10) Pope Benedict Lifts the Excommunications of 4 SSPX Bishops, January 21st, 2009
The Society of Saint Pius the Tenth (SSPX) is a group that views the Second Vatican Council to have been a definitive break from the Tradition of the Church, and thus an invalid Council. They have broken away from the Church because they refuse to acknowledge the Council's status.
Pope Benedict worked very hard to bring the SSPX back into the fold of the Church, and things under Benedict vastly improved, but, as of now, the Society has not rejoined the Church.
One gesture that the Holy Father made was to lift the excommunications of four bishops from the SSPX, and he did this in January of 2009.
The letter from the Vatican to the SSPX notes that:
"On behalf of the faculties expressly granted by the Holy Father
Benedict XVI, in virtue of the current decree, I lift the censure of
excommunication latae sententiae to Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard
Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta
declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare null of
juridical consequences, as of today, the decree released in the past.”
The lifting of the excommunications drew serious media fire when it was realized that one of the bishops had made some very problematic statements about the Holocaust. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes:
"anger has centered on the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of
Holocaust denier and SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson, an Englishman who
runs the SSPX seminary in La Reja, Argentina. Just a few days before the
Pope issued his decision, Williamson appeared on Swedish television
claiming that the Nazis did not use gas chambers to murder people. “I
believe that the historical evidence is strongly against — is hugely
against — 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers
as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” he said in the interview. “I believe there were no gas chambers,” he added."
Rome made a statement noting that the Holy Father had no idea about the Bishop's position. Rome quickly demanded that Williamson recant his position. CNN reported that "The Vatican says it has ordered a controversial bishop who denies the
Holocaust to "distance himself" from his views "in an absolutely
unequivocal and public manner."
Williamson apologized, but in a vague way, and his apology was denied.
Several years later, in October of 2012, Bishop Williamson was eventually booted out of the SSPX altogether.
The incident was probably the worst of Benedict's Papacy, and I'm sure something that continues to haunt him. For all those who have caricatured the Holy Father, because of his being forced into the Hitler Youth while a young German boy, as a Nazi, etc. this only added fuel to the fire. It was a sad event in the Holy Father's otherwise awesome effort to bring back the lost sheep of the SSPX.
Here's to hoping that one day unity is achieved with all of those who have left the Church founded on Peter.