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World Church News - 3 September 2005

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Pope signals end to schism with Lefebvrists

POPE BENEDICT XVI this week met the leader of the only religious group to go formally into schism since the Second Vatican Council, apparently to explore ways to heal the 17-year-old rupture and bring him and his followers back into full communion with Rome.

The Pope received Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Society of St Pius X (also known as Lefebvrists), at his Castel Gandolfo residence on Monday. Dr Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s spokesman, said the meeting took place at Bishop Fellay’s request and was conducted “in a climate of love for the Church and a desire to arrive at perfect communion”. The statement downplayed the significance of the 35-minute meeting but hinted that it was the start of more regular contacts. “While knowing the difficulties,” the spokesman said, “the desire was shown to proceed by degrees and in reasonable time.”

Afterwards, Bishop Fellay said the meeting took place in an “atmosphere of calm” and was “an opportunity for the Society to manifest that it has always been attached – and will always be – to the Holy See, Eternal Rome”. The bishop said his group, which boasts some 450 priests and nearly 180 seminarians in 26 countries, prayed that “the Holy Father might find the strength to put an end to the crisis in the Church and ‘restore all things in Christ’”.

But on Tuesday, Cardinal Francesco Pompedda, the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, told the Italian daily La Stampa that the Society of St Pius X could only be reconciled to the Holy See if it recognised Vatican authority. Full communion with the Lefebvrists can only be achieved “if the society submits itself to the legitimate authority of the Pope” and recognises the validity of Vatican II decrees, the Italian cardinal said. He added that the traditionalists should explicitly recognise “the validity of papal elections from the death of Pius XII up until today”. Cardinal Pompedda observed that some traditionalists have questioned the validity of papal elections during that period.

The ultra-conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society of St Pius X in 1970 as a means of preserving the use of the Tridentine Mass, which the bishops of the Second Vatican Council – almost unanimously – voted to reform. But the group soon displayed that its attachment to the so-called Old Rite was only one feature of its more serious rejection of some of the major elements of the Council, especially ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

After Archbishop Lefebvre refused to close his seminaries, Pope Paul VI in 1976 suspended him “a divinis” from celebrating the sacraments. Two years later the newly elected Pope John Paul II began efforts to accommodate the traditionalist group, going so far as granting a still controversial indult for the limited use of the Old Rite, which most liturgists at the time believed had been replaced by the post-Vatican II Mass. Pope John Paul’s efforts, aided principally by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, were eventually rebuffed by Archbishop Lefebvre, who incurred automatic excommunication in 1988 when he defied the Pope and ordained four bishops.

“The Society of St Pius X … has always disapproved of the indefatigable efforts of Pope John Paul II towards ecumenism, efforts which have led to a weakening of the Faith and of the defence of Truth,” Bishop Fellay wrote in a message upon the Pope’s death last April. The Tridentine Mass, in essence, was codified at the Council of Trent as part of the Catholic Church’s answer to the Protestant Reformation.

When Benedict XVI was elected Pope, Bishop Fellay said it was “a gleam of hope that we may find a way out of the profound crisis which is shaking the Catholic Church”. The superior of the Society of St Pius X said he hoped that “the two-thousand-year-old Tradition of the Church, forgotten and mistreated during the last 40 years, may regain its place during this Pontificate, and that the Traditional Holy Mass may be re-established in all its rights, without restrictions”.
Robert Mickens, Rome


Schönborn urges Creation debate. CARDINAL Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, is calling for the discussion of “Creation and Evolution” to be broadened, taking the issue beyond religious instruction and science classrooms and into the fields of economics, philosophy and history.

In the latest issue of the Vienna archdiocese’s “Official Educational Communiqué”, the cardinal re-emphasises his concern with “clarifying” the Church’s teaching on Creation, which caused a worldwide debate when he aired his views in the New York Times in July, but adds that he also wants to encourage a more pertinent exchange of ideas on the subject. Evolutionary theory is not incompatible with belief in a Creator God “provided that the scientific side does not overstep its mark and that the role of chance is not expanded to such an extent that everything – from the Big Bang to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, so to speak – is principally, exclusively and irrevocably seen as a product of chance”, he says.

Cardinal Schönborn explains that his article had been directed against idealising evolutionary theory and making it a universal model. He argues that if it were only a case of discussing a scientific theory, then one could talk about it calmly and in a factual way. Unfortunately, he says, some “evolutionists” almost refuse to discuss the issue at all. There have, he says, been examples of “highly intolerant” behaviour by some members of the “scientific community” towards those who warn that evolutionists sometimes overstep their boundaries, and towards those scientists who speak out on those parts of evolutionary theory that had not as yet been proved.

