ROME, SEPT. 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Five priests and seminarians, including past members of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, have returned to full communion with the Catholic Church.
They founded the Good Shepherd Institute, a new society of apostolic life of pontifical right, established last Friday in Rome. Its members are people who wish to celebrate the liturgy exactly as was in force in the Latin Church until 1962.
The institute brings together priests who wish to "exercise their priesthood in the doctrinal and liturgical Tradition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church," explained Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, in a communiqué. The new institute is located in his archdiocese.
In the apostolic letter "Ecclesia Dei," Pope John Paul II said that the "unlawful" ordination of four bishops within the Society by Archbishop Lefebvre, on June 30, 1988, was a schismatic act.
That ordination cut short the attempt for an agreement between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, carried out in John Paul II's name by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Archbishop Lefebvre died in March 1991 and was succeeded by one of the ordained bishops, Bernard Fellay, in the leadership of the group.
In his communiqué Cardinal Ricard said: "Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his concern for a return to full communion by those who followed Archbishop Lefebvre and wished to offer welcome gestures."
Cardinal Ricard, 61, who is also president of the bishops' conference of France, explained that "the Pope himself made the decision to establish this new institute. In this decision there is the will to propose an experience of reconciliation and communion that will have to be affirmed and deepened with deeds. For this reason, the statutes of this institute are approved 'ad experimentum' for a five-year period."
"We share profoundly this concern of the Pope for reconciliation and communion and we welcome filially his decision," stated the cardinal, who is also a member of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei."
That commission was established by John Paul II to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of the priests, seminarians, communities and men and women religious connected in some way to Lefebvre's group, who wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, keeping their spiritual and liturgical traditions.
The archbishop of Bordeaux said that a "convention" will be agreed to by the institute and the archdiocese on how the former will operate.
The cardinal acknowledged that what is needed is a "whole endeavor of pacification, reconciliation and communion, as violence has characterized the relations even over the last months of several members of that institute with the diocesan Church. Each one will have to contribute his part."
In 2002, Cardinal Ricard asked the municipality of Bordeaux to discontinue assigning a priest of the then unapproved institute to the Church of St. Eloy in that city. The cardinal's request drew much media attention.
Bishop Fellay, head of the Society of St. Pius X, issued a communiqué Friday expressing opposition to the agreement reached by the institute as he believes it is "a communal solution in which the Tridentine Mass would be confined in a particular statute."
Other followers of Lefebvre are already reconciled with Rome, as is the case of the personal apostolic administration "St. John Mary Vianney" of Campos, Brazil, which arose from a group led by Bishop Licinio Rangel. He was consecrated by three bishops ordained illicitly by Lefebvre.
Their return to the Catholic Church took place Jan. 18, 2002, in a solemn ceremony presided over by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, president of the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission.