By Andrea Tornielli
The Apostolic Letter motu proprio with which Pope Francis suppressed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and transferred its competence to a special section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has a two-fold meaning.
Exceptional nature ends
In the first place, the Pope notes that the exceptional character for which Pope St. John Paul II had instituted it in 1988 – following the break with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the subsequent episcopal ordinations that took place without pontifical mandate – has disappeared.
The Commission was meant to encourage the recovery of full ecclesial communion with the priests, seminarians, and men and women religious linked to the pre-conciliar Roman Rite, allowing them to maintain their own spiritual and liturgical traditions.
The emergency no longer exists, thanks also to the decision of Benedict XVI to permit the use of the 1962 Roman Missal (promulgated by Pope St. John XXIII before the beginning of the Second Vatican Council).
For this reason, Pope Francis said in the motu proprio that “the Institutes and Religious communities which habitually celebrate in the extraordinary form have today found their own stability of number and life”. Their existence is therefore consolidated, and all the functions are transferred to the new section which, among other things, will consist of the same staff previously employed by the Commission.
Doctrinal discussions continue
The second meaning of the decision is related to the specific competence of the Doctrinal Dicastery.
Pope Francis’ decision is part of a process already begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who in 2009 decreed that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should preside over the Ecclesia Dei Commission.
This most recent change is motivated by the fact that the aims and questions dealt with by the Commission “are of a primarily doctrinal order”.
This is a reference to the dialogue between the Holy See and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, or FSSPX, founded by Archbishop Lefebvre.
As is well known, with the revocation of the excommunications of the bishops ordained illegitimately in 1988, the free use of the Roman Missal of 1962, and the faculties granted to the priests of the FSSPX by Pope Francis, the doctrinal issue remains the only issue still open, though it is also the most important – especially since the FSSPX has changed its superiors.
In fact , its new leaders have announced their desire for further discussions with the Holy See regarding the texts of the Second Vatican Council: a delicate issue which will be addressed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria.