Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ecclesia Dei, Ecclesia Doctrina: Econe's New "Holy Office"

...and just like that, an already full week got fuller still at Roman Noon.

On the heels of yesterday's encyclical, this morning's Daily Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office carried another much-awaited text: the Pope's delayed motu proprio decree uniting the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei -- the Vatican organ overseeing all things traditionalist -- with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As expected in the text, dubbed Ecclesiae Unitatem ("The Unity of the Church"), Benedict XVI named California-born Cardinal William Levada, the CDF prefect, to the added task of overseeing Ecclesia Dei, founded in 1988 after the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre illicitly ordained four bishops for his Society of St Pius X (and the five were excommunicated). In the years since, the commission -- first given the competence of aiding the reconciliations of individual SSPX defectors -- has become increasingly immersed in the task of dialogue with the Lefebvrites, whose prelates saw their ultimate sanction lifted last January in testimony to the pontiff's wish that the leaders of the controversial traditionalist group might "resume the path of full communion with the church," healing the lone major schism to take place following the Second Vatican Council.

At the same time, both this morning's decree and a separate statement from Levada reaffirmed that the Swiss-based Society -- which recently ordained 24 new priests at its houses in Europe and the US -- "has no canonical status... and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry" in the Catholic church.

In succession to the Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillion Hoyos -- a staunch SSPX ally who reached the retirement age of 80 last weekend -- Benedict's choice of Levada puts a more skeptical hand at the helm of the traditionalist dialogue; according to prior reports, the cardinal was seen as an opponent of what would become Summorum Pontificum, 2007's "universal indult" for the pre-Conciliar liturgy, which the SSPX leadership sought as Rome's first act of goodwill with an eye toward reconciliation.

In his statement today, Levada thanked the Pope for his trust, and assured Benedict of the "importance" he'll place upon a "doctrinal dialogue" with the Swiss-based Society.

Shuffled out alongside the Colombian cardinal was ED's second-in-command, Msgr Camille Perl, who had served at the dicastery since its inception. To succeed Perl, the Pope named another of his trusted former CDF staffers, Italian Msgr Guido Pozzo.

Despite having shouldered much of the blame for the debacle earlier this year that saw the Holy See caught flat-footed after comments by SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson denying the Holocaust were broadcast on the eve of the clerics' de-excommunication, Levada's statement noted that the Pope had sent Castrillion a handwritten letter of "lively thanks" for his "great dedication" to the work of Ecclesia Dei. The gentlemanly, low-profile Perl, meanwhile, was simply "thanked... for many years of work."

A Los Angeles native and archbishop of San Francisco prior to his surprise selection for the Pope's old job days after Benedict's election, Levada had already been among the cardinal-members of Ecclesia Dei since shortly after his 2006 elevation to the "Pope's Senate."