"An emotional and unprecedented document that has come from the heart of Benedict XVI to contribute to peace in the Church. That is what the letter of the Pope is to the Catholic bishops regarding the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops consecrated in 1988." Thus began Thursday’s editorial in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano.
In the article, L’Osservatore Romano director Giovanni Maria Vian explains that the Pope’s letter has no "precedent because there is no precedent for the storm unleashed after the publication of the lifting (of the excommunication) last January 24."
It was no coincidence that the announcement of the lifting of the excommunications came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, "because the intention of the Bishop of Rome…was to avoid the danger of a schism, with an initial gesture of mercy, perfectly in line with the Council and with the tradition of the Church."
Vian goes on to write that among the many attacks made against Pope Benedict, the media dishonestly twisted the Pope’s gesture just in time to coincide with the statements denying the holocaust by one of the bishops involved in the case. "Unacceptable statements they were—and this was quickly pointed out by L’Osservatore Romano—just as the attitudes towards Judaism are unacceptable of some members of the groups to which Benedict XVI has extended a hand."
In his analysis Vian stressed that the Pope does not avoid difficult issues, such as the need for improvement in how such matters are handled and explained by the different Vatican offices. His letter goes to the heart of the issue, which is the problem of the Lefebvrists and the "distinction between discipline and doctrine." At a disciplinary level, the Pope has lifted the excommunication, Vian reiterated, but at the doctrinal level, he was very firm in warning that the Church’s magisterium could not be "frozen in 1962," that is, before Vatican Council II.
Vian concluded his editorial echoing the Pope’s words that this gesture of mercy towards the Lefebvrists was a priority "because in a world in which the flame of the faith is in danger of being extinguished, the priority is to lead mankind towards the God who spoke on Sinai and manifested himself in Jesus. A God who seems to be disappearing from the human horizon and who is only made believable by the testimony of the unity of believers."