The four Lefebvrist bishops whom Pope Benedict XVI partially rehabilitated in January have defended their decision to ordain 21 priests into the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), sparking alarm among German-speaking bishops.
In January the Pope lifted the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops, including British-born Richard Williamson, a Holocaust-denier, but the men remain suspended.
The ordinations are to take place in three of the Society's seminaries at the end of June, according to a round-robin letter published on SSPX websites on Monday.
Three men will be ordained at Zaitzkofen in Bavaria, 13 at the St Thomas Aquinas Seminary at Winona, Minnesota, and the rest at the SSPX headquarters at Ecône in Switzerland.
The President of the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei Commission, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, is considering visiting Ecône on 29 June, according to a French priest Claude Barthe, the French right-wing newspaper Présent reported.
The priest said the cardinal's visit would be aimed at hastening the implementation of a provisional agreement "for the good of [the clerics'] souls".
On 4 July the cardinal turns 80, the age at which membership of curial congregations usually ends, and it is widely believed that Cardinal Castrillón wanted to have the SSPX fully reintegrated before he retired.
Following the huge outcry over the lifting of the excommunications, in March the Pope wrote an unprecedented letter to bishops around the world expressly stating that the Society did not have a canonical status in the Church and its ministers did not exercise legitimate ministries.
However, the SSPX communiqué argues that the ordinations will be taking place with the permission of the Holy See.
"During the period in which convergence and understanding with Rome is being sought, the SSPX has a provisional legal status for an indefinite period of time until, after the theological talks are over, a definitive canonical ruling is found. That is what the ‘line of approach' which has been agreed to by the Vatican foresees. In none of the talks up to now has there ever been any mention of ‘putting a stop to ordinations' in general. On the contrary, the lifting of the excommunications was meant to show a willingness to cooperate without putting any restrictions on the life of the Society."
There was no comment from the Vatican on the SSPX's statement.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on 1 June, the Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Müller, in whose diocese Zaitzkofen lies, said he contacted the Zaitzkofen seminary as soon as he read about the SSPX plans.
"I told them that the ordinations were against canon law and that in such a precarious situation one must allow Rome to prescribe how to proceed."
Calling the ordinations "a provocation", he said: "One simply must suspend everything until this Society's position is cleared up as far as canon law is concerned. In the letter the Society wrote to the Pope in January, they said they fully accepted the Pope's primacy ... [T]hey are not prepared to take the consequences."
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who founded SSPX, was suspended a divinis in 1976 for ordaining priests without church approval, and excommunicated in 1988 automatically when he ordained four priests as bishops illicitly.
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