[UPDATE: Father Z reports that the official English translation has been released now.  I’ve updated the excerpt below with the official version.]

Pope Benedict has issued a letter to all Catholic bishops regarding the lifting of the SSPX bishops’ excommunication and the unfortunate explosion surrounding Bishop Williamson’s crazy and wicked notions about the Holocaust.  What should have been a peaceful, merciful step toward reconciliation turned into a loud nightmare, with the Holy Father coming under a great deal of fire–much of it from within the Church.

The New Liturgical Movement has a full English translation of the letter, along with various commentaries.  I initially came across all of this at WDTPRS, and Father Z of course has his own comments.

I haven’t gotten to read it all, but there was one part that really struck me.  Pope Benedict asks:

Can we be totally indifferent about a community [the SSPX] 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?

This reminded me immediately of the end of the Book of Jonah, where Jonah is so angry that God shows mercy to the repentant people (and animals) of Nineveh.  Jonah is angry because God forced him to prophesy to the city even though Jonah knew God was merciful and would spare the city.  He was concerned only for himself, his own wishes and his own comforts.

God replies:

And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?

There are lots of people furious that one bishop had his excommunication lifted even though he holds some very hurtful and very wrong-headed beliefs about the Holocaust–never mind that the excommunication had nothing to do with his views on the Holocaust.  There are also certainly many “liberal” people in the Church who are furious at the idea of some radical “ultra-conservative” types being let back into the fold.

Pope Benedict is saying, “Listen, this is not about just one bishop and his wrong ideas about the Holocaust.  It’s also not about supposed religio-political ideologies and rivalries.  This is about an entire community of Catholics who are in danger of drifting from the Church and in doing so may be risking the loss of their immortal souls.  Should I not be concerned over them?”

It seems like an incredibly simple question coming from the Supreme Pontiff, the overseeing Shepherd, of the Catholic Church.  Previously, I compared Pope Benedict with the merciful father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He continues to show mercy, even under fire, even amid betrayals and general mass chaos.  He’s got his eyes on the prize and knows what is important.  He’s going to do what is right by the Church, what needs to be done.

We couldn’t ask for, nor even hope for, a better pope than Benedict XVI at this time in history.