Friday, March 6, 2009

Pope Benedict and the SSPX bishops: A puzzle solved.

"Bishop Willaimson's position on the Shoah was unknown to the Holy Father in the moment of lifting the Excommunications." Fr Lombardi

Until I read this statement I had thought it likely that Pope Benedict must have known something about Bishop Williamson because of the role he played as Cardinal Ratzinger in trying to effect a reconciliation with Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. Of course I accepted what Fr. Lombardi said but until yesterday had remained puzzled as to how Cardinal Ratzinger, whose power of memory is legendary and who is normally impeccably thorough and well-informed, could have missed this dangerous detail about Richard Williamson's views.

I say until yesterday morning. The postman delivered a book which I had ordered via Amazon a few days previously. The title: 'Let God's Light Shine Forth'; author Dr Robert Moynihan, editor of the American magazine 'Inside the Vatican'. The book is the distillation of many interviews that Moynihan was privileged to have with Cardinal Ratzinger, the last one taking place about three weeks before the death of Pope John Paul II.

I had only to read 66 pages before finding the answer to the puzzle. The famous 'Protocol of agreement' which Lefebvre signed with Cardinal Ratzinger on May 5 1988, and upon which he reneged the next day, would have restored the Archbishop's priesly faculties which Paul VI had suspended in in the mid-seventies. He would also have been granted the right to ordain a successor bishop.

In his hand-written note to the Cardinal of May 6th Archbishop Lefebvre insisted that the episcopal ordinations which he had originally planned for June 30th that year, should go ahead. He should be allowed to ordain more than one bishop. One, he said, would not be enough to cover the worldwide operations of his Society. He further insisted that the SSPX should be given a majority on the 7 man Roman Commission that he had agreed be set up to oversee it.

I now quote the relevant part of the paragraph describing what happened next:

"Vatican officials wanted Lefebvre to (my caps)SUBMIT THE NAMES OF HIS PROPOSED CANDIDATES FOR THE EPISCOPACY TO THE VATICAN'S CONGREGATION FOR BISHOPS, IN ORDER THAT THE DOSSIERS OF THE CANDIDATES COULD BE EXAMINED IN THE ORDINARY WAY. Ratzinger, aware that it would be difficult for that Episcopal review process to be completed between May 5th and June 30th, obtained the Pope's permission for Lefebvre to ordaine one bishop on August 15....

"Lefebvre refused that offer.....Despite an appeal from the Pope, a warning from the Congregation of Bishops, and a last-minute telegram from Ratzinger," Lefebvre went ahead and the rest is history.

One can only conjecture, as to why the Archbishop should have been unwilling to comply with Rome's quite reasonable request to see the dossiers on his four candidates. I will leave it to others to chew that one over. What IS important however is that it clearly shows that Rome, and of course, Cardinal Ratzinger himself, knew virtually nothing of them. I can find no record of even their names having been mentioned. Cardinal Ratzinger may have heard these names, but certainly nothing about the views of Richard Williamson.

Moynihan had noted earlier that in 1988 it was the Lefebvrists who had turned to Ratzinger in search of an 'understanding ear'. The Cardinal Prefect did what he could for them and when his efforts came to nought, he later said of the situation to Moynihan, "I did what was possible, but we were not granted reconciliation. And we certainly have to try, as far as we can, to keep the doors of reconciliation open."


Juan Montañés said...

Regards from Santander, Spain.
Been charmed with of having found this blog!

Anonymous said...

Very good post, Jane. I too have read Moynihan's book, but thank you for reminding me of this, for it has been a long time!