Perfect Storm?

After a quiet summer, clouds gather over Rome…

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America
A storm is about to be unleashed on the Pope, the Vatican, and, by extension, the Catholic Church.

The first drops of rain have just fallen, with public accusations that the Pope lied this winter in connection with the “Williamson affair.” (see below)


What is it about?

Whether this storm will “blow over,” or intensify into a “perfect storm,” only time will tell.

But whatever happens, there is this to keep in mind: many, inside and outside of the Church, would like the Church’s traditional liturgy, known as the Latin Mass — the old liturgy celebrated up until 1970, and two years ago designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary rite” of the Mass — to disappear.

And they are irritated that Benedict — against many and vociferous objections —  “restored” the old liturgy, which many thought had been buried definitively.
As strange as it may seem, this battle is in part about that — about the survival of the Church’s old liturgy — about her way of worshipping God.
But when I say this, I do not mean to downplay other, quite obvious concerns, for example, the tense situation in the Middle East, or in the world economy.
I mean to say that, on a fundamental level, it is not simply a political or economic battle, as important as political and economic factors are, but a spiritual battle.
Is Rome alone?
And at a time like this, when many forces in the West (the European Union, the new US administration)  seem to be aligning themselves in favor of a thoroughly secularized “new world order,” the ally most helpful to Rome may well be the ally who still celebrates a divine liturgy which has not been modernized: the Orthodox.
And the most numerous and powerful of the Orthodox are the Russians.
In this perspective, these attacks on the Pope and the Vatican may drive Rome to ally herself, after a thousand years of separation, with Contantinople, and with Moscow — reuniting the “three Romes”…

The allegation this morning is that Vatican officials (but not the Pope) lied when they said this winter that no one in the Vatican knew about Bishop Richard Williamson’s views about the Holocaust when the Pope decided to lift his excommication on January 24.

However, this allegation has been exploited by the Church’s current antagonist in Italy, Prime Minsiter Silvio Berlusconi, through his media empire, to suggest that the Pope, too, lied.

Here is the headline being run right now on Google news:

Swedish TV: Vatican knew about Holocaust-denier

Here is a link to the entire story:
Here are the first few few paragraphs to give you the gist of what is being said:

By KARL RITTER (AP) – 4 hours ago

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish TV program to be aired Wednesday (
Note: today) claims that top Vatican officials knew that an ultraconservative British bishop was a Holocaust-denier when his excommunication was lifted in January. The program, which was obtained by The Associated Press prior to broadcast, could add new fuel to the controversy over Bishop Richard Williamson.

Jews and Catholics worldwide were outraged after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Williamson, along with three other ultraconservative bishops, in an attempt to bring dissidents back into the mainstream church.

The order, dated Jan. 21, came as Sweden’s SVT aired an interview recorded two months earlier in which Williamson said he didn’t believe any Jews were killed in gas chambers during World War II.
Vatican officials have said they didn’t know about the interview at the time. Benedict later condemned Williamson’s remarks and spoke out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Yet in a follow-up report, SVT says the Vatican had been informed of Williamson’s Holocaust-denial shortly after the interview was recorded in November. It doesn’t suggest, however, that the pope knew about the remarks.

The program singles out Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who had been leading efforts to heal the schism with the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X. The Vatican announced in July that Castrillon Hoyos was stepping down after reaching the customary retirement age of 80.

The SVT program says Sweden’s Catholic diocese informed the apostolic nuncio — the Vatican envoy to Sweden — about Williamson’s remarks and that he in turn informed Vatican officials, including Castrillon Hoyos…

The Italian Front: “He Lied”


