A passionate text without precedent, stemming from the heart of Benedict XVI to contribute to peace within the Church: such is the Pope's Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the remission of the excommunication of the Prelates consecrated in 1988.
It is unprecedented because the storm unleashed by the publication of the measure this past 24 January has no recent precedent. It was not by chance that it was published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council, because the intention of the Bishop of Rome – now confirmed but already evident in itself, as our newspaper emphasized that very day – was and is to avoid the danger of a schism by an initial gesture of mercy, perfectly in line with the Council and with the tradition of the Church.
There has been a surge of questions as to the expediency of this act and, above all, a volley of unfounded and grievous accusations – of decrying Vatican ii and of obscurantism – were aimed at the Pope. Culminating in a dishonest and unbelievable reversal of the papal gesture, which was facilitated by the dissemination – with a concomitance of timing definitely far from accidental – of statements denying the Shoah made by one of the Prelates from whom the Pope has lifted the excommunication.
These assertions are unacceptable – and this was also immediately emphasized by the Pope's newspaper – just as the attitude to Judaism of certain members of the groups to which Benedict XVI extended his hand are unacceptable and disgraceful.
The overturning of a merciful act into a gesture of hostility to the Jews – for which the Pope has been accused repeatedly on many, even authoritative, sides – was grave, because the reality was ignored and the personal conviction and achievements of Joseph Ratzinger as theologian, Bishop and Pope were distorted in universally available texts.
In the face of this concentric attack, even by Catholics and also “with open hostility”, Benedict chose to thank “all the more” the Jews who helped to overcome this difficult time, confirming the desire for friendship and brotherhood which is rooted in faith in the one God and in the Scriptures.
The lucidity of the Pope's analysis does not avoid open and challenging issues, such as the need for a better informed and timelier information and communication in a global context where information – omnipresent and superabundant – is constantly exposed to manipulation and instrumentalization, including the so-called news “leaks”, which are difficult not to describe as pitiful. And this also applies to the Roman Curia: historically a collegial body whose duty in the Church is to set an example.
The Pope then goes to the heart of the matter: the problem of the so-called “traditionalist” groups and the danger of a schism. He makes a distinction between the disciplinary and the doctrinal levels. In other words, at the disciplinary level Benedict XVI has revoked the excommunication but at the doctrinal level, the traditionalists – towards whom the Pope is not sparing in severity but trusts in reconciliation – must not keep the Magisterium frozen in the year 1962. Consequently, as the would-be great defenders of the Council must remember, the Second Vatican Council cannot be severed from the faith as it has been professed and confessed over the centuries.
Was this measure really a priority? The Pope answers in the affirmative, because in a world in which the flame of the faith risks being put out, the overriding priority is to lead men and women towards the God who spoke on Sinai and was manifested in Jesus. He is a God who risks disappearing from the human horizon and is made credible only by the unity of the faithful.
This explains why the unity of the Catholic Church and ecumenical commitment are important and why interreligious dialogue has great significance. For this reason the “great Church” – a term dear to tradition – must seek peace with all. For this reason Catholics must not tear one another to pieces like the Galatians to whom Paul, around the year 56, wrote in his own hand one of his most dramatic and beautiful Letters – like this one by Pope Benedict.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 19, 2020
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