Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

The Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" is a commission of the Roman Catholic Church established by Pope John Paul II's "motu proprio" "Ecclesia Dei" of 2 July 1988 for the care of those former followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who broke with him as a result of his consecration of four priests of his Society of St. Pius X as bishops on 30 June 1988, an act the Holy See deemed illicit and schismatic.

It has the additional tasks of trying to return to full communion with the Holy See those traditionalist Catholics who are in a state of separation, of whom the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is foremost, and of helping to satisfy just aspirations of people unconnected with these groups who want to keep alive the pre-1970 Roman Rite liturgy.

The Pontifical Commission was given additional functions by the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum", issued by Pope Benedict XVI on 7 July 2007, to exercise the authority of the Holy See, supervising the observance and application of the dispositions of that motu proprio, as described below.

Activities in 2000-2002

In 2000, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who became President of the Commission in that year, approached the bishops of the SSPX about regularizing relations, and told them that the Pope was prepared to grant them a personal prelature without territorial limits — the same canonical structure as that enjoyed by Opus Dei. ["John-Paul II went as far as to offer Lefebvre a personal prelature" (Aspects of Contemporary France, by Sheila Perry, ISBN 0-415-13180-4, page 159); "So I told all these things to the Cardinal and then he said, "So, here's what Rome proposes to you: We want a solution in which we solve the problem of bishops, bishops who would be ordinaries, that is, true bishops, maybe with dioceses, and priests and faithful." He spoke about an arrangement like that of Opus Dei, that is, a personal prelature" ( [http://www.sspx.org/discussions/rome_sspx_campos.htm talk given by Bishop Bernard Fellay at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Kansas City, Missouri on March 5 2002] ). However, on an earlier occasion Bishop Fellay said that what was under consideration was not a personal prelature but an apostolic administration ( [http://www.sspx.ca/Communicantes/Aug2001/Our_Hope_After_the_Battle.htm Communicantes: August 2001] ).] The SSPX leadership responded with distrust, ["The Superior General expressed his point of view, his distrust, his apprehension" ( [http://www.sspx.org/discussions/statement_of_bishop_fellay_jan22_01.htm Statement of Bishop Fellay to SSPX Members & Friends January 22, 2001] )] saying that Castrillón was vague on how this structure would be implemented and supported,Fact|date=February 2007 and considering what they regarded as objectionable conduct on the Vatican's part at the time of the 1988 consecrationsFact|date=February 2007 and in relation to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. [ [http://www.sspx.org/Superior%20Generals%20Ltrs/supgen_60.htm "Rome’s failure to understand our position is such that if today we accepted their agreement, tomorrow we would have to undergo exactly the same treatment as Saint Peter’s Fraternity, which is muzzled, and being led where it does not want to go".] [http://www.sspx.org/discussions/fr_schimdbergers_talk.htm#fssp_fiasco See also.] ] They required two preliminary "signs" before continuing negotiations: that the Holy See grant permission for all priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, and declare null its earlier declarations that the 1988 consecrations had resulted in excommunication. ["On January 16, there was another meeting with Cardinal Castrillon, during which the Superior General exposed the necessity of having guaranties from Rome before going ahead in the details of eventual discussions or an agreement: That the Tridentine Mass be granted to all priests of the entire world; That the censures against the Bishops be declared null" ( [http://www.sspx.org/discussions/statement_of_bishop_fellay_jan22_01.htm Statement of Bishop Fellay to SSPX Members & Friends January 22 2001] ); "We thus did require these two signs, first the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication and, secondly, the permission for all the priests of the Latin rite, without distinction, to celebrate the traditional Mass. I believe these two steps would have been able to create a truly new climate in the universal Church" (http://www.sspx.ca/Communicantes/Aug2001/Our_Hope_After_the_Battle.htm Interview with Bishop Fellay, August 2001, Angelus magazine)]

Cardinal Castrillón refused to grant interviews on the matter, in order, as he said, "to maintain the privacy of the details of our dialogue". This silence was broken when his letter of 5 April 2002 to Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, was later published. [ [http://www.unavoce.org/castrillon_hoyos_to_fellay.htm Letter to Fellay] ] The letter contained the text of a protocol summarising the meeting between the two men held on 29 December 2000, a document that Bishop Fellay accepted at a further meeting the next day. The protocol envisaged a reconciliation on the basis of the protocol of 5 May 1988; the excommunications of 1988 would be "lifted", rather than declared null. In his letter, the Cardinal proposed continuing negotiations with Bishop Fellay by means of personal meetings.

