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Pope says doctrinal congregation will dialogue with traditionalists
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
Jul-8-2009 Pope Benedict XVI has placed the commission responsible for relations with traditionalist Catholics under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.With a brief apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), Pope Benedict said he wanted to “demonstrate paternal care toward the Society of St. Pius X,” founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, so members could return to full communion with the church.
The apostolic letter, dated July 2 and published July 8, was titled “Ecclesiae Unitatem” (“The Unity of the Church”).
In a brief note published separately, Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of 80-year-old Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos as president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” which since 1988 has been charged with outreach to the Society of St. Pius X and assistance to Catholics attached to the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
As president of the commission, the pope named U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition, the pope named Italian Msgr. Guido Pozzo, assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission and a staff member of the doctrinal congregation, to serve as secretary of “Ecclesia Dei.”
“The task of safeguarding the unity of the church, with concern for offering everyone assistance in responding to this vocation and divine grace in appropriate ways, is expected particularly of the successor of the apostle Peter, who is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity of both bishops and faithful,” the pope wrote.
He said that after Archbishop Lefebvre ordained bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II in 1988 and the bishops were excommunicated, the pope established “Ecclesia Dei” to “facilitate the full communion” of the priests, religious, seminarians and laypeople who had a bond with the traditionalist archbishop and an attachment to the liturgy as it was celebrated before the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Benedict said his 2007 decision to allow Catholics greater and easier access to the older liturgy was motivated by the same concern.
And, he said, his decision in January to lift the excommunications of the four bishops was done to help overcome “every fracture and division within the church and to heal a wound experienced as increasingly painful.”
The excommunications “could have prejudiced the opening of a door for dialogue” with the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X, he said.
Lifting the excommunications was an act limited to the field of church discipline, Pope Benedict said, adding that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified, the society (of St. Pius X) does not have canonical status within the church and its ministers may not legitimately exercise any ministry.”
The pope’s July letter said that while the president of “Ecclesia Dei” will be the prefect of the doctrinal congregation, the commission would have its own staff. However, the doctrinal questions that arise during the commission’s work and in its contacts with the Society of St. Pius X will be handled by the cardinals and bishops who are members of the doctrinal congregation.
In a statement issued by the Vatican, Cardinal Levada “expressed his gratitude to the Holy Father for the trust demonstrated by this decision, assuring the Holy Father — including in the name of the officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — of the commitment to doctrinal dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X.”
In recent interviews, Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the society, said he and the other members have serious concerns about the way the teachings of the Second Vatican Council have been interpreted and implemented, particularly those teachings regarding religious liberty, ecumenism, liturgy and relations with other religions.
In a March letter to the world’s bishops explaining why he had lifted the excommunications, Pope Benedict already announced his intention to place the commission under the guidance of the doctrinal congregation.
Placing “Ecclesia Dei” under the doctrinal congregation, he said, “will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the popes.”