The cardinal also highlights what he calls the “networking” between neo-Darwinism, economic neo-liberalism and economic educational concepts, and he urges examination of evolutionary concepts such as “competition”, “dominance of the strongest” or of the “most adaptable”, and of “usefulness”.

In studying the subject “pretty intensively” over the past 30 years, the cardinal says he has become “more and more convinced” that the biblical belief in a Creator God does not hinder science, and could on the contrary promote it. Creation is “God’s first language”, he explains: “God could not reveal himself to anyone who did not understand that language.”
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Vienna


Catholic charities rush aid to hurricane victims. CATHOLIC charities were this week at the front line of the relief effort to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans on Monday and left at least 80 dead in its wake. Most of the known fatalities so far are in neighbouring Mississippi.

The death toll was expected to rise as devastated areas became more accessible to police, rescue crews and National Guard units. Insurance firms were expecting claims stemming from Katrina to be the largest single-event payout since the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

By Tuesday, relief work had already begun in Dade County, Florida., which includes Miami. Katrina, then just a tropical storm, skirted the area but left behind heavy rains and flooding. “Catholic charities of the Archdiocese of Miami have already distributed a large load of baby items, food and other supplies to victims. Other aid that they will be providing includes assistance with food, shelter, rent, medicine, utilities and mental health counselling,” said a statement from Catholic Charities USA.

“In New Orleans, it’s pretty grim,” Deacon Gerald Collins, Catholic Charities USA’s director of disaster response, told the Catholic News Service on Tuesday. The water levels are still rising, due principally to a levee breaking. By Tuesday the city had mostly been evacuated, and Deacon Collins said electricity might not be restored to the Crescent City for two months.

While there is universal agreement that the hurricane’s impact could have been much worse, damage was considerable. The greatest fear was that Katrina would make a direct hit on New Orleans – most of which is below sea level – as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest possible. However, by 5 a.m. on Monday, before it reached the Louisiana coast, it had been downgraded to a Category 4. Six hours later, as the eye of the storm was roughly midway between New Orleans and Biloxi, it had been downgraded to a Category 3. By 5 p.m. as its hurricane-force winds were beginning to lash the south-east part of the Jackson metropolitan area, it had been downgraded to a Category 1.

By Tuesday, Katrina had been reclassified as a tropical storm, but was still expected to dump heavy rains as it moved swiftly northeastward.

Judge probes plot to frame bishop. AN ARGENTINE judge is investigating the background to the dramatic resignation last month of Bishop Juan Carlos Maccarone of Santiago del Estero. He is looking into allegations that the bishop, a respected and influential local figure, was the victim of a conspiracy.

The bishop resigned after a secretly made video reached the Vatican, in which he was allegedly shown in what was described as an “intimate relationship” with a 23-year-old mini-cab driver, Alfredo Serrano. The case set off a storm of media speculation about the shadowy interests that lay behind the video, which Serrano admitted he had made himself. Suspicion immediately focused on powerful local political and business groups. The bishop’s supporters took to the streets of the city in their thousands last week to demand an honest investigation.

In a letter to the bishops’ conference on Thursday last week, Bishop Maccarone complained that “interests using technology that implied a blackmail plan” had taken advantage of his good will to undermine his moral character and authority. This point was echoed two days later in an open letter, signed by a number of priests and religious in Santiago, in which they referred to “perverse practices of spying and extortion”.

At that point an examining magistrate, Gustavo Herrera, was put in charge of the case, and he began to investigate one of Santiago’s two TV stations, Channel 7, which is part of the powerful Ick organisation. Bishop Maccarone had frequently criticised this group as the unacceptable face of capitalism in this poor and backward corner of north-west Argentina. It was a Channel 7 report that first revealed the existence of the video. Serrano said he had handed copies to two lawyers and a journalist from Channel 7, and later received payment from its owner, Néstor Ick. Both Mr Ick and the TV journalist, Rogelio Llapur, denied that any money had changed hands.

Students at the seminary in Santiago are among those who believe that Bishop Maccarone fell into a trap set by political and economic interests who resented his work on behalf of the underprivileged. They point to the fate of his like-minded predecessor, Bishop Gerardo Sueldo, who died in a mysterious traffic accident. “What happened to Bishop Maccarone was a clear message to the people of Santiago from the local mafia: if we can do this to the bishop, just imagine what we can do to you,” said one local priest.

An Argentine judge this week ordered an autopsy on the recently identified remains of a French nun murdered nearly 30 years ago during the country’s “Dirty War”, Agence France Presse reported. The judge hopes the autopsy on the remains of Leonie Duquet, discovered in July in an unmarked communal grave, might prove whether she was thrown to her death from an aircraft, a common method used by the Argentine dictatorship against dissidents during its 1976-1983 rule.
Colin Harding

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