On 24 January 2009, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had lifted the excommunications of the four bishops (Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta) consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. Bishop Fellay of SSPX issued a statement in which the society expressed its "filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, will benefit the whole Church," and that " wishes always to be more able to help the pope to remedy the unprecedented crisis which presently shakes the Catholic world, and which Pope John Paul II had designated as a state of 'silent apostasy.'"
Reaction to the lifting of excommunications has been divided. Many Traditionalist Catholics have attributed the decision to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But a number of Catholics, progressive and otherwise, have said they are surprised that the Pope has acted in such a positive way toward bishops holding such reactionary positions. The remarks of Bishop Williamson on a number of subjects, his denial of the Nazi genocide killing six million Jews, has lent credibility to the accusation that he is a Holocaust denier. The lifting of his excommunication has presented problems for Catholic-Jewish relations, culminating in the Chief Rabbinate of Israel severing ties with the State of the Vatican City in protest on 28 January 2009.
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... By a decree of 21 January 2009 (Protocol Number 126/2009), issued in response to a request that Fellay made on behalf of all four bishops whom Lefebvre had consecrated, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, by the power expressly granted to him by Pope Benedict XVI, remitted the automatic excommunication that they had thereby incurred, and expressed the wish that this would be followed speedily by full communion of the whole of the Society of Saint Pius X with the Church, thus bearing witness, by the proof of visible unity, to true loyalty and true recognition of the Pope's Magisterium and authority ... The decree, signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation, is as follows His Holiness Benedict XVI — paternally sensitive to the spiritual unease manifested by the interested party due to the sanction of excommunication and trusting in the effort expressed by them in the aforementioned letter of not sparing any effort to deepen the necessary discussions with the Authority of the Holy See in the still open matters, so as to achieve shortly a full and satisfactory solution of the problem posed in the origin — decided to reconsider the canonical situation of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, arisen with their episcopal consecration ...