a result of Williamson’s declarations, many Jews not only criticized the Church, but also called for the breaking off of relations with the Catholic Church. I know some Jews who say: “You need us, but we don’t need you,” stressing that Christians cannot renounce the Jewish roots of their faith. One sometimes gets the impression that Jewish circles use dialogue with Catholics for their own contingent purposes: as a means for obtaining the recognition of the State of Israel by the Holy See, for establishing diplomatic relations between the two states, for the sending of the Carmelite nuns away and the removing of crosses from the area close to Auschwitz, for fighting anti-Semitism, etc. How then can the Church dialogue with the Jews? (I am putting this question to you, since, as a member of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, you are one of those most involved, inside the Vatican, in official negotiations with the Jewish world).
Cottier: Dialogue should not be reduced to current affairs. Our dialogue with the Jews is conducted on a religious basis. We are in contact with the Grand Rabbinate of Israel and we talk on religious questions aimed at a common search. The assumption that Christians need Jews, whilst Jews do not need Christians, is incorrect. The Church has received the Old Testament, but the Catholic and Protestant tradition reads the Bible in a different way than the rabbis and the Talmudic tradition. Our link with Judaism cannot be accounted for in historical terms alone, as Jesus was a Jew and the Church originated in Israel; Jesus was the Messiah of Israel and, in my opinion, a real theological dialogue must be based on chapters 9-11 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The fact that many Jews do not recognize Jesus is a theological problem. Saint Paul’s hope in the day of reconciliation is also the Church’s hope. The Church does not deny the people of the Covenant; on the contrary she has a strong connection with them. John Paul II referred to the Jews as “our elder brothers.” Many interesting books are being published on the theological significance of the chosen people for Christians.
The problem is that Jews – as also traditionally Christian peoples – are becoming more and more secularized, and they no longer regard the sacred books as God’s word. When there is no longer any faith, dialogue becomes political. On the contrary, dialogue with Jewish believers is always fruitful, and despite some misunderstandings there is always a joint effort to comprehend God’s will.
In her latest book, Anna Foa, historian and granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of Turin, suggests that the new Jewish identity is not based on religion, but on the Shoah and the State of Israel …
Cottier: This is very serious because it means that the Jewish world too is getting secularized. Jews are not looking for their identity in the Bible, but elsewhere, as French intellectual Alain Besançon formulated it, in the “religion of the Shoah.” For them the establishment of the State of Israel is a fact of epochal significance with which they identify. If there is no transcendence left, all that matters is history and politics.
According to Gary L. Krupp, a Jew presiding over the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, an organization devoted to furthering tolerance and mutual understanding between religions through cultural and intellectual exchange, “the media all over the world have presented the case of the bishops connected to Lefebvre’s movement in an incomplete and sensationalist way, thus fueling controversy and negative reactions.” Do you not think that the media have once more reacted with prejudice and hostility towards the Catholic Church? (Professor Jenkins defines anti-Christian feeling as the one acceptable prejudice of the modern world.)
Cottier: It goes without saying that someone intended to use a very sensitive issue like the denial of the Shoah so as to attack the Church and create anti-Catholic feeling. The media have the greatest responsibility for this situation. Publishing titles like: “The Pope repeals the excommunication of a negationist bishop” on the front page is an abuse. This is not information, but manipulation! If the Pope had known that this bishop was a negationist, he would not have repealed the excommunication.
The Hermeneutic of Reform
The correct key to interpretation and application of the Second Vatican Council
(Address of Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia offering the his Christmas Greetings, Thursday, December 22, 2005)
By Pope Benedict XVI
What has been the result of the Council (Second Vatican Council)? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done?
No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things: "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamoring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).
We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it.
The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or — as we would say today — on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology.
On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless.
However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts. These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.
In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.
The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.
Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4: 1); as such, they must be found to be "faithful" and "wise" (cf. Lk 12: 41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord's gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator: "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs" (cf. Mt 25: 14-30; Lk 19: 11-27).
These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord's service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.
The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was 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.
I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion." And he continues: "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).
It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the program that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.
However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.
Georges Marie Martin Cottier, O.P., 87, was born on April 25, 1922, in Carouge, Switzerland. He joined the Dominican Order in 1945 and was ordained a priest in 1951. He was a professor at the Universities of Geneva and Fribourg, and became secretary of the International Theological Commission in 1989. Pope John Paul II named him Theologian of the Pontifical Household in 1990. He was created a cardinal in the Consistory of October 21, 2003.
Wlodzimierz (Vladimir) Redzioch, a Polish journalist who lives in Rome, is a regular contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine.
"Inside the Vatican magazine is one of my favorite magazines. I love it!” —Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
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