Pope Benedict Jan. 24 rehabilitated a breakaway “traditionalist” bishop who denies the Holocaust—ignoring warnings from Jewish leaders that it would seriously harm relations with the Catholic church and foment anti-Semitism. The Vatican said the pope issued a decree lifting the 1988 excommunication of four traditionalist bishops for being ordained by the late “traditionalist” Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without Vatican consent. The four bishops lead the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which has about 600,000 members and rejected modernizations of Roman Catholic worship and doctrine. The Vatican said the excommunications were lifted after the bishops affirmed their acceptance of Church doctrine and papal authority.
One of the four bishops, the British-born Richard Williamson, has repeatedly denied the extent of the Nazi Holocaust. In comments to Swedish television broadcast Jan. 21, he said “I believe there were no gas chambers” and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, not 6 million. He said the historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”
“I do not see how business can proceed as usual,” said Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem-based head of interrelgious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a key Vatican-Jewish negotiator. But chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Williamson’s comments were “totally extraneous” to the lifting of the excommunications. “This act regards the lifting of the excommunications, period. It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of a person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree.”
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said before the decree was issued: “For the Jewish people and all persons who feel the pain of the terrible years of the Shoah, this development marks a dangerous blow to interfaith dialogue and encourages hate-mongers everywhere.” Rabbi David Rosen, head of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, asked the Vatican for clarification. “While this is an internal Church matter, any embrace of a Holocaust denier is profoundly disturbing,” he said.
Pope Benedict has already made several gestures of reconciliation to the “traditionalist” schism, including allowing the unconditional return of the old-style Latin Mass. That move also angered Jews because the ceremony includes a Good Friday prayer for their conversion. (AP, Reuters, Jan. 24)
News Blaze blog notes: “It should be noted that Richard Williamson, the traditionalist bishop, was excommunicated for being ordained without Vatican permission and not for his anti-Semitic rants. The pontiff views anti-Semitism as a peccadillo, but any challenge to his authority is a mortal offense.”
“Would you like to see the Pope at the end of a rope?
Do you think he’s a fool?”
— Black Sabbath, “After Forever,” 1971