Last week in St. Paul, I spoke on "Paul, Joy and the Cross," and quoted my mother's famous line, "Offer it up!" The evening before, I slipped on a patch of black ice and slammed my back against the step of our van. I thought I had miraculously come home unscathed, but early this morning my back went into total spasm mode...right on time to coincide with my sisters' visit! ("Offer it up!")
While my sister Lea is off shopping for bargains, I read Pope Benedict's extraordinarily forthright answer to the "huge uproar" that resulted from the Vatican's lifting of the excommunications from those traditionalist bishops. The Holy Father is almost shockingly blunt in responding to the controversies that arose, and hints that he found more openness and understanding from the Jewish parties (who were understandably upset by one reality-challenged bishop's Holocaust-denying) than from many within the Church itself. There's no tip-toeing in this Papal letter. He admits that it was inadmissible for the Vatican not to have at least done some research on the Internet to see what the traditionalist bishops were teaching or doing on a wider scale than their formal meetings with Rome: "I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news." The responsible Vatican commission has been placed under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to make sure that further stages of the process (the hope is eventually healing the split, the division in the Body of Christ that this schism caused) will be undertaken with better information all around. He admits, "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." And the Pope even protests, "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."
I don't believe there has ever been a Papal letter that was so frank in addressing criticism, and equally frank in insisting that the Pope has to work for the unity of the Church, even in reaching out to a group that continues to manifest "arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc." The mission of the Church demands it, and so does pastoral care for the "491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful" that belong to the traditionalist Society.