Vatican: Bishop Williamson not back in

Yesterday, Bishop Richard Williamson apologized, sort of, for his Holocaust-denying interview.

He said: “Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.”

But the Vatican said today that Williamson did not go far enough.

From the AP’s Nicole Winfield:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson’s statement “doesn’t appear to respect the conditions” the Vatican set out for him.

In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed.

Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known “the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise.”

But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them.

Williamson’s initial remarks sparked widespread outrage among Jewish groups and others. The interview was broadcast just days before the Vatican announced that it was lifting his excommunication and that of three other bishops.

The four, members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, had been excommunicated after being consecrated as bishops without papal consent in 1988.

Bowing to the criticism, the Vatican on Feb. 4 demanded that Williamson “absolutely and unequivocally distance himself from his remarks about the Shoah if he is to be admitted to episcopal functions in the church.” Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

In his statement Friday, Lombardi noted that Williamson’s comments were not addressed to Pope Benedict XVI or to the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei commission, which has been dealing with the Society of St. Pius X ever since its bishops were excommunicated. Continue reading

Bishop Williamson’s views were no secret

So many have wondered how the Vatican could not have known about the Holocaust-denying views of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X.

All the curia had to do was talk to some of the former seminarians who studied under Williamson at the society’s Ridgefield, Conn., seminary during the 1980s, when Williamson was rector.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson reports today that some former seminarians vividly remember their rector making some…odd remarks.

“I have a sizable nose, and he would say to me, ‘Rizzo, are you baptized, or are you a Jew?’ ” the Rev. John Rizzo, a priest based in New Zealand, who left the Society, told Paulson.

Rizzo’s twin brother, Joseph, who left the seminary and was never ordained, said: “He called the Holocaust the biggest theatrics known to mankind – I remember sitting in a conference one time when he said those words, and I couldn’t believe it – he looked around the room and saw the jaws dropping.”

‘…a crime against God and against humanity’

Pope Benedict XVI met with many American Jewish leaders today, with the Bishop Williamson affair certainly on everyone’s mind.

The pope said:

*****

“The Church is profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities. If there is one particular image which encapsulates this commitment, it is the moment when my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, pleading for God’s forgiveness after all the injustice that the Jewish people have had to suffer.

“The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity. … It is beyond question that any denial or minimisation of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.

“This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten. Remembrance – it is rightly said – is ‘memoria futuri’, a warning to us for the future, and a summons to strive for reconciliation. To remember is to do everything in our power to prevent any recurrence of such a catastrophe within the human family by building bridges of lasting friendship.

“It is my fervent prayer that the memory of this appalling crime will strengthen our determination to heal the wounds that for too long have sullied relations between Christians and Jews”, Benedict XVI concluded. “It is my heartfelt desire that the friendship we now enjoy will grow ever stronger, so that the Church’s irrevocable commitment to respectful and harmonious relations with the people of the Covenant will bear fruit in abundance.”

Cardinal Egan: Don’t question ‘Shoah’

Speaking of Cardinal Egan, he just released a statement on the Bishop Richard Williamson controversy.

And here it is:

“Yesterday, the Vatican condemned in the clearest terms a statement made by an illicitly consecrated Bishop by the name of Richard Williamson in which the evil of the Shoah was questioned or at least minimized. As Archbishop of New York, I add my voice to that of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in rejecting Williamson’s words as hurtful, baseless, and outrageous. It is my prayer that all of our Jewish brothers and sisters understand that we in the Catholic community here in New York hold them in the highest esteem, and look forward to continuing to cooperate with them in countless good works for our community and our nation.”

Vatican: Williamson must recant

The Vatican said today that Bishop Richard Williamson — the traditionalist who said that no Jews were gassed by Nazi Germany — must disavow his statements before he can function as a bishop.

A statement said: “The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and are strongly rejected by the Holy Father.”

Williamson is one of four bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X whose excommunications were recently lifted by the pope.

As I wrote in last week’s FaithBeat column, the society’s U.S. website has all kinds of strange statements about the Jews. Take a look at this article, “The mystery of the Jewish people in history.”

It includes this nugget:

Ever since Christ was lifted up on Mount Calvary, the world has been subjected to two truly opposite forces: the Jewish force and the Christian.

In the world as it is, there can be only two truly basic modes, two poles of attraction: the Christian and the Jewish. Only two religions: Christian and Jewish. All that is not of Christ and for Christ is done in favor of Judaism. It follows from that, that the de-Christianizing of the world runs parallel to its Judaizing.

Jewish leaders are applauding the Vatican’s move today. Here’s one statement:

The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations applauds the Vatican for clarifying that Holocaust denier Richard Williamson is not welcome in the Catholic Church until he recants his deplorable statements concerning the Shoah. In addition IJCIC welcomes the clear insistence of the Vatican that the members of the SSPX accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in general and those pertaining to Jews and Judaiasm in particular.

“We hope that this clarification can put this unfortunate episode behind us and enable us to continue progressing along the remarkable and historic path along which Catholic-Jewish relations have advanced in the last half century” said Rabbi David Rosen, IJCIC Chairman.