In keeping with Cardinal Castrillón's desire to avoid counterproductive publicity, the reports of the Ecclesia Dei Commission appearing in the annual publication "L'Attività della Santa Sede" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana) for the years 2000 and those immediately following make no mention of these negotiations.

In another field, the Commission made successful contact in the same year 2000 with the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney in Campos, Brazil, which was admitted to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and was granted the status of a Personal Apostolic Administration within that diocese.

Activities in 2003-2005

The 2003 report of the Ecclesia Dei Commission is the first of its 21st-century reports to speak of serious dialogue between SSPX and the Holy See:

During the year, dialogue about the canonical situation of the St Pius X Fraternity continued at various levels. In this connection, the Cardinal President had some high-level meetings and kept up an exchange of correspondence. On the Holy See's side, there has been no change in the effective proposals for regularizing the question. After examining the problems faced by priests and faithful, considering the good will of several members of the Fraternity and the recurrent problems of the faithful attached to the former liturgical tradition who take part in the Fraternity's liturgy, the full membership of the Commission studied and presented to the Holy Father a draft for restructuring the Commission with a view to… a possible return of the St Pius X Fraternity or of some of its members [2003 edition of "L'Attività della Santa Sede" (ISBN 88-209-7583-1), page 1097]

The 2004 report had less to say about SSPX: "Again this year, dialogue at various levels continued, though slowly, with the Saint Pius X Fraternity. The Cardinal President had meetings, some at a high level, in this regard. On the Holy See's side, the effective proposals for regularizing the situation remain unaltered." [2004 edition of "L'Attività della Santa Sede" (ISBN 88-209-7752-4), page 1090]

The 2005 report states: "During the year, the Cardinal President intensified dialogue with the Fraternity of St Pius X, finding that it had somewhat improved, with more concrete prospects of reaching more perfect communion. The Cardinal President had some meetings in this regard with His Excellency Bishop B. Fellay and other members in leadership positions, and kept up an exchange of correspondence." [2005 edition of "L'Attività della Santa Sede" (ISBN 88-209-7831-8), page 1168]

Without having the meeting listed as one of his official audiences of the day, Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who in 1988 had in vain negotiated on behalf of Pope John Paul II with Archbishop Lefebvre, received for 35 minutes on 29 August 2005 Bishop Bernard Fellay, who had requested the meeting. ["Rarely has a 35-minute audience, one that didn't even appear on the pope's official list of engagements, made as much of a splash as Benedict XVI's "private" Aug. 29 encounter with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Society of St. Pius X, the body founded in 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre." [http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/word090205.htm Benedict and the Lefebvrites] , John L. Allen, Jr., Word From Rome, National Catholic Reporter, September 2, 2005] There was no breakthrough, but statements from both sides spoke of the atmosphere as positive.

Activities in 2006-2008

The Commission marked another success in establishing on 8 September 2006 the Institute of the Good Shepherd with a membership of priests who had belonged to the Society of St Pius X.

Speaking on 16 May 2007 to the [http://en.celam.info/ Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean] , Cardinal Castrillón presented the Ecclesia Dei Commission over which he presides as founded for the care of those "traditionalist Catholics" who, while discontented with the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, had broken with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre "because they disagreed with his schismatic action in ordaining Bishops without the required papal mandate". He added that at present the Commission's activity is not limited to the service of those Catholics, nor to "the efforts undertaken to end the regrettable schismatic situation and secure the return of those brethren belonging to the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to full communion." It extends also, he said, to "satisfying the just aspirations of people, unrelated to the two aforementioned groups, who, because of their specific sensitiveness, wish to keep alive the earlier Latin liturgy in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments."

