Pope Takes Step to Overcome Lefebvre Schism

Names 4 New Members to Pontifical Panel

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 25, 2001 (Zenit.org).- In an effort to overcome the schism caused by Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, John Paul II has appointed four new members to the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei."



The panel was created in 1988 in the wake of the French prelate´s unauthorized ordination of four bishops. That ordination triggered the only schism to occur during John Paul II´s pontificate.

The new panel members named Saturday are Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé, archbishop of Lyon; and Archbishop Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

John Paul II established Ecclesia Dei with an apostolic letter of the same name. The stature of the new members signals the Pope´s great interest in overcoming the schism.

The Holy Father originally entrusted the commission with "the task to collaborate with the bishops, with the organizations of the Roman Curia, and with interested realms for the purpose of facilitating the full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, communities, and men and women religious who to date have been linked in different ways to the Fraternity founded by Bishop Lefebvre, and who wish to remain united to Peter´s Successor in the Catholic Church, preserving its spiritual and liturgical traditions."

In 1970, Bishop Lefebvre (1929-1991) of Dakar founded a seminary in Econe, Switzerland, in an attempt to form priests in the spirit of the liturgy and ecclesial discipline preceding the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Six years later, he was told by the Holy See to discontinue this work, and suspended from his episcopal functions.

In 1979, Bishop Lefebvre founded the St. Pius X Fraternity, which undertook the direction of the seminary at Econe, and opened others of the same spirit in different countries, without Rome´s approval. The group also created schools, monasteries (for men and for women) and priories (priestly teams).

In 1984, aware of the attachment of some Catholics to the pre-conciliar liturgy, Rome agreed to allow, under certain circumstances (among them, the need to have the local bishop´s approval), celebration of the Mass according to the rite of St. Pius V.

In 1986, Bishop Lefebvre denounced the "limitless and unprecedented" scandal of John Paul II´s visit to the synagogue in Rome. The French bishop was even more vehement the following year, in his condemnation of the meeting of religious leaders for peace, called by the Pope himself.

Following laborious negotiations, an agreement was reached between the Holy See and Bishop Lefebvre in 1988, an agreement that the bishop signed himself. However, the following day, the elderly bishop rejected the agreement. Shortly after, he also rejected an agreement proposed by Cardinal Ratzinger on behalf of the Pope.

Shortly afterward, Bishop Lefebvre announced his decision to ordain four bishops without the Pope´s approval, an act which brings automatic excommunication, under canon law. On June 30, 1988, Bishop Lefebvre consummated the schism, and a few days later John Paul II created the Ecclesia Dei commission.