If you missed it, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement about the whole affair, which includes:

As is now widely known, one of the four bishops, Richard Williamson, has recently made some deeply offensive and utterly false statements about the Holocaust of the Second World War. Bishop Williamson has denied historical facts about the Shoah, in which six million Jews were cruelly annihilated, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred. These comments have evoked understandable outrage from within the Jewish community and also from among our own Catholic people. No Catholic, whether lay person, priest or bishop can ever negate the memory of the Shoah, just as no Catholic should ever tolerate expressions of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry.

Why did the pope do it?

Everywhere I’ve gone in recent days, people have asked me about the pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of four “traditionalist” bishops — one of whom says that no Jews were gassed by the Nazis.

People seem to be generally baffled: Who are these bishops? What’s the deal with the Society of St. Pius X, the group to which the bishops belong? Why does the pope care so much about reconciling with these folks? Doesn’t it look like the Vatican somehow endorses their views?

I decided to let someone else answer these questions. So I called Father James Massa, who is basically the point person on ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We had a good, long chat last night, which I will write about it my FaithBeat column tomorrow.

Massa told me that he is not surprised by the vast reaction to the pope’s move, given some of the statements made by Bishop Richard Williamson about the Holocaust.

“To deny the Holocaust is an outrageous and offensive statement and is unacceptable,” Massa said.

‘To deny the Holocaust is not a heresy even though it is a lie’

The pope’s decision to nullify the excommunication of four “traditionalist” bishops is getting a surprising amount of attention because one of the bishops appears to be something of a Holocaust denier.

A bit of background: The Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X was founded in 1969 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. He and others were opposed to many of the reforms that came out of Vatican II, including the decision to allow the Mass to be celebrated in local languages and the Roman Catholic Church’s new emphasis on ecumenism and interfaith relations.

Four “bishops” who were consecrated by Marcel — without papal consent — were excommunicated by Pope JPII 20 years ago.

It has been a clear priority of Pope B16 to reconnect with the Society. He quickly met with the group’s current leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay. Soon after, the pope eased restrictions on the Latin Mass.

Now he’s chosen to erase the excommunication of the four bishops, a move that has been anticipated and would be of interest primarily to Catholics who follow this sort of thing.

In other words, not most.

However, one of the rehabilitated bishops, British Bishop Richard Williamson, recently said in a Swedish TV interview that there is no evidence that Jews were gassed by Nazi Germany. Watch:

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And Jewish groups are not that happy.

The ADL’s Abe Foxman says:

We are stunned that the Vatican has ignored our concerns by welcoming back into the fold a bishop who denies the Holocaust and rejects the seminal reforms of Vatican II.

This decree sends a terrible message to Catholics around the world that there is room in the Church for those who would undermine the Church’s teachings and who would foster disdain and contempt for other religions, particularly Judaism. Given the centuries-long history of anti-Semitism in the Church, this is a most troubling setback.

The American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi David Rosen:

While the Vatican’s reconciliation with the SSPX is an internal Catholic Church matter, embracing an open Holocaust denier is shameful. By welcoming an open Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church without any recantation on his part, the Vatican has made a mockery of John Paul II’s moving and impressive repudiation and condemnation of anti-Semitism.

The Association of Italian Rabbis, according to the AP, pulled out last week of the Italian Catholic Church’s annual celebration of Judaism, saying that the rehabilitation of Williamson was “canceling” 50 years of interfaith progress.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops Conference, said today that the rabbis’ reaction was “unjust.” But he also denounced Williamson’s views on the Holocaust, calling them “unfounded and unjustified.”

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the AP: “They are his personal ideas … that we certainly don’t share but they have nothing to do with the issue of the excommunication and the removal of the excommunication.”

Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, told the AP: “To deny the Holocaust is not a heresy even though it is a lie. The excommunication can be lifted because he is not a heretic, but he remains a liar.”

Jewish groups, of course, have often spoken out regarding Catholic actions related to the WWII era (the actions of Pope Pius XII, the canonization of Edith Stein, etc.). Things get hairy when Jewish leaders weigh in on internal matters like who the church should or should not canonize or excommunicate.

The way these things go, if Jewish groups and others continue to denounce what they perceive to be the Vatican’s “endorsement” of Williamson, the Vatican will likely release a statement of some sort distancing itself from Williamson’s views. If such a statement has already been made — other than Lombardi’s quote — I’ve missed it.

LATE ADD: Catholic analyst John Allen adds this in a NCR column about the affair:

In retrospect, however, it would be disingenuous for anyone to feign surprise.

A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.

He later notes:

Observers of the traditionalist landscape caution people not to paint with too broad a brush, as if every Catholic attracted to the older Latin Mass or to traditional views on doctrinal matters is somehow tainted by anti-Semitism. Similarly, experts also warn that critics of Catholic traditionalism can sometimes be quick to label as “anti-Semitic” attitudes that may be controversial theologically or politically, but that don’t in themselves reflect real prejudice.