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Vatican prelate foresees new structure for traditionalists April 21, 2006

An influential Vatican prelate has expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for an eventual restoration of full communion between the Holy See and the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, told the I Media news agency that Pope Benedict XVI is keenly interested in restoring normal ties with the Lefebvrist group, and confirmed that the topic was discussed at length during a March 23 meeting of the College of Cardinals.

The Chilean cardinal, who is a member of the Ecclesia Dei commission charged with pastoral outreach to traditionalist Catholics, told I Media that the Tridentine form of the Mass "was never abrogated." The use of the old rite "is consequently legitimate," he said, although "it seems necessary to me have maintain some norms for the good order of liturgical life in the dioceses."

During their March 23 meeting, Cardinal Medina said, the cardinals spoke about offering "a generous welcome" to Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass, under the terms of the 1988 papal document Ecclesia Dei. He said that the conversation had centered on the Catholics who have maintained full communion with the Holy See, rather than with the SSPX. The status of the Lefebvrist group is quite different, the cardinal pointed out, since the SSPX broke with Rome in 1988.

Questioned about the penalty of excommunication that was incurred by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the bishops he ordained in June 1988, Cardinal Medina Estevez observed that the penalty could certainly be lifted. "Excommunication is a canonical penalty," he said, "whose aim is the repentance of someone who has committed a serious offense." When that individual shows repentance and a desire to amend matters, he said, the penalty can be lifted.

Cardinal Medina Estevez said that he saw different tendencies within the SSPX, with some members of the traditionalist group anxious to restore ties with Rome, and others more recalcitrant. "Perhaps the majority hope for full communion with the Holy See," he said hopefully. The cardinal acknowledged that the reintegration of traditionalists into the structure of the Church might pose problems, but said that the example of the Brazilian Society of St. Jean Vianney, which was granted an apostolic administration by a papal directive of January 2002, might serve as a model.

The cardinal added, however, that before any canonical solution can be proposed to restore ties with the SSPX, it will be necessary to resolve some doctrinal debates, particularly over the teachings of Vatican II. If those doctrinal issues can be resolved, Cardinal Medina Estevez said, a canonical solution could be "the establishment of an apostolic administration that would cover all Catholics attached to the old form of the Roman rite."

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