24 January 2009

"So as to achieve shortly a full and satisfactory solution of the problem": SSPX Excommunications Lifted--UPDATED

My thanks to Rorate Caeli for the English translation of the decree; the original Italian is below.  

The recent interview by Bp. Williamson has made this a situation sure to bring public grief to the Holy Father, but this action is good for the Church during this time of prayer for Christian unity. Pray for the Holy Father, the clergy and lay faithful attached to the SSPX, and for the Church universal.  The press will try to lay the charge of anti-semitism at the Pope's doorstep, and will especially try to smear traditional Catholics as well, not discerning groups or persons.  Yet even still, this measure is cause for rejoicing, and the answer to many prayers for many years.

Another interesting note-- and this is purely my own take, so any canonists, known or unknown, are free to weigh in here-- is that the language of the decree, wonderfully subtle, declares "from the present date" that the July 1, 1988 decree is "deprived of any juridical effect."  As Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Castro de Mayer were also declared excommunicated by the July 1, 1988 decree, it seems to follow that their censures are also without any juridical effect.  

Also, the wording of the decree could be read in such a manner that the "declaration" is made from the current date, but that the absence of juridical effect of the July 1, 1988 decree is retroactive.  This is not the obvious reading from the English translation, though, so I don't want to push that idea too far.  Moreover, the official text-- in Italian-- must control.  That question of whether the excommunications were ever effective doesn't matter to most Catholics, but it sure matters to the SSPX's adherents, as you will quickly find out. But no matter.  I'll leave that issue to the partisans.

Praise God! Deo Gratias!  Long Live Pope Benedict!

Decree of the Congregation for Bishops

By way of a letter of December 15, 2008 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Mons. Bernard Fellay, also in the name of the other three Bishops consecrated on June 30, 1988, requested anew the removal of the latae sententiae excommunication formally declared with the Decree of the Prefect of this Congregation on July 1, 1988. In the aforementioned letter, Mons. Fellay affirms, among other things: "We are always firmly determined in our will to remain Catholic and to place all our efforts at the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept its teachings with filial animus. We believe firmly in the Primacy of Peter and in its prerogatives, and for this the current situation makes us suffer so much."

His Holiness Benedict XVI - paternally sensitive to the spiritual unease manifested by the interested party due to the sanction of excommunication and faithful in the effort expressed by them in the aforementioned letter of not sparing any effort to deepen the necessary discussions with the Authority of the Holy See in the still open matters, so as to achieve shortly a full and satisfactory solution of the problem posed in the origin - decided to reconsider the canonical situation of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, arisen with their episcopal consecration.

With this act, it is desires to consolidate the reciprocal relations of confidence and to intensify and grant stability to the relationship of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X with this Apostolic See. This gift of peace, at the end of the Christmas celebrations, wishes also to be a sign to promote unity in the charity of the universal Church and to try to end the scandal of division.

It is hoped that this step be followed by the prompt accomplishment of full communion with the Church of the entire Fraternity of Saint Pius X, thus testifying true fidelity and true recognition of the Magisterium and of the authority of the Pope with the proof of visible unity.

Based in the faculty expressly granted to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in virtue of the present Decree, I remit to Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta the censure of latae sententiae excommunication declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare deprived of any juridical effect, from the present date, the Decree emanated at that date.

Rome, from the Congregation for Bishops, January 21, 2009.

Card. Giovanni Battista Re
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

  • Con lettera del 15 dicembre 2008 indirizzata a Sua Em.za il Sig. Cardinale Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Presidente della Pontificia Commissione Ecclesia Dei, Mons. Bernard Fellay, anche a nome degli altri tre Vescovi consacrati il giorno 30 giugno 1988, sollecitava nuovamente la rimozione della scomunica latae sententiae formalmente dichiarata con Decreto del Prefetto di questa Congregazione per i Vescovi in data 1° luglio 1988. Nella menzionata lettera, Mons. Fellay afferma, tra l'altro: "Siamo sempre fermamente determinati nella volontà di rimanere cattolici e di mettere tutte le nostre forze al servizio della Chiesa di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo, che è la Chiesa cattolica romana. Noi accettiamo i suoi insegnamenti con animo filiale. Noi crediamo fermamente al Primato di Pietro e alle sue prerogative, e per questo ci fa tanto soffrire l'attuale situazione".

    Sua Santità Benedetto XVI - paternamente sensibile al disagio spirituale manifestato dagli interessati a causa della sanzione di scomunica e fiducioso nell'impegno da loro espresso nella citata lettera di non risparmiare alcuno sforzo per approfondire nei necessari colloqui con le Autorità della Santa Sede le questioni ancora aperte, così da poter giungere presto a una piena e soddisfacente soluzione del problema posto in origine - ha deciso di riconsiderare la situazione canonica dei Vescovi Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson e Alfonso de Galarreta sorta con la loro consacrazione episcopale.