The second allegation is that the Pope himself knew.
This allegation made headlines today in Italy, where the Catholic Church and the Italian government of Prime Minister Berlusconi have been sparring for months over Berlusconi’s immiration policies and his alleged sexual impropriety. This morning, Berlusconi (or those close to him) took the gloves off.
(Here, in better times, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi greets Pope Benedict XVI in Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia in this September 7, 2008,  photo — CNS photo/Reuters)
For the first time in the many months of acrimony, Berlusconi (or his associates) directly attacked the Pope. This escalates the battle.
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s family, carried the exaggerated headline “He Lied” (“Ha mentito”), referring to the Pope and his handling of the “Williamson affair.”
(Below is a photo from three weeks ago of women reading Il Giornale. The Sept. 3 newspaper front page has a picture of Dino Boffo, editor of the Catholic newspaper Avvenire. Boffo resigned from Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, in a row that has strained relations between the Vatican and the Italian government — CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)
Here are a few lines from a British newspaper today explaining this story:
Silvio Berlusconi turns his guns on Pope Benedict XVI
The Italian newspaper Il Giornale, owned by the family of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, carries a headline today dominated by the words “Ha mentito” – “he lied”, referring to Pope Benedict XVI. The paper is busy stirring up trouble over the claims by Swedish TV, due to be aired tonight, that the Vatican knew in advance about the Holocaust-denying background of Bishop Richard Williamson before his excommunication was lifted.That struggle, which is part of a left-right, secular-Catholic battle at the heart of Italian society and government, has already damaged relations between the gruesomely oversexed Berlusconi and the Holy Father…
One consideration is the Italian situation.
There isn’t space or time here to go into the entire sordid affair. Suffice it to say that a rift between the Vatican and the government of Silvio Berlusconi has now become a chasm.
Since the Vatican, humanly speaking, is a tiny state entirely surrounded by Italian territory, it is naturally always a hope of the Vatican to be on close and friendly terms with the Italian government.
Therefore, this deteriorating relationship with the Italian governement led by Berlusconi is a real concern.
Here is a link to an Associated Press article on the background to this story:

And here is a link to a Time magazine story on Berlusconi:,8599,1923076,00.html



The words “he lied” are admittedly taken from the programme. But it’s a malicious allegation: Benedict has told no lies whatsoever regarding this matter, even if Vatican officials working for him have a case to answer.

The background you need to know is that Il Giornale has been engaged in a furious battle with Vatican Radio and the Catholic newspaper Avvenire, whose editor Dino Boffo it forced to resign after claiming he was a homosexual with a police record. Avvenire

, not coincidentally, had consistently opposed Berlusconi, with the backing of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.
A second consideration is the relationship of the Vatican to the world Jewish community.
The re-emergence of the “Williamson affair” under these circumstances, with new allegations, shows that the “affair” was not settled in March, when the Pope on March 12 issued a dramatic letter of apology to the bishops of the Church.
Here are some key lines from that March 12 letter:
“An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication,” the Pope wrote.
“I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility.
“Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.”
Will the world Jewish community come to the Pope’s defense?
A third consideration is the relationship between traditional Catholics, now un-excommunicated, and those we may call “conciliar” Catholics.
Is this case only about Williamson and his views, or are the “conciliar” Catholics actually unwilling to accept the readmission of “traditionalist” Catholics into communion with Rome, and themselves?
In this regard, a question arrises: who is really behind the re-emergence of attacks on the Pope for his January 24 action in un-excommunicating the four Lefebvrist bishops?
It isn’t fully clear.
But it has been reported in the La Stampa of Milan, Italy, that the Catholic bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, is in a very cordial relationship with the Swedish TV — and that he is a firm opponent of the Society of St. Pius X (the SSPX).
Arborelius said Wednesday in a statement posted on his diocese’s website that he was aware of negationist remarks Williamson made to an investigative news program filmed by Swedish public television SVT in November 2008 and which aired on January 21, 2009.

Arborelius wrote: “The content of the interview with Richard Williamson … was sent to the Vatican in November 2008, forewarning that the program with the Holocaust denial would be broadcast on January 21, 2009.

“We, at the diocese office in Stockholm, as we always do in matters of the Church, had forwarded the information we had about SSPX and Richard Williamson, including what we knew about the content in the interview Uppdrag Granskning had with him, to the Vatican,” Arborelius said.

“I want to underline that forwarding information to the Vatican is pure routine, and not something exceptional for this case,” he added.

(Of course, it is evident that such information could possibly have been held up on one desk or another, and never reached the Pope or his top advisors.)

