|Q-and-A Explains Standing of 4 Lefebvrite Bishops
LONDON, 27 JAN. 2009 (ZENIT)
Here is an explanation prepared by the
episcopal conference of England and Wales on the lifting of the
excommunication of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X.
A statement released by the conference said the bishops are in harmony
with Benedict XVI's decision, and expressed their "hope that this act
will consolidate reciprocal relations of trust and to intensify and
stabilize the relations" between the society and the Holy See.
* * *
Q: Why were the Society of St. Pius X bishops excommunicated?
A: Canon 1013 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides that no bishop may
consecrate anyone as bishop unless it is first established that a
pontifical mandate has been issued. Canon 1382 goes on to provide that
where a bishop consecrates a bishop without a pontifical mandate both
the consecrating bishop and the bishop who receives consecration incur a
"latae sententiae" excommunication. A "latae sententiae" penalty is one
that is incurred automatically as soon as one commits an offence,
without the need for any process to impose it. As there is no need for a
process, an ecclesiastical authority will sometimes declare the penalty,
which means that a formal declaration is issued stating that this
penalty has taken effect.
When Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated these four as bishops on June 30,
1988, he did so without a pontifical mandate. Therefore, by the very act
of carrying out this consecration, both Archbishop Lefebvre and the four
bishops being consecrated incurred an automatic excommunication. On July
1, 1988, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops declared the
penalty to have taken effect.
Q: What was their status when they were excommunicated?
A: The fact that this consecration was prohibited by the law of the
Church and that the penalty of excommunication applied does not affect
the sacramental validity of the consecration. Therefore, they were and
are validly ordained bishops. Excommunication is a censure which, it is
hoped, leads to the rehabilitation of the offender. The effects of it,
according to Canon 1331 are to forbid a person to have any ministerial
part in the Eucharist or other ceremonies of public worship, to
celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals or to receive the sacraments or
to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, functions or acts of
Q: What does the lifting of the excommunication mean?
A: Censures can be remitted as their purpose is to bring about
contrition. In fact, according to Canon 1358, when the contempt has been
purged, remission of the censure cannot be refused. The Holy Father has
taken the view that Bishop Fellay's letter of Dec. 15, 2008, to Cardinal
Castrillón Hoyos shows a suitable commitment to reach a resolution of
the original problem. He also considered that this would improve
relations with the Society of St. Pius X and consolidate reciprocal
trust. The lifting of the excommunications has not restored full
communion with the Society of St. Pius X, but it is a first step that it
is hoped will lead to a restoration of full communion by the whole
Society of St. Pius X.
Q: Does this lift the suspension on them practicing as bishops or
priests in full communion?
A: As full communion has not yet been restored, it follows that members
of the Society of St. Pius X who are priests or bishops cannot exercise
their ministry as priests or bishops in full communion. Part of the
dialogue between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X will include
looking at how its bishops and priests could exercise their ministry in
the Catholic Church were that hope to be realized.
Q: Has the Pope's action changed the relationship between the Catholic
Church and the Society of St. Pius X?
A: From the point of view of full communion, the relationship has not
changed. Furthermore, the Catholic Church has as a very important goal
the restoration of full communion with all Christians and this has not
changed either. The lifting of the excommunications is an important step
of furthering that goal with regard to the Society of St. Pius X.
Q: What are the next steps in the process?
A: The decree from the Congregation for Bishops lifting the
excommunications refers to the Holy Father's trust in the commitment of
the Society of St. Pius X to spare no efforts in examining the
outstanding questions in its discussions with the Holy See. The next
step is continuing dialogue with a view to deepening the relations
between the Catholic Church and the Society of St. Pius X, in the hope
that there can be a return to full communion. How that dialogue unfolds
is a matter for the Holy See and the authorities of the Society of St.
The complete text of the decree (Jan. 21, 2009) is given below:
"In a letter of Dec. 15, 2008, addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon
Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Bishop
Bernard Fellay once again requested
also in the name of the other three bishops consecrated on 30 June 1988
the removal of the excommunication 'latae sententiae' formally
pronounced by a decree of the prefect of this Congregation for Bishops
on July 1, 1988. In that letter Bishop Fellay affirmed, among other
things, that 'we continue firmly resolute in our desire to remain
Catholics and to put all our strength at the service of the Church of
Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept her
teachings in a filial spirit. We firmly believe in the Primacy of Peter
and in its prerogatives, and for this reason the current situation
causes us much suffering.'
"His Holiness Benedict XVI
in his paternal compassion for the spiritual discomfort expressed by the
parties concerned, because of the excommunication, and trusting in the
commitment they expressed in the aforesaid letter to spare no efforts in
examining outstanding questions through the requisite discussions with
the authorities of the Holy See in order to reach a prompt, full and
satisfactory solution to the original problem
has decided to reconsider the canonical position of Bishops Bernard
Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de
Galarreta, which arose following their episcopal consecration.
"With this act it is hoped to consolidate reciprocal relations of trust,
and to intensify and stabilize the relations of the Fraternity of St.
Pius X with this Holy See. This gift of peace, coming at the end of the
Christmas celebrations, also wishes to be a sign to promote the
universal Church's unity in charity, and to remove the scandal of
"It is hoped that this step will be followed by the prompt attainment of
full communion with the Church by the entire Fraternity of St. Pius X,
thus demonstrating true faithfulness and true recognition of the
magisterium and authority of Pope with the sign of visible unity.
"On the basis of the powers expressly granted to me by the Holy Father
Benedict XVI, and by virtue of this decree, I remit the sentence of
excommunication 'latae sententiae' declared by this congregation on July
1, 1988, against Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais,
Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta. At the same time I declare
that, as of today's date, the decree then issued is devoid of juridical