Saturday, June 20, 2009

Breakaway Catholic group to ordain 13 in Minnesota

A breakaway Catholic group in Minnesota plans to ordain 13 priests on Friday, but they won't be recognized by the Roman Catholic church.

The St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, which is part of the Society of St. Pius X, will host the ordinations, the seminary announced on its Web site. It says Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais will ordain the priests.

The Vatican said Wednesday that any ordinations by the ultraconservative group won't be legitimate, even though Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the organization's leaders in a bid to bring the dissidents back into the church. The Vatican issued the statement in response to planned ordinations in Germany later this month, reiterating that the society still has no status within the Catholic church and that its clergy do not legitimately exercise any ministry.

Rose Hammes, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona, said the men being ordained by the society on Friday would not be eligible to serve as priests in any Roman Catholic diocese.

"We follow what the Vatican is telling us and they're telling us that all of the ordinations are illegitimate," Hammes said.

The Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X is led by Bishop Bernard Fellay, one of the four bishops whose excommunications were lifted.

Reached at the Winona seminary on Thursday, he said Friday's ordinations are "absolutely not" intended as a challenge to Rome. He said the society has always considered itself part of the Catholic church, and that the planned ordinations are a normal part of the society's life.

Fellay said he viewed the Vatican's statement as a "mild" response to society members in Germany. He said he believes the Germans are indeed trying to provoke the Holy See, questioning why the Germans would try to impede reconciliation "particularly when the pope makes such a kind gesture to us." Society officials there plan to ordain three priests and three bishops in southern Germany on June 27.

Hammes said that "as a general rule" the Winona diocese keeps a distance from the seminary, although retired Bishop Bernard Harrington met with officials there several times.

"The conversations were friendly but realizing the St. Pius the Tenth group was not willing to move into full communion with the church there really wasn't anything more we could do," she said.

In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated the society's four bishops after they were consecrated without papal consent by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who founded the society in 1969 in opposition to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Benedict's lifting of the excommunications sparked outrage among Jews and Roman Catholics since one of the prelates, Bishop Richard Williamson, had denied the Holocaust. Williamson taught at the southeastern Minnesota seminary for 15 years.

Hammes acknowledged that the rollback of the excommunications had created confusion about the status of the four bishops. She said that even though their excommunications were lifted, they are still not considered bishops in the Roman Catholic church. Star Tribune

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