Pope Benedict XVI, he said, who was for years a member of the Commission, wishes it to become an organ of the Holy See for the specific purpose of preserving and maintaining the value of the traditional Latin liturgy. He added the comment: "But it must be stated quite clearly that it is not a matter of going backward, of returning to the times before the 1970 reform. What is in question is instead a generous offer of the Vicar of Christ wishing, as an expression of his pastoral will, to place at the Church's disposal all the treasures of the Latin liturgy that for centuries nourished the spiritual life of so many generations of Catholic faithful. The Holy Father wishes to preserve the immense spiritual, cultural and esthetic treasure linked with the old liturgy. Recovery of these riches goes together with the no less precious riches of the Church's present liturgy." [ [http://www.celam.info/content/view/277/332/ Intervención sobre Ecclesia Dei-16 de mayo de 2007] ]

Clearly, the Cardinal already knew the text of the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum", which Pope Benedict published on 7 July 2007, which gave the Pontifical Commission additional functions: it was to exercise the authority of the Holy See, supervising the observance and application of the dispositions of the motu proprio, [ [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", art. 12] ] and, if a bishop was unable to satisfy the request of a stable group of the kind mentioned, the matter was to be referred to the Commission, either by the bishop himself or by others. [ [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", articles 7-8] ]

The dispositions of the motu proprio whose observance and application were thus entrusted to the Pontifical Commission included the following:
* Priests of the Latin Rite can freely choose between the 1962 Roman Missal and the later edition "in Masses celebrated without the people". [ [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", art. 2] ] Such celebrations may be attended by those who spontaneously ask to be allowed. [ [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", art. 4] ]
* Where there is a "stable" group of faithful attached to the earlier form, the priest in charge of the church "should willingly accept their request to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal", provided that the celebrating priest is "qualified to [celebrate] and not juridically impeded." [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", art. 5] ] (This would exclude traditionalist priests not in good standing with Rome.)
* "For faithful and priests who request it, the pastor should also allow celebrations in this extraordinary form for special circumstances such as marriages, funerals or occasional celebrations."
*"The pastor ... may also grant permission to use the earlier ritual for the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick, if the good of souls would seem to require it." [http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/summorum-pontificum.html "Summorum Pontificum", art. 9] ]
* "Ordinaries are given the right to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation using the earlier Roman Pontifical, if the good of souls would seem to require it."
* "Clerics ... may use the Roman Breviary promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962."

Some groups of traditionalist Catholics, such as the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (previously known as the Transalpine Redemptorists), that had been in dispute with the Holy See decided that this motu proprio gave grounds for seeking an agreement, [ [http://papastronsay.blogspot.com/2008/04/immaculate-heart-of-marypray-for-us.html Declaration on Relations with Rome] ] contacted the Commission and were received into full communion with the Holy See. [ [http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=59445 Transalpine Redemptorists reconciled with Holy See] ]

The Commission also continued its conversations with the Society of St Pius X, which, though welcoming the motu proprio, referred to "difficulties that still remain", including "disputed doctrinal issues" and the notice of excommunication that still affects its bishops. [ [http://www.fsspx.org/eng/index.html Press Release from the General Superior of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, 7 July 2007 ] ] After a meeting on 4 June 2008 with the Society's superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Cardinal Castrillón asked in writing to respond positively before the end of that month committing himself:
# to give a response proportionate to the generosity of the pope.
# to avoid any public intervention disrespectful of the person of the pope and that would be negative for ecclesial charity.
# to avoid the claim to a magisterium higher than the Holy Father and to not present the society in opposition to the Church.
# to show the will to act honestly in full ecclesial charity and with respect for the authority of the Vicar of Christ. [ [http://rorate-coeli.blogspot.com/2008/06/pontificia-commissio-ecclesia-dei.html original French text] ] [ [ http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=13044 Holy See issues ultimatum to Pius X Society, Vatican expert reveals] ]

Reuters reported on 26 June 2008 that Bishop Fellay had given a negative response. [ [http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL2641197220080626 Catholic rebel snubs pope call to rejoin Rome] ]

Cardinal Presidents of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

*Paul Mayer, O.S.B. (2 Jul 1988 - 1 Jul 1991)
*Antonio Innocenti (1 Jul 1991 - 16 Dec 1995)
*Angelo Felici (16 Dec 1995 - 13 Apr 2000)
*Darío Castrillón Hoyos (14 Apr 2000 - )


External links

* [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_commissions/ecclsdei/ Commission Ecclesia Dei] on www.vatican.va
* [http://www.gcatholic.com/dioceses/romancuria/d74.htm Giga-Catholic Information]

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