The personally signed message Pope Francis sent to Muslims to wish them for the end of Ramadan did not go down well among Mgr. Lefebvre’s followers.
The letter of condemnation which the General House of the Society of St. Pius X sent last 20 August should come as no surprise: the Lefebvrians have been rejecting the changes made by the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) – including dialogue with other religions and freedom of conscience – for fifty years now.
The General House of the Society of St. Pius X in Econe (Switzerland) issued sharp criticisms of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even as the latter was engaged in attempts to reconcile the traditionalist group with the Catholic Church.
What is unusual, however, is that the Lefebvrians’ biting remarks came shortly after Pope Francis appointed Guido Pozzo as Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. This move was seen as an attempt by the Pope to take another stab at reviving dialogue with the traditionalist group.
The way the Lefebvrians see it, Francis’ message to the Muslims is confusing, paradoxical, breaks with tradition and risks the Christians killed in areas where Islam is the dominant faith being forgotten.
The traditionalist group said it is “paradoxical” and “confusing” to speak - as the papal message does - of “respect for other people’s religions…without any reference to the substance of their religious convictions.” “Respect towards people does not involve respect for their religion if it goes against the truth revealed by the Trinitarian God, as Islam does,” the Lefebvrians wrote.
“As the doctor’s zeal for a patient’s health equates to the patient’s zeal to recover from their illness, so a sinner’s love is proportionate to the hatred the sinner has for the sin they want to free themselves from,” the Lefebvrians added.
The Society of St. Pius X drew attention to the contradiction between Pope Francis’ gesture and the saint he named himself after, claiming that St. Francis apparently suggested the only way for Christians and Muslims to live in peace is for Muslims to convert. The reference was to the saint’s description of a meeting he had with the Sultan during the 5th Crusade. The nature and significance of this historical event are highly debated.
The traditionalist group emphasised that Pope Francis’ position is in tune with the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate. This encouraged the two faiths to put aside centuries of hatred in order to work towards peace and justice. “Must we therefore add to the bloody persecution Christians face today by neglecting them as witnesses of the faith, for which they sacrifice their lives?” the Lefebvrians asked.
The French province of the Society of St. Pius X actually criticised Francis’ message to Muslims before the group’s General House did, in a long communiqué signed by the Province’s superior, Abbot Régis de Cacqueray.