In a continued effort to work towards the “repair of all fractures and divisions within the Church,” Pope Benedict XVI undertook today the reorganization of the pontifical commission designed to deal with questions involving the Society of Saint Pius X. The change in organization places the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Pope Benedict announced the organizational shift in a Motu Proprio, which was published today under the title “Ecclesiae unitatem.”
The new delegation of powers places the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an indication that the problems separating the Society from the Church are primarily doctrinal.
Benedict recalled in his letter that in July 1988, after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre illicitly consecrated four priests as bishops, Pope John Paul II established the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission to “collaborate with the bishops, with the departments of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, for the purpose of facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or individuals” linked to the Society.
In his letter issued today, Benedict XVI noted that it is his duty as Peter’s Successor to “safeguard the unity of the Church,” and a commitment of his to “achieve a shared witness of faith among all Christians.”
It was in this spirit, said Pope Benedict, that he made his decision in January 2009 to lift the excommunications of the four bishops illicitly ordained by Msgr. Lefebvre, reinforcing that his intention was “to remove an impediment that could hinder the opening of a door to dialogue” and to “invite the four bishops and the Society of Saint Pius X to rediscover the path to full communion with the Church.”
In March 2009, Benedict issued a letter to bishops, in which he further explained that the lifting of the excommunications was a measure taken to “free individuals from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties.”
Acknowledging the difference between disciplinary and doctrinal issues, the Holy Father noted in today's letter that “it is clear that the doctrinal questions remain, and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
“Precisely because the problems that now have to be examined with the Society are essentially doctrinal in nature,” the Pope said, “I have decided…in keeping with what I had intended to do - to reconsider the structure of the Commission "Ecclesia Dei," joining it closely to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
The new configuration of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, the Pope said, will allow the Commission to have its own staff, but its president will be the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
In keeping with that plan, the Vatican announced today that Cardinal William Levada, head of the CDF, will become the commission's president and Bishop Guido Pozzo, adjunct secretary of the International Theological Commission and official of the CDF, will serve as the secretary of the commission.
The president and secretary will work to present doctrinal cases and questions for discernment and study.
Benedict concluded his letter by inviting prayers for unity and noting, “With this decision I wish in particular to show paternal solicitude towards the Society of Saint Pius X, with the aim of rediscovering the full communion of the Church.”