But getting back to his apparently odious indiscretion, why would he offend “world opinion,” as represented by the media, by removing the excommunication from disciples of Lefebvre? The reason is self-evident. He did not believe that there were sufficient doctrinal grounds for these clergymen to be excommunicated in the first place. As far as I know, the Catholic Church does not excommunicate members for holding political incorrect historical interpretations. Catholics are free to believe what they want about how many victims Hitler or Stalin killed. They may even believe, if they chose to, that the Cards beat the Steelers in last week’s super-bowl, without being tossed out of the fold for their wackiness.
Church authorities, however, are authorized to excommunicate those who reject church discipline or who openly deny some basic doctrine. Still and all, in the past century or so, the Vatican has not been kicking out confessing Catholics very often. What happened to Lefebvre and his followers was not a common occurrence. It was directed against those ultra-traditionalists who resisted the changes introduced by Vatican Two. Lefebvre and his followers repudiated the Church’s teachings, as proclaimed through Vatican Two, about the uses of vernacular liturgy and about certain alterations in the priest’s role in the Eucharist.