Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi made this observation today when he spoke of the "Williamson case" during an annual meeting he has with a group of communicators from Spain. He particularly pointed to the positive effects the situation has had in clarifying relations with the Jews.
The situation with Bishop Williamson, a member of the Society of St. Pius X, involves an interview in which the prelate denied the gassing of the Jews. Coincidentally, the interview aired at about the same time as the bishop, along with three other Society of St. Pius X prelates, had their 20-year excommunication lifted, in the framework of the Pontiff's continuing efforts to heal the schism with the society.
The spokesman said the tension that arose around the Jan. 24 decree lifting the excommunication was due to the "dramatic coincidence" with the publication of the bishop's comments.
This concurrence, Father Lombardi explained, "created a situation of very great confusion and tension, since in principle it was about two questions distinct from each other." Public ignorance about what an excommunication is and what is implied when it is lifted contributed to the issue, he said.
"The problem was to explain on one hand that this decree referred to an excommunication incurred 20 years ago, and that it was about trying to recover a relationship with a group, not with particular persons," the spokesman said. "On the other hand, it was about clarifying that, unfortunately, one of these people had said unacceptable things and therefore cast a very grave shadow on the very fact of trying to create this dialogue."
The key in the midst of the turmoil was, Father Lombardi contended, "explaining the Pope's intention with this step, which absolutely was not to destroy the Second Vatican Council, but rather to remove an obstacle to rebuilding a communion in the Church that is important."
The attitude that moved the Holy Father, the Jesuit observed, is very well explained in the letter that accompanied the 2007 document "Summorum Pontificum," which speaks of the need to preserve Church unity.
As is there explained, he said, the Pope wants "to do everything possible, and in conscience, he feels obligated to this, to remedy a situation of rupture that runs the risk of crystallizing and hardening, creating a schismatic community."
Whether it was necessary to have a better awareness of the personal outlooks of the four bishops in question, Father Lombardi clarified that the process was carried out in dealings with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X.
"There have been errors and problems of communication," the spokesman acknowledged, but "definitely the Pope was not aware of [Bishop] Williamson's position."
Nevertheless, Father Lombardi continued, the Holy See's efforts to clarify and calm the situation has had positive effects, as much in the relationship with Jews as in the process of healing the rift with the Society of St. Pius X.
The spokesman pointed to a meeting last week in the Vatican between the Holy Father and a group of Jewish leaders from the United States.
"I spoke with them and especially with Rabbi Rosen, who is the leader of the Jewish delegation that participates in interreligious dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity," he said. "Not only had they understood that the position of the Pope had always been completely against negations of the Holocaust," but this turmoil had confirmed "his warmth and personal affection for the Jewish people."
This occasion, Father Lombardi suggested, "could also imply a new step forward between Judaism and Christianity, if it is lived positively."
In this regard, he compared the present situation to what happened after the Holy Father's discourse in Regensburg, which created tensions with the Islamic world.
"Flowing out of that crisis, there has been a start-up of a series of new contacts and deepening with the various groups of the Muslim world, [so] that now we are much farther ahead, I think, than before Regensburg," he affirmed.
Moreover, the spokesman contended, this present crisis has also helped to prepare dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X, since "the conditions for a dialogue, a path and an internal clarification from them about their own positions are now much more demanding."