In the letter the pope related what he learned; what he did to "make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes;" and his distinction between discipline and doctrine in this case.
In the third paragraph of his letter Pope Benedict drew "the distinction between individuals and institutions." The pope clarified that discipline applies to individuals. Once ministry and church institutions are involved then discipline no longer applies, doctrine does. In the pope's words:
This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.The specific ministry in this case is that of holy orders, and the specific institution is the institute of the Society of Saint Pius X. It counts more than 700 priests and seminarians and 281 religious brothers and sisters. Asked Pope Benedict, "Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church?"
The Vatican posted the pope's letter to bishops on its website. Individual bishops have been making it available, too. It is a valuable window on how Pope Benedict learns in addition to clarifying what often is muddled by others.
[e P.S. added 14 March 2009: The Society of Pius X responded favorably to Pope Benedict, assuring him, "We Fully Share His Utmost Concern for Preaching to Our Age."]
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