The Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published an editorial Monday clarifying the scope and limits of the lifting of the excommunication of four bishops ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. The editorial stressed that the gesture does not yet mean a return to “full communion” with the Church and moreover is a call to the “full acceptance of the Magisterium, obviously including the Second Vatican Council.”
“Benedict XVI has pronounced important words recalling that ‘the elderly among us also do not forget the first announcement of the Council made by John XXIII on January 25, 1959, exactly 50 years ago.’ It was a gesture that Pope Ratzinger today defines as a ‘providential decision’ prompted by the Holy Spirit and that our newspaper by no accident recalls with emphasis on the day of the lifting of the excommunication.”
The gesture of lifting the excommunication must be seen in light of the “conviction of the Council, an event inspired from on high,” the editorial stated. “The reform of the Council has not been completely implemented, but it is consolidated in such a way in the Catholic Church that it cannot enter into crisis over a magnanimous gesture of mercy, very much inspired in the new style of the Church desired by the Council that prefers the medicine of mercy to condemnation.”
The editorial goes on to point out that “the lifting of the excommunication that caused so many alarms does not end a painful path like that of the Lefebvrist schism. With this act the Pope clears the field of possible pretexts for infinite arguing, thus entering into the true problem: the full acceptance of the Magisterium, including obviously the Second Vatican Council. While it is true that the Catholic Church was not born at the Council, it is also true that the Church renewed by the Council is not another Church, but is the same Church of Christ, founded upon the Apostles, guaranteed by the successor of Peter and therefore a living part of the tradition. With the announcement of Pope John, tradition certainly did not disappear, but rather it continues today in the forms characteristic of a ministry and a Magisterium that have been updated by the great Council.”
“The lifting of the excommunication is not yet full communion,” the editorial clearly states.
L’Osservatore Romano’s editorial concludes by addressing the issue of Bishop Richard Williamson’s recent statements about the Holocaust. Bishop Williamson, who was only brought back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church on January 25, made comments to a Swedish television station in which he said he did not believe that Jews were gassed to death by the Nazis.
After noting that the declaration “Nostra aetate” deplores “the hatred, persecution and all manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews of any time and by any person” and that this is “a teaching for Catholics that is not open to opinion,” L’Osservatore Romano said that the recent statements of denial by the British bishop “contradict this teaching and are therefore seriously grave and lamentable. Made known before the document lifting the excommunication, they are thus—as we have written—unacceptable.”