We have long considered the Letter to the Bishops on the remission of the Excommunications of the Bishops of the Society of St. Pius X as the most beautiful of the documents of the Ratzinger Pontificate, and we have often quoted from it, including at the time of the abdication. And that is not because it involves a matter that is close to the heart of every traditional Catholic, but because it is a deeply loving and moving document, that is almost a testament to the spirit of Benedict XVI himself, the Pope who was most persecuted by opinion-makers (the same who now laud his successor endlessly) since St. Pius X.
We now learn from the lips of the Holy See spokesman himself, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, that the document was completely written by Benedict XVI himself, a great rarity in the modern papacy. When receiving a prize in Toledo, Spain, on Monday, Jan. 27, this is what Lombardi had to say (conference audio in Spanish - mp3 file):
Yet I recall even more the letter to the bishops after the debate on the remission of the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops and the Williamson affair. It is a document in which the Pope answered with great humility, but also with true evangelical passion, the criticisms that had been raised. A document of the highest spiritual nobleness. I recall that, when Abp. [then Msgr.] Gänswein spoke to me before its publication, he told me that the letter was entirely from the hand of the Pope, and that it showed - I cannot forget it - Ratzinger in a pure state. It is worthwhile to read this letter, that is very characteristic. It is still to me one of the most expressive documents of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and of his spirit.
In February 2012, we made a special post in honor of Benedict XVI, quoting only from the letter, and would like to propose it for your reflection again: pure beauty in prose, ex corde Benedicti.
"... in all circumstances as God’s ministers..."
"Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation! We give no offense to anyone, that our ministry may not be blamed. On the contrary, let us conduct ourselves in all circumstances as God’s ministers, in much patience; in tribulations, in hardships, in distresses..."
Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment.
I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility.
[S]ome of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.
Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important? Of course there are more important and urgent matters. ... In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses "to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them? ... [S]hould not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles?
At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
Saint Paul (2Cor vi, 1-10)
Epistle for the First Sunday in Lent
Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times. And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers. My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter. May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace. This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church
on the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops
March 10, 2009
[Video: Organ Prelude based on Tu es Petrus, by young composer Jan Gorjanc.]
[Audio source: Diocesan Radio of Toledo. Tip for the Lombardi quote: Secretum Meum Mihi]