In Argentina, members of the ultra-conservative group founded by French bishop Marcel Lefebvre – excommunicated by Pope John-Paul II in 1988 along with four other bishops – have formally returned to the Catholic Church. This was made clear by a resolution from the Ministry of National Worship, published in the official Gazette at the end of this week, recognising the Society of the Apostles of Jesus and Mary or the Society of St. Pius X (the Lefebvrists) as a legal entity and – which is key – incorporating it in the Registry of Institutes of Consecrated Life, which is composed of Catholic orders and congregations.
In order for this incorporation to take place, a request from the Church authorities is required which, in this case, was made by the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli.
The incorporation of the Lefebvrists into the Catholic Church in this country takes place while the Vatican maintains difficult talks with that community worldwide for its return to Rome. The discussions began in 2000 at the behest of John-Paul II. In 2009 Benedict XVI decided to lift the excommunication of the four bishops – Lefebvre died in 1991 – which was one of the demands of the ultraconservative group.
The decision of Joseph Ratzinger – which was not without controversy – gave the German Pope a great headache because statements from one of the bishops who benefitted, Richard Williamson who resided in Argentina, denying the Holocaust, became known almost immediately. At that point the government, led by Cristina Kirchner, decided to expel him from the country.
Since Williamson insisted, at least partially, with his opinions and pushed himself to the front of the group of the most radicalised Lefebvrists, he was expelled from the Society of St. Pius X in 2012.
In turn, Benedict XVI suspended him a divinis, and in a letter to all bishops he admitted that he had made a mistake in not finding out about Williamson’s history of Holocaust denial.
The return of the Lefebvrists to the Church in Argentina, which is taken as having the approval of Pope Francis, is viewed by those close to the Pontiff as an achievement because it implies that at least one section of the followers of Lefebvre have accepted Vatican II. But it will surely not come as welcome news to the progressives. In the final analysis, this was the desire of Pope Francis’s immediate predecessors.
In Brazil it is already some time since a part of the Lefebvrists returned to communion with Rome, by becoming an Apostolic Prefecture, depending directly on the Pope.
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