    Con questo atto si desidera consolidare le reciproche relazioni di fiducia e intensificare e dare stabilità ai rapporti della Fraternità San Pio X con questa Sede Apostolica. Questo dono di pace, al termine delle celebrazioni natalizie, vuol essere anche un segno per promuovere l'unità nella carità della Chiesa universale e arrivare a togliere lo scandalo della divisione.

    Si auspica che questo passo sia seguito dalla sollecita realizzazione della piena comunione con la Chiesa di tutta la Fraternità San Pio X, testimoniando così vera fedeltà e vero riconoscimento del Magistero e dell'autorità del Papa con la prova dell'unità visibile.

    In base alle facoltà espressamente concessemi dal Santo Padre Benedetto XVI, in virtù del presente Decreto, rimetto ai Vescovi Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson e Alfonso de Galarreta la censura di scomunica latae sententiaedichiarata da questa Congregazione il 1° luglio 1988, mentre dichiaro privo di effetti giuridici, a partire dall'odierna data, il Decreto a quel tempo emanato.

    Roma, dalla Congregazione per i Vescovi, 21 gennaio 2009.

    Card. Giovanni Battista Re

    Prefetto della Congregazione per i Vescovi

    The following is a statement from SSPX General Superior Bishop Bernard Fellay:

    The excommunication of the bishops consecrated by His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on June 30, 1988, which had been declared by the Congregation for Bishops in a decree dated July 1, 1988, and which we had always contested, has been withdrawn by another decree mandated by Benedict XVI and issued by the same Congregation on January 21, 2009.

    We express our filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society  of Saint Pius X, will benefit the whole Church. Our Society wishes to be always more able to help the pope to remedy the unprecedented crisis which presently shakes the Catholic world, and which Pope John Paul II had designated as a state of “silent apostasy.”

    Besides our gratitude towards the Holy Father and towards all those who helped him to make this courageous act, we are pleased that the decree of January 21 considers as necessary “talks” with the Holy See, talks which will enable the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X to explain the fundamental doctrinal reasons which it believes to be at the origin of the present difficulties of the Church.

    In this new atmosphere, we have the firm hope to obtain soon the recognition of the rights of Catholic Tradition.


    Menzingen, January 24, 2009

    +Bernard Fellay


    Long-Skirts said...

    +Bishop Fellay said:

    "We express our filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, will benefit the whole Church."


    (on his ascension to St. Peter's Chair)

    Please restrict,
    Enemies and foes.

    I pray, constrict,
    Heretics who pose.

    I do predict,
    Tradition, if you shield...

    Of Rome's district,
    The Vineyard will be healed!


    Five times banished,
    Exiled seventeen,
    Excommunicated champions,
    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,
    Feast day of worth
    On the second of May
    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –
    As history has charted –
    You preserved the true Mass,
    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre,
    And the sixties egalitarians,
    Like Athanasius,
    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished
    Death by death
    Sent him to absolve
    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon
    The same sun we're all under…
    We venal rain - but Lefebvre

    MERCI MARCEL!!!!!!!!!!!!

    StGuyFawkes said...

    I do think this is great and important news. Still much is to be worked out. There are still the problems of sacraments. Are confessions from a SSPX priest valid without juristiction? Do they now have juristiction?

    Will they blend into the Archdiocese or will they be a personal prelature of the Holy Father?

    There is much for the Holy Father and the Bishops to decide.

    And there are other issues of culture and politics which will come into the picture. Will the SSPX affirm the declarations of Vatican II? It is to be remembered that ARchb. Marcel Lefebvre signed all but one of the Vatican II documents. But I believe his critique of Vatican II grew wider between the time of the Council and the famous consecrations at Econe.

    So the lifting of the excommunications is but a small step on a longer journey. But it is a big step, a stride and for this we must thank God and the Holy Father and the SSPX.

    It is without a doubt the right thing for the SSPX and the Church.

    We need these people and they need us.

    A parting note.

    Great poem Long-Skirts.

    Anonymous said...

    Ah! My old friend, St. Guy!!

    A big sisterly hug to you.


    Anonymous said...

    So let’s review: The problem isn’t that Williamson said these repulsive things, or that the Pope took this action after he said them, it’s that other, bad people will criticize it. Gotta love that spin.

    This does pose a bit of a problem for the Catholic wing of the pro-life movement. In recent years, there has been an effort to draw comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust.

    It’s kind of awkward to be casting your opponents as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers (like it’s a bad thing) when our own Pope is welcoming back an actual, living breathing Holocaust denier.

    Latinmassgirl said...

    THis is wonderful news! Now there are more Latin masses that people can attend in St. Louis.

    I say. . .Pope Benedict the Great!

    thetimman said...


