Making peace with Lefebvre bishops


Madam, – Rev Iggy O’Donovan’s interpretation of the lifting of the excommunication of four illegally ordained bishops is unnecessarily malign and vindictive (The Irish Times, February 13th).

In 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of Vatican II, effectively turned his back on the Catholic Church and set up a schismatic “church” in his own image by illegally ordaining as bishops four men who shared his views.

This very act strikes such a blow to the unity of the Church that, in canon law, Lefebvre and the four new bishops literally excommunicated themselves from the Church.

Since then Pope Benedict, first as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and subsequently as Pope, has worked tirelessly to nudge this expanding community back into unity of heart and mind with the Church. This work of building up and defending the unity of the Church has been the central task of the papacy since the time of St Peter.

This Pope has therefore spent decades painstakingly shepherding this community back to a point where it is now very close to recognising and accepting the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. This, of course, is the Pope’s central goal.

For anyone to claim that the Pope’s intention is exactly the opposite, to undermine the Vatican Council, is both shameful and ridiculous.

The lifting of these excommunications is a gesture of clemency directed towards restoring church unity. It does not mean these individuals have already been granted full communion. They are still not permitted to celebrate the sacraments, they have no recognised pastoral charge, and their teachings are in no way underwritten by the Church’s magisterium. It is merely a confidence-building step in the journey towards unity.

Every peace process has its pitfalls. From a communications point of view it is clear that the distraction of Bishop Williamson’s dangerously wacky world-view should have been decommissioned much earlier, but the fact that the ramblings of this minor professor in Argentina did not crop up in negotiations is hardly the fault of the Holy Father himself.

Rev O’Donovan reveals ugly underlying sentiments towards the Pope when he repeats, without any context, the old calumny of Pope Benedict once being a member of Hitler Youth. The facts on this have been put on record so often that he cannot claim to be innocently ignorant. Under Hitler’s regime young children simply had no choice but to be conscripted, and the Pope has often written of how he and his family suffered because of their opposition to Hitler.

It is ironic to note that Father O’Donovan is the very last person one would have expected to argue that the ultimate penalty of excommunication should apply for sounding off in public with irrational and disturbing opinions. – Yours, etc,


Church Lane,