A fourth consideration is the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the world’s Orthodox Churches.

It became clear last week, during a very cordial visit to Rome by a representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, that relations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, at least on the surface, are much improved over the past few years.
Here are excerpts from an account of that visit I wrote for the Monday, September 21 edition of the Zenit news agency:
Recent Meeting Could Mark Turning Point
On September 18, inside Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace about 30 miles outside Rome, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Hilarion Alfeyev (photo), 43 (a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy, composer and lover of music), met with Benedict XVI, 82 (also a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy and lover of music), for almost two hours, according to informed sources.
(There are as yet no “official” sources about this meeting — the Holy See has still not released an official communiqué.)

The silence suggests that what transpired was important — perhaps so important that the Holy See thinks it isn’t yet prudent to reveal publicly what was discussed.

But there are numerous “signs” that the meeting was remarkably harmonious…

In memory of the visit, Archbishop Hilarion gave the Pope a pectoral cross, made in workshops of Russian Orthodox Church…

It is especially significant, in this context, that Hilarion, Patriarch Kirill’s “Foreign Minister,” has some of the same deep interests as Benedict XVI: the liturgy, and music.

“As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the ‘theourgia,’ the mystery, and ‘feast of faith’ began, which continues to this very day.

“After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life — the liturgy.”

These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled “Feast of Faith”) is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.

“Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard,” Hilarion has written. “I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones.”

Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI’s own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church’s liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.

Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity… It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts.”

These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a “school” for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.

Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.

Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith…

(Here is a link to the complete article:


As I said at the outset, the “Williamson affair,” and the effort to ascertain what the Vatican knew, and when, about Williamson’s views, may continue to dominate news headlines, or it may pass away into silence. Time will tell.

But the re-emergence of the issue reminds us that there is a larger battle occurring, a battle for the “deposit of the faith,” a battle for our tradition and the beliefs handed down to us from the Apostles, and it is that battle that we should be aware of and concerned about.
Last week, I had a wonderful and productive meeting in New Rochelle, New York, with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, 86, who has given me some documents which may help me to understand better the history of the Church in our time.
I will be returning to Rome soon, God willing, and reporting on these documents, and on other matters which I have left unfinished.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.”Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)

Apology Letter of Bishop Richard Williamson

H.E. Bishop Richard Williamson

H.E. Bishop Richard Williamson



 To His Eminence Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos

Your Eminence

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12:

“Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.

Sincerely yours in Christ 


+Richard Williamson

INSIDE THE VATICAN on the Lifting of the Excommunication


Excommunications Lifted for Society of St Pius X Bishops

By Andrew Rabel from INSIDE THE VATICAN

Extraordinary news came on the afternoon of January 24, with the removal of the excommunications of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X. In a document signed by the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in the Holy See, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re dated January 21, 2009 (see text below).


H.E. Bishop Bernard Fellay

Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galaretta and Richard Williamson (two Frenchmen, a Spaniard, an Italian, and an Englishman) were consecrated bishops on June 30, 1988, by the Society’s late founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and his co-consecrator, Bishop Antonio Castro de Mayer (also deceased), in a ceremony at the seminary in Econe, Switzerland. The following day it was announced by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, at that time head of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, that all six men had incurred excommunication latae sententiae (automatic excommunication), the penalty laid down in the revised Code of Canon Law, Canon 1382, for directly participating in an episcopal consecration in the absence of a papal mandate.

The January 21 document says that Bishop Fellay, the Superior General of the Society (one of the four consecrated bishops, photo left) had written in December to Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, Prefect of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, requesting the removal of the excommunications, saying, “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.”

For his part, Pope Benedict, increasingly impressed by the attitude of the group to open a dialogue about remaining questions, and to respect the legitimate authority of the Holy Father, decided to lift the excommunications.

The document says this was the Pope’s reason: “This gift of peace, at the end of the Christmas celebrations, is also intended to be a sign to promote unity in the charity of the universal Church and to try to vanquish the scandal of division.”

In a message published on the Society of St. Pius X website, Bishop Fellay said, “We express our filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society of St. 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.'”

