This was the estimation offered by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi in an explanatory note accompanying the Pope's March 10 letter to bishops of the world, according to the Vatican Information Service.
"Never before in his pontificate has Benedict XVI expressed himself so personally and intensely on a matter of public debate," Father Lombardi said. "The Pope experienced the [...] remission of the excommunication and the consequent reactions with evident concern and suffering," and felt the obligation "to intervene in order to contribute to peace in the Church."
Father Lombardi added: "With his habitual lucidity and humility he recognizes the limitations and errors that had a negative influence on the affair, and with great nobility he does not seek to attribute the responsibility for them to others, but expresses solidarity with his collaborators. He speaks of inadequate information in the Williamson case and of insufficient clarity in explaining the procedure and significance of remitting excommunication."
The spokesman also noted how the Holy Father was able to "recall with satisfaction" that moves toward reconciliation with Jews, "beginning with Vatican Council II, is something his own 'work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.'"
Love as priority
Above all, however, Father Lombardi said the Pontiff wishes "to clarify the nature, significance and aims of the remission of excommunication."
"Benedict XVI is profoundly aware of his responsibility as pastor of the universal Church and feels the need to give his brothers in the episcopate unambiguous clarification [...] of the priorities and spirit with which he is undertaking his service," the Jesuit affirmed.
"The Pope continues his considerations," he said, "by inviting his interlocutors to serious reflection, at both the personal and the ecclesial level. The paradoxical fact that a gesture that aimed to be merciful and conciliatory actually created a situation of acute tension, means we must ask questions to discern what spiritual attitudes where [...] at work in this case."
Father Lombardi also noted the Holy Father's "critical realism," which brought him to note "the grave defects of many of the traditionalists' statements" as well as the "members of the Church and society who meet all efforts of reconciliation, or even of the recognition of positive elements in others, with rigid intransigence."
The Pope's letter concludes, the spokesman said, "by reiterating an impassioned appeal for love as the absolute priority for Christians, and by expressing a hope for peace in the community of the Church."