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Pope Lifts Excommunications of 4 Bishops

Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of four bishops consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Vatican announced Saturday.

One of the four bishops was shown this week in a Swedish state TV interview saying that historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed." The report prompted Rome's chief rabbi to ask the Vatican to halt plans to rehabilitate him.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Bishop Richard Williamson's views had no impact on the decision to lift the excommunication decree.

The pope's decision by no means implies "sharing (Williamson's) ideas or his comments, which will be judged on their own," the ANSA news agency quoted Lombardi as saying.

Lefebvre founded the Switzerland-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969, opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly its allowing of Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin.

The four bishops were excommunicated in 1988 after Lefebvre consecrated them without Rome's consent. Lefebvre was excommunicated as well.

Benedict made clear from the start of his pontificate that he wanted to normalize relations with the society, meeting months after he was elected with the current head, Bishop Bernard Fellay.

In 2007, Benedict answered one of Fellay's key demands by relaxing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass. In lifting the excommunication decree, he answered the society's second condition for beginning theological discussions about normalizing relations.

"The Holy Father in this decision was inspired by the wish that full reconciliation and full communion can be achieved soon," the Vatican said.