In the next issue of the Osservatore Romano, there will be an explanatory note further outlining the reasons for lifting the excommunications. We will report on that when it appears.

Lefebvre founded the Society in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva & Fribourg in 1970, in order to train young men for the priesthood because of disquieting trends he had observed since the close of the Second Vatican Council, primarily in regard to the reform of the liturgy and the training of clergy. Previously he had been the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and administered dioceses in France and Senegal. During the Council, he had been allied to the International Group of Fathers, the group that remained unyielding with regard to what they saw as the excesses of aggiornamento, or updating.

The success of Econe and affiliated seminaries throughout the word contrasted to the dearth of priestly vocations elsewhere in the 1970s, and it quickly drew the ire of the French Bishops’ Conference, and a number of persons within the Holy See (the trump card being French Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Villot). The principal issue was Lefebvre’s rejection of the Novus Ordo Missae of 1969. He did not contest the validity of the new rite, but he and others charged it contained numerous theological errors, and he argued for the primacy of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1570 after the Council of Trent, and for that reason known as the Tridentine Mass.

Things finally came to a head in 1975, with Lefebvre’s first ordination of a group of priests. The following year, after an ordination ceremony at Econe on June 29, 1976, Lefebvre and the priests within the Society were suspended a divinis from clerical activity.

Despite this, the Society flourished. Soon there were Lefebvrist priests with traditional Mass, parishes in many countries around the world. By the end of the 1980s, as Lefebvre realized that he was coming near to the end of his life, he felt the desire to consecrate bishops to carry on his work. But Rome refused to grant permission for any such consecration. To try to head off a schism, Rome decided to send an “apostolic visitor” from the Vatican, the late Cardinal Eduard Gagnon, to inspect Lefebvre’s seminaries and schools. Gagnon and Lefebvre sought a comprehensive agreement in which Lefebvre would be allowed to consecrate one bishop, if he agreed to certain things the Vatican asked of him. Considrable progress was made, and by May of 1988, it seemed Lefebvre would agree to the proposed conditions, and received Vatican permission to consecrate a bishop to lead the Society after him. However, things fell apart at the last minute. After signing a protocol of agreement on May 5, 1988, in which relations between the Society and Rome were to have been normalized, and the Society was granted a juridical structure, Lefebvre changed his mind. Those close to him say his decision came after a night without sleep spent almost entirely in prayer. The next morning, he told Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that he doubted the terms of the agreement would, over time, protect the integrity of his Society. Lefebvre’s decision to withdraw from the agreement set the stage for the events which followed less than two months later, when he proceeded to consecrate the four new bishops. Lefebvre passed away in 1991.

In 1994, Bishop Fellay was chosen to be the second Superior General of the SSPX, following Fr. Franz Schmidberger. In his public discourse and manner, he was perceived as the most moderate and conciliatory of the four bishops.

Felllay was instrumental in organizing a pilgrimage to the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome, during the Jubilee Year of 2000, in cooperation with the Holy See.

This seemed to open the way to a new round of negotiations with the Vatican. Such talks had been impossible due to completely opposing views over three main issues in addition to the liturgy: ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality. Lefebvre taught that erroneous “progressive” or “modernist” interpetations of the texts of the Second Vatican Council had led many in the Church to break with the Church’s perennial teaching on these three matters. His Society was uncompromising in its opposition to modernism, and based its opposition on the condemnations of many Popes, especially the Pope from whom they took their names, St Pius X.

During the first years of the new millennium, and especially after the election of Pope Benedict XVI in April, 2005, the Holy See had become much more favorable to the celebration of the Old Mass, with the emergence of groups like the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King. What was especially noted in Rome was the attendance of many young people at these celebrations of the Latin Mass. Increasingly, many Catholics who had not grown up prior to the Council (1962-1965) seemed eager to attend the old rite of the Mass, where there was a certain decorum, reverence, solemnity (Gregorian chant, communion on the tongue, kneeling for communion, the priest turned ad orientem or “toward the east”) which seemed to be missing in celebrations of the new rite.

