‘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.

Might Benedict XVI freeze sainthood process for Pius XII?

Here’s the latest on the never-ending controversy over Pope Pius XII’s efforts to save the Jews.

Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, by the way, is quite a respectable fellow (that’s him addressing the pope). I would tend to trust his statement about the meeting:

*****

By FRANCES D’EMILIO and MARTA FALCONI
Associated Press Writers

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A Jewish leader says Pope Benedict XVI is considering a request to freeze the sainthood process for wartime Pope Pius XII, who critics say did not speak out enough during World War II to save Jews amid Hitler’s extermination campaign.

Rabbi Ravid Rosen says the pope was asked to do so during a meeting Thursday with a Jewish group and the pontiff replied he would give “serious consideration” to the request to wait.

Rosen spoke after the Vatican rejected Jewish groups’ requests to immediately open its secret archives on Pius XII’s papacy during the Holocaust years.

e4cfabb1378545c59fdccff5cde20312.jpgVatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the requests to see the wartime archives were “understandable,” but added Thursday that it would take another six or seven years to catalog those 16 million documents.

Currently, the archives can be consulted only up through the papacy of Pius XII’s predecessor, Pius XI, which ended in early 1939, a few months before World War II began in Europe.

Pius XII was Pius XI’s secretary of state, as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli. Some scholars who have examined archive documents dealing with the future Pius XII’s diplomacy say Pacelli was an indecisive diplomat as Nazism and Fascism took hold in parts of Western Europe.

The Vatican says Benedict has been reflecting on documentation gathered by Church officials about Pius XII’s virtues as part of the process toward possible beatification, the last formal step before possible sainthood. Benedict, marking the 50th anniversary recently of Pius’ death, has described him as a great pope who spared no effort to try to save Jews.

Earlier this month, Israeli president Shimon Peres urged the Vatican not to let a contentious reference to Pius XII stop Benedict from visiting the Holy Land sometime. A caption accompanying a photograph at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial alleges the wartime pope did not act to save Jews from the Nazi genocide.

Benedict met Thursday with Rosen and others from the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The pontiff called for “sincere dialogue” and called Church condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism a “significant milestone.”

Neither Benedict nor Rosen in their speeches mentioned the sainthood controversy.

Rosen said Jews were “profoundly grateful for all that the Holy See has said and done in recent times” to combat anti-Semitism and he expressed thanks for Christians who “saved many Jews” during the Holocaust.

“We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from that period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve,” Rosen said.

The late Pope John Paul II made an official visit to Israel in 2000.

Vatican promises an unchanging relationship with the Jewish people

The vastly improved relations between Catholics and Jews since Vatican II will not be affected by the controversial “conversion of Jews” prayer in the Latin Good Friday liturgy.

This is the message of a statement released today from the Vatican. It comes, of course, only weeks before Pope Benedict will meet with Jewish leaders in Washington and visit Park East Synagogue in New York City. (The photo is of Rabbi Arthur Schneier at the synagogue.)

A revised version of the prayer took out language referring to the “blindness” of the Jews, but still prays that Jews will recognize Jesus and that “all Israel may be saved.”

The Vatican statement includes this:

The Holy See wishes to reassure that the new formulation of the prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews, which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

tjndc5-5jfldxodr9g1i5vqgomy_layout.jpgVatican watcher John Allen notes:

(As a bit of insider baseball, it’s interesting to note that the Vatican clearly wanted this statement to be perceived as coming from the very highest level, representing the personal will of the pope – hence it was issued by the Secretariat of State, not the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, even though it arguably addresses a matter of Catholic teaching. It’s a small but telling sign of the ascendancy of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, who has successfully consolidated a remarkable degree of power and visibility in his office.)

The American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi David Rosen tells Catholic News Service:

I think it contains a very important implicit statement — which I would have been happier to see made explicit — that if one accepts (the Vatican II document) ‘Nostra Aetate,’ then they must demonstrate esteem for Judaism, which precludes proselytism.

But the ADL’s Abe Foxman just issued this statement:

On this issue the Vatican has taken two steps forward and three steps backward. It is reassuring that the Catholic Church remains committed to the ideals of Nostra Aetate and to an approach toward relations with the Jewish people based on cordiality and mutual respect.

Yet it is troubling that the statement still does not specifically say that the Catholic Church is opposed to proselytizing Jews. While they say it does not change Nostra Aetate, the statement does not go far enough to allay concerns about how the message of this prayer will be understood by the people in the pews. The Latin prayer is still out there, and stands by itself, and unless this statement will be read along with the prayer, it will not repair or mitigate the impact of the words of the prayer itself, with its call for Jews to recognize Jesus as the savior of all men and its hope that ‘all Israel will be saved.’

The impact of those words is undeniable, and we wish the Vatican had explicitly rejected calls to conversion or to proselytizing Jews.

A Jewish perspective on a Catholic prayer (about the Jews)

If you want to hear the Jewish perspective on the somewhat controversial Catholic prayer for converting Jews that is part of the Latin liturgy for Good Friday, now you can…

david-rosen-homepage-portrait.jpgThe American Jewish Committee has posted a video of Rabbi David Rosen, the highly regarded and dapper director of the AJC’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, explaining the Jewish view on the prayer.

You can watch it here.

It is a measured account, from the Jewish perspective, of the history of the prayer and how Jews feel as Good Friday nears.

He says that a recently revised version of the prayer is “not derogatory” toward Jews, but is still disappointing because “it still asks Jews to find the fullness of salvation in faith in Jesus.”

Rosen calls the whole issue a “glitch” in Catholic/Jewish relations, and insists that the Jewish community mostly wants the Catholic Church to explain that its feelings toward the Jewish people have not changed.

“We’re not in the business of telling the Catholic Church what to pray,” he says. (Clearly, some Catholics will say this is exactly what he’s trying to do.)

It is important to note that few Catholics will actually participate in a Latin liturgy on Good Friday. The vast majority will be part of a post-Vatican II liturgy that only gently refers to the Jewish people.

Rosen is a heavy hitter here, as he is also chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation, which generally represents other Jewish groups in interfaith talks.

A LATE ADD: Whispers in the Loggia notes that:

(Cardinal Walter) Kasper also announced that a “delegation from Jerusalem” would come to the Vatican later this month in light of the continuing controversy over the 1962 Missal’s recently revised prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people. Underscoring the importance of the session, the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB will lead the Vatican group at the discussion.