June 17, 2009 / 1:13 PM / 8 years ago

Vatican warns traditionalists not to ordain priests

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican warned a rebel ultra-traditionalist order on Wednesday not to go ahead with plans to ordain new priests this month, saying the move could incur disciplinary action.

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, plans to ordain 21 new priests in three countries on June 19 and 27.

A statement said that if the ordinations go ahead "they are still to be considered illegitimate" despite an uneasy rapprochement underway between the SSPX and the Vatican.

It cited a letter by Pope Benedict in March in which he explained his decision to lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops and start a dialogue aimed at full re-integration of the rebels.

But the statement said disciplinary questions regarding the SSPX "remained open," a clear warning that if the ordinations go ahead they will have repercussions on negotiations to bring the traditionalists fully back into the Church.

The SSPX plans to hold the ordination of the traditionalists priests in Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

Catholic bishops, included Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, Germany, had urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with the ordinations, a plan seen as the SSPX's latest attempt to challenge Vatican authority.

The Vatican has made several concessions to the SSPX, the biggest being the lifting in January of the 1988 excommunications of its four bishops.

This meant they were back in good standing as Catholics, but they had no official function as bishops and therefore should not use their Episcopal privileges without Vatican permission.

HOLOCAUST DENIER

The Pope prompted international outrage when he lifted the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops to try to heal a 20-year-old rift that began when they were thrown out of the Church for being ordained without the permission of Pope John Paul II.

Williamson said in an interview broadcast several days earlier that he believed there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by most historians.

His comments and the pope's decision to lift the excommunication caused a deep rift in Catholic-Jewish relations.

In his March letter the pope said his aim in starting procedures to readmit the SSPX was to bring good people back into the fold, while adding that some of its members act with "arrogance and presumptuousness."

The Vatican says before the SSPX can be fully readmitted into the Church it must accept the teachings of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council which urged respect for other religions.

Wednesday's statement also said plans to put the Vatican office which had been negotiating with the SSPX under the control of the Church's doctrinal department -- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- were nearly complete.

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