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Excommunication—Communication an Essay in Layered Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

Peter Hünermann
University of Tübingen (Emeritus)


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Theological Roundtable
Copyright © The College Theology Society 2009

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1 Editor's note: Pius-X-Fraternity: in German, der Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X; in French, la Fraternité sacerdotale saint Pie X; in the USA, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). The roundtable uses various forms of the name of the group, since the participants have chosen the formulation with which they are most familiar.

2 Quotations from the Code of Canon Law (CIC) are taken from the online official Vatican translation, (accessed 7 October 2009).

3 Congregation for Bishops, “Decree Remitting the Excommunication ‘Latae Sententiae’ of the Society of St Pius X” (21 January 2009), Scholar (accessed 22 September 2009).

4 See Aletheia, no. 74 (20 April 2005), 2: “A joint statement was signed on 5 May, 1988 by Msgr. Lefebvre and Cardinal Ratzinger. It envisages the erection of the Pius X Fraternity as an apostolic community, the erection of a joint theological commission, and the consecration of a bishop who is a member of the Pius X Society” (, accessed 8 October 2009).

5 Paul, John II, Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei (motu proprio) (2 July 1988)Google Scholar, in Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum/Kompendium der Glaubensbekenntnisse und kirchlichen Lehrentscheidungen, ed. Denzinger, Heinrich and Hünermann, Peter, 41st ed. (Freiburg: Herder, 2007) [hereafter DH], nos. 48224823.Google Scholar

6 Why are both aspects important? In the discussion of the lifting of the excommunication, some canonists have argued (I call attention to the public stance taken by my friend and colleague Klaus Lüdicke, professor emeritus of the Catholic Theological Faculty in Münster) that the excommunication decree of the Congregation of Bishops speaks of a “schismatic act,” but does not understand this expression in the sense of canon 1364 in connection with canon 751, but rather takes note only of the episcopal consecration without papal authorization. Thereby, Lüdicke concludes that Pope Benedict can dispense from the excommunication thus imposed. This is possible, when it is not a matter of a truly schismatic act with heretical character. Against this position I would argue that the decree of excommunication did not inadvertently or merely coincidently speak of a “schismatic act,” on the grounds that this expression was emphasized in the motu proprio of John Paul II. There the Pope likewise speaks of a schismatic act occasioned by the “boldest” departure from the notion of “living Tradition” taught by Vatican II. Therein is manifested the heretical basis of the schism. John Paul II names that fundamental teaching of Vatican II, which Lefebvre and his supporters reject and which is the source of all the other detailed positions which follow from this rejection. Thus it is indeed a matter of a true schism on the basis of heresy, which was sealed by the consecration of the four bishops (cf. can. 1371, 1358, 1347, 1341).

7 When one compares the Latin formularies of the “Tridentine” Mass in the 1962 version with the new Mass of the liturgical reform, it becomes clear that the differences are minimal:

–in the act of penance at the beginning of the Mass, the psalm “Judica” has been eliminated;

–the prayers for the preparation of the Eucharistic gifts have been altered;

–the old Roman Canon has been retained unchanged.

On the positive side, a number of optional variations have been introduced.

–additional forms of the act of penance have been added to the traditional Confiteor;

–additional Eucharistic prayers have been introduced as options;

–the selection of readings at the Masses on Sundays, feast days, and ferial days has been greatly enriched:

–the central ecclesiastical seasons, Lent, Eastertide, etc. have been given greater emphasis over against saints' days with their ever recurring common formularies;

–instead of the single formulary in the old Missal for the Masses honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Missal offers a greater variety of Marian Massformularies:

–In the “Tridentine” Mass, there is no prescription that the priest must celebrate with his back to the congregation; likewise, in the reformed Mass, there is no prescription that the celebrant must face the people.

These are the most important divergences and agreements. According to the liturgical reform, any priest can use either the Latin or the vernacular version. Obviously he should respect the pastoral situation.

8 Article “Louis Billot” in Wikipedia, (accessed 10 March 2009).

9 See Mallerais, Bernard Tissier de, Marcel Lefebvre (Etampes: Editions Clovis, 2002).Google Scholar

10 See the article “Paul Touvier” in Wikipedia, (accessed 10 March 2009).

11 See the article “Institute of the Good Shepherd” in Wikipedia, (accessed 11 March, 2009). See also the Institute's website: (accessed on 11 March, 2009).

12 Témoinage Chrétien, no. 3122 (16 Sept. 2004) (accessed on 8 October 2009).

13 Grosser, Alfred, “Katholische Kirche in Frankreich,” in Religion und Laicité in Frankreich, ed. Kranemann, Benedikt and Wijlens, Myriam, Erfurter Theologische Schriften 37 (Würzburg: Echter, 2009), 63.Google Scholar

14 See the international website of this group: (accessed 10 March, 2009).

15 See the seminary's website (accessed 10 March 2009).

16 The following account is based on Golias, “L'info du jour,” Webzine no. 15 (2 October 2009) and no. 27/28 (Fall 1991):114–119, (accessed * October 2009).

17 See also the list of communities of the St. Peter Fraternity, (accessed 8 October 2009).

18 For the story of these negotiations, see the article “Society of St. Pius X,” section “Negotiations with the Holy See” in Wikipedia, (accessed 10 March 2009).

19 Communiqué de la Fraternité Sacerdotale Seint Pie X, 8 sept. 2006, (accessed 8 October 2009).

20 For the text of the article in Le Figaro, 12 Sept. 2006, see (accessed 8 October 2009).

21 See “Dialogue entre Rome et les traditionalistes, un premier acquis,” (accessed 8 October 2009).

22 Letter of the General Superior to all the faithful of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X (24 January, 2009), in Priesterbruderschaft S.Pius X, Mitteilungsblatt für den deutschen Sprachraum, no. 361 (Feb. 2009), no page no. For another English translation, see the SSPX website, (accessed 8 October 2009).

23 English translation according to (accessed 10 March 2009).

24 Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X, Mitteilungsblatt für den deutschen Sprachraum Sprachraum, no. 361,(Feb. 2009), no page no. For another English translation of this press release, see the SSPX website, (accessed 8 October 2009).

25 Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X, Mitteilungsblatt für den deutschen Sprachraum, no. 361 (Feb.2009), 6–7.

26 Letter of the General Superior (24 January 2009).

27 Cited according to La Croix, 4 March 2009, (accessed 8 October 2009)

28 Cited from the SSPX (US) website in Mickens, Robert, “Benedict's High-Risk Strategy,” The Tablet, 31 Jan. 2009, 45, at 5Google Scholar; also at (accessed 8 October 2009).

29 See Benedetto XVI, Udienza generale, Aula Paolo VI, Mercoledì, 28 gennaio 2009, Libreria Edit. Vaticana p. 4.

30 Acta Apostolicae Sedis 98 (2006): 51; “Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia Offering Them his Christmas Greetings,” (accessed 9 October 2009).

34 Koch, Kurt, “Brief des Bischofs an die Gläubigen” (6 February 2009),,1,0,110870,d (accessed 9 October 2009).Google Scholar

35 Cited according to Times Online, 12 March 2009, (accessed 13 March 2009).