Note from the Vatican Secretary of State

On the Lifting of SSPX Excommunications,

Vatican II, and the Williamson “Affair”

Christopher A. Ferrara

(Posted 02/04/09
What follows is my unofficial, hot-off-the-presses translation of an Italian communiqué just issued by the Vatican Secretary of State on the still-raging worldwide controversy over the lifting of the excommunication of the SSPX bishops and the statements of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust.

The document very significantly does not speak of any continuing lack of “communion” on the part of SSPX or its lay and clerical adherents, but only a lack of juridical standing in the Church, which is a matter of canonical regularization.  The document does state, however, that as a condition for “future recognition” and “canonical recognition in the Catholic Church”—very telling phrases—there must be on the part of SSPX “full recognition of Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul, John Paul II, and of Benedict XVI himself.”

Well, unless the SSPX claims that Vatican II was not a valid Council of the Church and that we have not had a Magisterium since the election of John XXIII—which it certainly does not claim—there should be no difficulty accepting the Magisterium of the past forty-five years, especially since the Secretary of State confirms that there will be opportunities for “exploration with the interested parties of the questions still open, so as to be able to reach a full and satisfactory solution to the problems which have given rise to this painful fracture.” Practically all the questions concerning Vatican II and the post-conciliar “reforms” are open, whereas the Council’s repetition of prior teaching in its non-problematical texts has never been in dispute.  And who would deny a valid and binding exercise of the Magisterium in a papal encyclical like Evangelium Vitae or John Paul’s infallible pronouncement against women priests in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis? Not to mention Paul VI in Humanae Vitae or John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia, mandating retention of the Church’s Latin liturgical tradition.  Only a sedevacantist would reject the conciliar and post-conciliar Magisterium.

The Secretary of State further indicates that Bishop Williamson, “for admission to an episcopal function in the Church, must publicly and unequivocally distance himself from his positions concerning the Shoah…”  I would add that the entire traditionalist movement should reject Holocaust revisionism. This endless quibbling over the number of Hitler’s Jewish victims is absurd, revolting and beneath the dignity of Catholics.  Notice, however, that this condition imposed on Bishop Williamson foresees his admission to a canonically recognized episcopal function.

For his own good, the good of the traditionalist movement, and the good of the Church, Bishop Williamson should find it in his heart to renounce his ill-founded opinions, which have done absolutely nothing to advance the cause of the Gospel and threaten to make a mockery of the cause of Tradition. The Bishop’s supporters should recognize that the foes of the traditionalist movement would have paid him to utter his now-infamous remarks. It is preposterous to suggest that one is being “courageous” by saying things the haters of traditional Roman Catholicism are so utterly delighted to hear.  Damian Thompson slams the nail on the head when writes:

Make no mistake: far from being deeply offended by the lifting of the excommunications, many liberals are delighted that the entire traditionalist movement has been tainted by the supposed “rehabilitation” of a Holocaust denier. Other, less extreme, liberals are meanwhile quietly content to sit back and watch “the Ratzinger project” unravel. (, February 2, 2009).

Far from wishing to “pile on” where Bishop Williamson is concerned, I am urging our readers—and above all the Bishop himself—to recognize what is at stake here.  Pope Benedict XVI is 81 years old. Powerful forces inside and outside the Vatican would like nothing better than to force the “obviously senile” Roman Pontiff to abdicate or at least cause him so much stress that (God forbid) his health collapses or he dies.  If Bishop Williamson does not recant his theories, they may get their way, and the worldwide traditionalist movement may be forced back into the “catacombs” of marginalization at the very moment its rightful aspirations have received the approbation of the Supreme Pontiff. What a diabolically ironic twist that would  be!

The mission of the Church with respect to the Jewish people is to work with charity for their conversion to Christ, not to promote theories minimizing their undeniable sufferings at the hands of a godless dictator. Surely the Bishop would agree with this, and surely he understands that only he can bring a definitive end to this ridiculous scandal. He could deflate instantly the entire worldwide agitprop campaign that has ballooned around his remarks if he would issue a simple statement admitting that he has spoken on a matter in which he has no competence,  withdrawing his opinions, and apologizing to the Pope, the faithful, and all those he has offended. There is no good reason—and certainly no reason pertaining to the Faith— for the Bishop not to issue such a statement immediately.

I implore Bishop Williamson, in God’s name, to remove himself from the hands of Tradition’s opponents, who are wielding him like a club against the traditionalist movement, the Pope and the Church at large. At this critical moment the bravado of contrarian opinions must be distinguished from real courage. The Bishop knows what he must do.  I beg him to do it post haste.

Note from the Secretary of State


Following the reactions aroused by the recent Decree of the Congregation for Bishops, with which the excommunication of the four Bishops of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X was remitted, and in relation to the negationist and reductionist declarations concerning the Shoah on the part of Bishop Williamson of the same Fraternity, it is held opportune to clarify certain aspects of the matter.

1. Remission of the excommunication.

As previously published, the Decree of the Congregation for Bishops, dated January 21, 2009, was an act by which the Holy Father benignly met the reiterated request on the part of the Superior General of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X.

His Holiness wished to remove an impediment that was prejudicing the opening of a door to dialogue. He now awaits from the four Bishops an expression of equal willingness in a total adhesion to the doctrine and discipline of the Church.

The extremely grave penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, which the four bishops incurred on June 30, 1988, declared formally on July 1 of the same year, was a consequence of their illegitimate ordination by Mons. Marcel Lefebvre.

The rescission of the excommunication has freed the four Bishops from a  very grave canonical penalty, but has not changed the juridical situation of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, which, at the present moment, does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church. Also, the four Bishops, while relieved of the excommunication, do not have a canonical function in the Church and do not licitly exercise a ministry in her.

2. Tradition, doctrine and Vatican Council II.

For future recognition of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X,  the full recognition of Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul, John Paul II, and of Benedict XVI himself, is an indispensable condition.

As already affirmed in the decree of January 21, 2009, there will not be lacking from the Holy See, in ways judged opportune, an exploration with the interested parties of the questions still open, so as to be able to reach a full and satisfactory solution to the problems which have given rise to this painful fracture.

3. Declarations on the Shoah.

The positions of Mons. Williamson on the Shoah are absolutely unacceptable and are firmly rejected by the Holy Father,  as He himself remarked this past January 28 when, referring to that heinous genocide, he reaffirmed His full and indisputable solidarity with our Brothers who received the First Covenant, and affirmed that the memory of that terrible genocide must prompt “humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man,” adding that the Shoah remains “for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism, because violence against a single human being is violence against all.”

Bishop Williamson, for admission to an episcopal function in the Church, must publicly and unequivocally distance himself from his positions concerning the Shoah, not known to the Holy Father at the moment of the remission of the excommunication.

The Holy Father requests that all the faithful accompany him in prayer, so that the Lord will illuminate the way of the Church. May the Pastors and all the faithful grow in their commitment to support the delicate and burdensome mission of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, who is “custodian of unity” in the Church.

From the Vatican, February 4, 2009