It was starting to become quite evident that it was not only Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers who shared concerns about the direction of Church life following Vatican II. At the same time, the “Lefebvrists” continued to flourish, coming to number about 700 priests, 500 seminarians and tens of thousands of laity in 62 countries.

In their talks with officials of the Holy See, representatives of the Society always stressed that for any normalization of relations, all restrictions on the celebration of the Old Mass throughout the word were to be removed. [Following the 1988 excommunications, John Paul II had promulgated the apostolic constitution Ecclesia Dei encouraging all who wished to attend Mass in the old rite, which was never prohibited by law but which in fact had been almost universally suppressed, to seek permission from a local bishop.]

This goal was seemingly accomplished, in large measure, with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which Pope Benedict issued on July 7, 2007, and the Pope’s decision was greeted with joy among more traditional Catholics, and praised by Bishop Fellay. The document said that the old Missal had never been abrogated — an argument used by Lefebvre to defend his attachment to the old rite. [John Paul II had appointed a Commission of Cardinals to investigate the issue, and they had concluded the same. However, in 1988, when Lefebvre consecrated the four bishops, John Paul felt the time had not arrived for liberalization of the celebration of this liturgy, because of the overwhelming opposition of European bishops.]

Bishop Fellay met with Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo on August 29, 2005, only four months after Benedict’s election, and from that moment discussions started in earnest for the removal of the excommunications, which had always been another pre-condition for normalization of relations.

The President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission (set up to manage issues involving the traditional liturgy), Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos said in November 2007, a few months after the new rules regarding the celebration of the liturgy: “The lifting of the excommunication weighing on the bishops of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X since 1988 can happen but that it definitely depends on them.”

On June 4, 2008, just half a year ago, Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos set several conditions to be met by the SSPX to facilitate a lifting of the excommunications:

1. The commitment to a response proportionate to the generosity of the Pope.
2. The commitment to avoid every public intervention which does not respect the person of the Holy Father and which may be negative to ecclesial charity.
3. The commitment to avoid the claim to a Magisterium superior to the Holy Father and to not propose the Society in contraposition to the Church.
4. The commitment to display the will to act honestly in full ecclesial charity and in respect for the authority of the Vicar of Christ.
5. The commitment to respect the date — fixed for the end of the month of June [2008] — to respond positively. This shall be a condition necessary and required as an immediate preparation for adhesion to accomplish full communion.

[Signed] + Darío Card. Castrillón Hoyos

At a pilgrimage on the Feast of Christ the King in November 2008 to the sanctuary in Lourdes, France, Bishop Fellay initiated a rosary campaign for the removal of the excommunications, receiving in excess of 1 million pledges.

Reaction to the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunications has been divided. Many Catholic believers attached to tradition (whether in communion with the Church or not) have attributed the decision to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But a number of more “progressive” Catholics have said they are surprised that the Pope has acted in such a positive way toward bishops holding such conservative positions.

The remarks of Bishop Williamson on a number of subjects, particularly on the subject of the Nazi persecution of the Jews (1933-1945), has led to the accusation that he is a “Holocaust-denier.” Lifting his excommunication seems likely to present problems for Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The SSPX reverts to the penalties given by Rome prior to the episcopal consecrations, and all six bishops in the Society remain suspended a divinis. The Society remains a group of Catholics in an irregular state. No chapel of the Society of St Pius X in the world is in communion with the Universal Church, and its priests sharing in the suspension are deprived of the clerical state (a separate matter from the validity of their ordinations). They cannot offer the sacraments of matrimony and penance validly, because that requires faculties from a local bishop.

But the first great hurdle in the way of a full ecclesial communion for the Society appear to have been removed.

Text of the decree:
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Document repealing excommunications


By way of a letter of December 15, 2008 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Dario Castrillon 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 matters still open, so as to achieve rapidly 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, which arose 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 Society 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

Bishop Fellay’s letter in response to the decree:

Letter of the Superior General of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X

Dear faithful,

As I announce in the attached press release, “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.” It was the prayer intention I had entrusted to you in Lourdes, on the feast of Christ the King 2008. Your response exceeded our expectations, since one million seven hundred and three thousand rosaries were said to obtain through the intercession of Our Lady that an end be put to the opprobrium which, beyond the persons of the bishops of the Society, rested upon all those who were more or less attached to Tradition. Let us not forget to thank the Most Blessed Virgin who has inspired the Holy Father with this unilateral, benevolent, and courageous act to. Let us assure him of our fervent prayers.

Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to Tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the Faith of their fathers. Catholic Tradition is no longer excommunicated. Though it never was in itself, It was often excommunicated and cruelly so in day to day events. It is just as the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated in itself, as the Holy Father has happily recalled in the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007.

The decree of January 21 quotes the letter dated December 15, 2008 to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in which I expressed our attachment “to the Church of Our Lord Jesus-Christ which is the Catholic Church,” re-affirming there our acceptance of its 2,000-year-old teaching and our faith in the Primacy of Peter. I reminded him that we were suffering much from the present situation of the Church in which this teaching and this primacy were being held to scorn. And I added: “We are ready to write the Creed with our own blood, to sign the anti-modernist oath, the profession of faith of Pius IV, we accept and make our own all the councils up to the Second Vatican Council about which we express some reservations.” In all this, we are convinced that we remain faithful to the line of conduct indicated by our founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose reputation we hope to soon see restored.

Consequently, we wish to begin these “talks” — which the decree acknowledges to be “necessary” — about the doctrinal issues which are opposed to the Magisterium of all time. We cannot help noticing the unprecedented crisis which is shaking the Church today: crisis of vocations, crisis of religious practice, of catechism, of the reception of the sacraments … Before us, Paul VI went so far as to say that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan had entered the Church”, and he spoke of the “self-destruction of the Church”. John Paul II did not hesitate to say that Catholicism in Europe was, as it were, in a state of “silent apostasy.” Shortly before his election to the Throne of Peter, Benedict XVI compared the Church to a “boat taking in water on every side.”

Thus, during these discussions with the Roman authorities we want to examine the deep causes of the present situation, and by bringing the appropriate remedy, achieve a lasting restoration of the Church.

Dear faithful, the Church is in the hands of her Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. In Her we place our confidence. We have asked from her the freedom of the Mass of all time everywhere and for all. We have asked from her the withdrawal of the decree of excommunications. In our prayers, we now ask from her the necessary doctrinal clarifications which confused souls so much need.

Menzingen, January 24, 2009
+Bernard Fellay

Deo Gratias, Excommunication Lifted!

Their Excellency's, Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta

Their Excellency’s, Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta

Updated at the bottom of the post.

Congregation of Bishops

By letter of 15 December 2008 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Mons. Bernard Fellay, also on behalf of the other three bishops consecrated on 30 June 1988, again petitioned for the removal of the excommunication latae sententiae formally declared by Decree of the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 1 July 1988. In the aforementioned letter, Mons. Fellay affirms, among other things: “We are always firmly determined in the will to remain Catholics and to put all our forces at the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept its teachings with filial spirit. We believe firmly in the Primacy of Peter and his prerogatives, and therefore the current situation makes us suffer so much.”

His Holiness Benedict XVI – paternally sensitive to the spiritual distress expressed by those involved because of the sanction of excommunication and trusting in the commitment expressed by them in the aforementioned letter not to spare any effort to enlarge upon more deeply in the necessary talks with the Authorities of the Holy See the questions still open, in order to be able to soon reach a full and satisfactory solution to the problem at the source – has decided to reconsider the canonical situation of the Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta arisen with their episcopal consecration.

With this act it is desired to consolidate the mutual relations of trust and to intensify and give stability to the relations of the Fraternity of St. Pius X with this Apostolic See. This gift of peace, at the end of the Christmas celebrations, intends also to be a sign to promote the unity in love of the Universal Church and to get to remove the scandal of division.

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

According to faculty expressly granted to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, by virtue of this decree, I remit to the Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta the censure of excommunication latae sententiae declared by this Congregation on 1 July 1988 while I declare without juridical effects, as of today’s date, the decree issued at that time.

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

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re

Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops



From DICI’s website   


Letter from His Excellency, Bishop Fellay