    This doesn't really change that situation, at least not immediately. The PCED already had stated that the faithful could attend Masses at an SSPX chapel if their intent was simply to attend the traditional Mass, and not for any schismatic purpose. The lifting of the excommunications does not change the jurisdictional problem of SSPX priests for confessions and confirmations and marriages. That will be sorted out when a full integration is reached. The SSPX believe they have jurisdiction for those sacraments due to "supplied" or "emergency" jurisdiction. Rome disagrees. I don't care to have that argument here, but just to make the specific point that though we can expect much to come, the immediate situation for a Catholic who is thinking of attending an SSPX Mass is the same. Although I suppose getting rid of the disapprobation of the 1988 decree may make a psychological or moral difference to some.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Anonymous,
    First off, i haven't been able to find anywhere the full transcripts of Bishop Williamson's interview. Perhaps you can direct me to them?

    Second, you speak as if the Holy Father upon hearing Bishop Williamson's comments was inspired to lift the excommunication BECAUSE of what he said. That's nonsense and you know it. If you disagree with lifting the excommunications, use factual evidence to support your side. If you disagree with what Bishop Williamson said (based on the few snippets I've seen his comments are agreeably bad) then don't tie that to the excommunications. There are four bishops affected by the Holy Father's decision!

    Mark S.
    New Haven, MO

    StGuyFawkes said...

    I want to thank the Anonymous poster for pointing out the problem of Pro-Life comparisons of abortion to the Holocaust. Indeed, in the wake of Bishop Williamson's seismic rocking promulgations, SSPX will present problems.

    Anon, you put the problem neatly.

    But still, we have to remember that the SSPX is one thing and Bishop Williamson another.

    We can't identify the whole SSPX with Bishop Williamson anymore than you can identify the whole Catholic CHurch with Cardinal Bernadin, or Archbishop Rembert Weakland.

    The bottom line: These people are Catholics, good ones from what I can tell. They need to come in from the cold. And we need their liturgical backbone.

    Not to mention this pumps thousands of new priests into the Catholic system.

    I do think they will be a need for a priest over at St. Stan's just after the Archdiocese wins her lawsuit. I can trust the old Poles to put things straight on the issue of Nazi atrocities.

    Okay, I'm half joking but you see my point. The whole point of ending Schism is to make Catholics available to each other for their spiritual and moral benefit.

    ordinary catholic said...

    Pope Benedict is a shepherd, and he's bringing his sheep home. One bishop who makes witless remarks about history, not doctrine, wasn't going to keep several hundred thousand Catholics from coming back to the sheepfold. We have bishops who make witless remarks, too, and they don't get excommunicated for it.

    Anonymous said...

    Look, the Civil war was not about slavery nor was it a civil war, the Spainish did not blow up the Maine, the passenger liner the Lusitania was illegally loaded with massive munitions and Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor well in advance and intentionally witheld this information. These lies sent tens of millions off to their deaths and have played no small part in the collapse of westerm civilization and Christendom itself. Yet to my knowledge no one was ever imprisoned for disputing any of these one-time historical facts. Why should the so-called Holocaust be differrent?

    Latinmassgirl said...


    Wow, look at all of these differing opinions on the SSPX. I still think bringing them back into the fold is a big plus.

    The only reason I might be tempted to go there on an occasional Sunday is maybe their heaters WORK! I'm still cold from this morning! :)

    Anonymous said...


    Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre will be seen, in time, to have been the greatest and most important saint of the 20th century.

    If the bishops at the Second Vatican Council had listened to Archbishop Lefebvre and the other conservative bishops, Barack Obama would never have become president, abortion would have have been legalized, 50 million unborn babies would have never died in the USA, and artificial contraception would never have become the norm for Catholic married couples.

    In short, we would have never come to a situation in which most Catholics would not attend mass on any given Sunday, and most Catholics would vote for a pro-abortion, liberal for president.

    Much more could be said.

    But I don't think any informed person can really in his doubt that all the above is clearly true.

    It appears too that Pope Benedict is a fan of Archbishop Lefebvre and all that he should for and worked for.

    Javier Acosta

    MP said...


    I agree with you in all respects, but one. I think that, as unfortunate as it is, there are strong left leaning political influences in our Church.

    That is why Russia was never consecrated to Mary. That is also why there is such hesitation to canonize Pope Pius XII. Our Pope treads so carefully in anything he does with the Latin mass, because of these vocal Bishops.

    Raising Archbishop Lefebvre to the alter would be seen as a slap in the face to everything and everyone since Vatican II.

    Anonymous said...

    Roe v. Wade was already in the works before Vatican 2, see Griswold v. Connecticutt. Pretty much all of our big cultural shift cases were actually test cases, i.e. they were intentionally set up to allow a judicial change where a democratic change was not viable, rather than an organic, naturally arising case. Some states and almost all European countries had legal abortion before Vatican 2. In other words, it was gonna happen short of Divine Intervention. Other than that I agree with you about Bishop Lefebvre.

    TGL said...

    There's a very interesting article written by George Weigel in the web edition of Newsweek on Archibishop LeVebre and his SSPX. I don't know how to embed, so I'll just point you to www.newsweek.com and look for the article on the front page.