April 21, 2003
Pope woos conservatives expelled for rebellion
By Richard Owen in Rome
THE Pope is to heal a breach with rebel arch-conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church by reinstating excommunicated followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who broke with Rome in 1988 to protest against the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including the abolition of the Latin Mass.
The schism had caused the Pope much anguish, Vatican sources said. By bringing the more “moderate schismatics” back into the fold he hoped to isolate extreme followers of Dr Lefebvre and close the matter, as one of the last acts of reconciliation in his pontificate.
The Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero said that this would mark a victory for the Pope in the battle for the “soul of the Church”, which had been going on since Vatican II in the 1960s.
Dr Lefebvre condemned the council’s reforms as “Marxist” and “neo-Protestant”. He demanded traditional Masses in Latin, frequent confession and an emphasis on the realities of Hell as a punishment for mortal sin.
The Vatican told Dr Lefebvre to desist and a formal canonical warning was issued in June 1988. The final straw for the Vatican was his ordination of four bishops “without a pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff”. He was excommunicated with the four bishops.
The order, which was issued on behalf of the Pope by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin of Benin, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the time, declared that Dr Lefebvre and the bishops had “incurred ipso facto excommunication”, the penalty envisaged by Canon Law. He said that those who supported “the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre” would also incur “the very grave penalty of excommunication”.
Until his death in 1991 Dr Lefebvre, who had served as a bishop in Gabon and Dakar, before becoming Archbishop of Tulle in his native France in 1962, continued to voice hardline opposition to church “liberalism”.
The Pope’s reconciliatory moves are being resisted by a group of arch-traditionalists led by the British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four prelates ordained by Dr Lefebvre.
Bishop Williamson has said that the Vatican has “sold its soul to liberalism”. He said recently that the gulf between the traditionalists and the Pope was unbridgeable, and that the Pope had a “weak grasp of Catholicism”.
The readmission to the Church of the three other bishops who were ordained by Dr Lefebvre — Bernard Fellay of Switzerland, Bernard Tissier of France and Alfonso de Gallareta of Argentina — is to be announced next month at a Mass at the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, conducted by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, head of the Congregation for the Clergy. The Cardinal is seen by many as a credible Latin American candidate to be the next Pope.
Vatican sources said that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, 75, had begun secret negotiations in the Vatican more than two years ago with the moderate wing of the schismatics, led by Bishop Fellay. The talks had had the Pope’s blessing.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper said that, in a gesture to the returning “prodigal sons”, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos would hold the Mass in Latin, the first time that a Latin Mass had been said in one of the main Rome basilicas for more than 30 years.
It appears that the ordination of the bishops will be recognised in retrospect as part of their readmission to the fold. It is not clear how many of the 400 priests who also joined the Lefebvre movement — known as the Society of St Pius X — will follow suit. The society, which Dr Lefebvre founded in 1969 to fight the Vatican, has an estimated 150,000 followers, who will have to decide whether to rejoin the mainstream.
Despite the concession of the Latin Mass, the returning bishops will have to swear loyalty not only to the Pope but also to the conclusions of Vatican II. Dr Lefebvre said that the council had “destroyed the Church, ruined the priesthood and abolished the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments”.
There is a provision by Vatican II, reinforced by the Pope, for the Latin — or Tridentine — Mass to be said by special dispensation. It remains the exception rather than the rule.Dr Lefebvre’s denunciations of what he called the neo-modernism and neo-Protestantism of Vatican II had brought him into repeated conflict with Pope Paul VI, who in 1976 forbade him to say Mass.
The move by the present Pope is in part a gamble aimed at showing that many of Dr Lefebvre’s followers are willing to refuse to compromise and stay out in the cold. A hard core holds that the seat of St Peter is vacant, since they do not recognise the election of John Paul II.
More moderate Lefebvrists, however, increasingly find this absurd, especially since the Pope has himself adopted sternly conservative measures in the twilight of his pontificate. Last week he reminded Catholics of the strict rules governing Communion — including the ban on joint Communion with Protestants — and last year he said that the trend among Catholic liberals towards mass absolution instead of individual confession was unacceptable.
Ramifications of the 'new Pentecost'
Vatican II heralded “new Pentecost” by Pope John XXIII who convened bishops and cardinals for greatest Church overhaul since Council of Trent in the mid-16th century
Sought to modernise the Church but keep traditional status:overhauled liturgy, replacing traditional Tridentine Masswith vernacular; priests were directed to face the congregation, not the altar
Laity urged to increase participation in Church life. Council began Bible study, marriage guidance, social action groups and charismatic renewal movement
Declared that other Christian denominations and religions had “good”, but it was the One True Church. In Decree on Ecumenism, the Church signalled its intention to work with other Christian churches, acknowledging that the “Spirit of Christ is at work in them”
Condemned anti-Semitism and recognised “bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock”
Also recognised other non-Christian religions “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men”. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions,” it said