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POPE-EXCOMMUNICATIONS Jan-28-2009 (380 words) xxxi

Pope expresses hope for full communion with traditionalist society

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said he lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops in the hope that they would take further steps toward unity, including the recognition of the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council.

The pope, speaking at his general audience Jan. 28, said he was motivated by a desire for church unity when he removed the excommunication of Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of St. Pius X, and three other bishops of the breakaway society.

"I undertook this act of paternal mercy because these prelates had repeatedly manifested to me their deep pain at the situation in which they had come to find themselves," the pope said.

"I hope my gesture is followed by the hoped-for commitment on their part to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council," he said.

The pope said he considered the restoration of full unity in the church as one of his primary pastoral tasks, one he had emphasized at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate in 2005. This task of maintaining unity, he said, is symbolized by the Gospel account of the miraculous catch of fishes, when the net did not break despite the heavy catch.

It was the pope's first public comment on the lifting of the excommunications, and the first time a Vatican official had specifically raised the issue of the teachings of Vatican II. In his statement Jan. 24 welcoming the Vatican's move, Bishop Fellay had professed loyalty to the pope but said the society still has "reservations" about the Second Vatican Council.

The four bishops were ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican has held on-again, off-again talks with the society since 2000; in 2007 the pope granted wider use of the 1962 form of the Mass, known as the Tridentine rite, which had been another request of the society's leaders.

Vatican officials said the future talks will touch in part on the future status of the Swiss-based society and its estimated 500 priests and seminarians.

END


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