Pope Benedict lifts excommunication of bishops ordained by Lefebvre

Pope fellay Mons. Bernard Fellay and the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunication of the four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) ordained by Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 in a decision he hopes will lead to “real and final unity.”

A press release from the Vatican reveals that after dialogue between the Holy See and SSPX, represented by its Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay and his request in a letter on behalf of the other three bishops in the Society, Most Reverend Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Most Reverend Richard Williamson and Most Reverend Alfonso del Gallareta, the Holy Father has decided to lift “the excommunication in which they had incurred twenty years ago.”

The statement, released in Italian, recalls that because the Episcopal consecrations of June 30, 1988 were performed by Marcel Lefebvre without pontifical mandate, “the four aforementioned Prelates had incurred the excommunication latae sententiae, formally declared by the Congregation of Bishops on date July 1st 1988.”

A press release from the Vatican quotes the words of a letter from Bishop Fellay to the Holy Father: “we are always firmly determined in the will to remain Catholic and to put all of our energy to the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept Her teachings with filial spirit. We firmly believe in the Primacy of Peter and his prerogatives, and because of that we suffer greatly by the current situation.”

The release continues by explaining that the Holy Father, who has followed the Church’s relationship with SSPX from the beginning, “has always tried to heal the fracture with the Society, even personally meeting Bishop Bernard Fellay,” in August 2005.

“On such occasion, the Supreme Pontiff expressed his will to proceed gradually and in reasonable stages down such path and now, with pastoral concern and fatherly mercy, by means of a decree from the Congregation of Bishops dated January 21, 2009, revokes the excommunication applied to the aforementioned Prelates.”

“The Holy Father has been inspired in this decision by the hope of reaching the soonest possible full reconciliation and complete communion,” the statement concludes.

The Decree

The Decree from the Congregation of Bishops begins by recalling a letter dated December 15, 2008 written by Bishops Bernard Fellay on behalf of the other three bishops who were consecrated on June 30, 1988.  The letter, addressed to Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, “requested the lifting of the excommunication latae sententiae formally declared by decree of the Prefect of this Congregation for Bishops dated July 1st 1988.”

The Congregation’s decree quotes the passage from Bishop Fellay’s letter released by the Vatican Press office and continues: “His Holiness Benedict XVI – fatherly sensitive to the spiritual suffering expressed by those who face the sanction of excommunication” and who also trusts in the bishop’s commitment “not spare any effort to further engage in the necessary dialogue with the authorities of the Holy See over the unanswered questions…has decided to reconsider the canonical situation of bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta created by their episcopal consecration.”

“With this act –the decree continues- we wish to consolidate the mutual relations of trust and intensify and provide stability to the relation of the Society of St. Pius X with this Apostolic See.”

“This gift of peace, concluding the Christmas celebrations, wishes to also be a sign for promoting the unity in charity of the Universal church and to achieve the elimination of the scandal of division,” the decree states.

“We hope that this step may be followed by the caring accomplishment of the full communion with the Church of the whole Society of St. Pius X, thus witnessing true fidelity and truthful recognition of the Magisterium and the Pope’s authority with the proof of visible unity.”

“On behalf of the faculties expressly granted by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in virtue of the current decree, I lift the censure of excommunication latae sententiae to Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare null of juridical consequences, as of today, the decree released in the past.”

The decree is signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, on January 21, 2009.

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