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.”

Society of St. Pius X takes down essays on the Jews

I wrote in my FaithBeat column last Saturday and on this blog on Thursday about various essays concerning the Jews that I found on the U.S. website of the Society of St. Pius X.

They are the traditionalist group whose four bishops saw their excommunications lifted by the pope. Yeah, you’ve heard about it.

Well, someone pointed out to me that all four essays about the Jewish people have been removed from the Society’s website. They had been on a page called: Against the Sound-bites: A listing of articles that refute modern eras and reinforce Catholic principles.

The removed essays, among other things, said that the Jewish people are cursed for rejecting Christ and that the Jews represent all un-Christian forces in the world. One essay railed against the Vatican’s assertion a few years ago that the Jewish wait for the messiah is theologically valid.

One can only wonder who made the decision to take down four essays that “reinforce Catholic principles.”

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.

Explaining the excommunication controversy

If you have a chance, catch up with my FaithBeat column from Saturday about the ongoing controversy over the pope’s lifting of the excommunications of four “traditionalist” bishops, including a Holocaust denier.

For the column, I interviewed Father James Massa, the main point-man on ecumenical and interfaith stuff for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. He chatted with me at length about why the pope lifted the excommunications of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X. He also explained why the members of this traditionalist group will have to change their tune on a lot of things — including their views on Judaism — before they can be fully welcomed back into the Catholic world.

By the way, the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson wrote about Cardinal Sean O’Malley becoming the first high-level Catholic figure in the U.S. to publicly defend the pope’s move.

Paulson also has a timely piece about the always challenging and sometimes strained relationship between Israel and the Vatican. He interviewed scholar Raymond Cohen, an expert on the relationship, who says:

In Judaism, we have an idea of “argument for the sake of heaven.” We’re not a people that welcomes banal decorum, or harmony for its own sake. Difficult questions have to be argued about, and I think the Catholic Church also appreciates that. If you read the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t mind arguing. That’s a common tradition. And a relationship based upon a difference of opinion, however profound, I think is a very mutually beneficial relationship. You get to know yourself better, whether you’re a Jew or a Catholic, and also you change. This relationship has led to both sides changing.

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.