Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pope Benedict’s Letter, Analysis

The letter the Pope sent to the bishops March 10th (posted here yesterday as well as throughout the Catholic world) was of major significance, as he responds to the turmoil arising from the bishop who is a holocaust denier; but more pointedly, reminds Catholics that we are a contradiction in the world, a leaven, and when we attack each other from positions of falsity and merely an eagerness to attack, we are attacking the only repository of full truth in the world, and rendering the ability of Holy Mother Church to protect her flock, of less vigor.

This post from First Things is an excellent analysis of the Pope’s letter.

An excerpt.

“A March 10 letter to Catholic bishops from Benedict XVI explains why he decided to seek reconciliation with the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. The Vatican lifted the excommunication of four bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. The letter reveals the pain the pope felt at the controversy unleashed when it was quickly learned, one of the men (for most of his life among the Lefebvrists, it seems) was (among other cretinous opinions) a denier of the Holocaust.

“Benedict’s pain shows throughout the entire letter, but especially here: “It has saddened me that even Catholics, who should in fact know better, have seen fit to strike at me with a ready-to-pounce hostility.” Nevertheless, Benedict finds comfort among his “Jewish friends who have quickly helped to clear away misunderstandings and restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust that had prevailed during the pontificate of John Paul II and, God be thanked, continues to prevail in mine.”

“The real pain, though, is the fact of schism, and not so much Benedict’s own hurt feelings, which come out only in that one sentence. But like St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (which the pope quotes at the end of his own missive), this letter bleeds. Divisions in the Church hurt this pope, as they did Paul in his day. No surprise, then, that Benedict would conclude this personal account of his Petrine ministry to his fellow bishops with these verses from Galatians:

'You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. For the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love one another as yourself.’ But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will end up being devoured by each other'".

“It was to avoid just this dismal scenario that Benedict decided to lift the excommunications, as he explains. What especially bears emphasizing is this passage from his letter:

“'To say it once again: As long as the doctrinal issues are not resolved, the Fraternity [of Pius X] has no canonical status in the Church; and its ministers, even if they are free from ecclesiastical censure, do not exercise any legitimate ministry in the Church. . . . [It is] clear that the problems now under discussion are essentially doctrinal in nature, especially those concerning the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium of the popes. . . . One cannot freeze the magisterial authority of the Church at the year1962-this must be made quite clear to the Fraternity.'"

“But the Lefebvrists are hardly the only faction in the Roman Church “biting and devouring” the Body of Christ. Benedict also directs these pointed words at those “ready-to-pounce” Catholics who style themselves professional defenders of Vatican II: “But to some of those who pose as great defenders of the Council, one must keep in mind that Vatican II contains within itself the whole doctrinal history of the Church. Whoever claims obedience to the Council must accept as well the faith of centuries and not cut down the roots that are the very source of life for the tree.”

“Throughout the letter, the pope subjects himself to a searching examination of conscience: he admits numerous mishaps on his and the Vatican’s part; he implicitly criticizes the dicastery in charge of negotiating with the Fraternity by placing all future dealings with the schismatics in the hands of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (since now, the pope says, all remaining issues are doctrinal, not liturgical); and he even wonders aloud if his pastoral solicitude is not drawing attention away from making the Christian faith more credible in an unbelieving world.

“I sincerely hope that Benedict’s frank examination will lead to a similar searching on the part of all Catholics, very much including those who began the schism in the first place by letting themselves be ordained illicitly. But their numbers would never have grown to such an extent were it not for the woes that came in the wake of the Vatican II Council, caused not, I insist, by the Council itself but by its interpretation.”