Monday, January 26, 2009

Bad news for Catholic-Jewish relations

Pope Benedict has just let back into the church four bishops who were excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. The French bishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated them and then he and the four bishops were immediately excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for defying his authority. The Society of St. Pius X, to which they belong, denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council, which made Catholic-Jewish reconciliation possible when it absolved the Jewish people of the charge of deicide and denounced anti-semitism with these words: “The Church deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.”

One of these bishops is a man named Richard Williamson, who denies that the Holocaust occurred and believes in the truth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As Ruth Gledhill (Times of London) says:

If Benedict XVI goes ahead with lifting the excommunication in spite of Bishop Williamson’s comments, that will in turn wreak havoc on more than 40 years of attempts to rebuild relations with the Jewish community after nearly two millennia of Christian anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust.

The damage will be doubled, coming as it will on top of the Pope’s revival of the Tridentine Mass last year with its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.


She also says:

If he brings them back in with Williamson on board, then truly it will be a disaster. Vatican II might as well never have happened and it won't just be the Jewish community that would be justifiably disgusted. For many thousands of lay Catholics the world over, this could be the final proof that what the atheist bus campaign suggested was true: 'There probably is no God.' At least not the God that Williamson and his like believe in. Who could blame them, then, if they put traditionalist Catholic guilt aside, and get on and enjoy their lives.


Andrew Sullivan's response: "I am truly, deeply ashamed of my church for this action and hope this provokes such an outcry it is reversed. These are not the words of Christ. They are the words of evil."

An article in Der Spiegel outlines what Williamson has said and what the Society of St. Pius X has done. (Translation from cathcon.blogspot.com)

Problem for the Pope

A bishop of the Society of Pope St Pius X denies the holocaust.

Anti-semitic tendencies lead to tension between German Catholics and the Central Council for Jews in Germany.

The history of the Catholic Church is also the history of separations from her, of heresy and of error. When the religious deviationists win many supporters, they can be considered, like the Protestants, a church and when rather they remain among themselves, they can be considered as a sect.

Presently, one of the most important splits in the Catholic religious universe is an association of priests, which takes its name from an especially pious Pope, named “The Society of Saint Pius X”. The group founded in 1970 by the conservative and later excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre celebrates the Mass in Latin to this day, holds confession in high honour and fights in general things which conform to “an anti-Christian consumer and fun-fuelled society”.

The fundamentalists are thoroughly successful in conversion work. Just in Germany, they have about 10000 supporters and worldwide dependent operations in over thirty countries. In more than fifty places in Germany they have a church or at least a chapel. “We are the tip of the spear against the further destruction of Church and society” says the German district superior, Father Franz Schmidberger, convinced by himself.

The reality is that the Society is so subversive that the top of the Vatican recently tried to bring them back into the womb of the Church. Since Pope Benedict XVI invited the General Superior of the Society, Bernard Fellay and his German representative Schmidberger to his summer residence in Castelgandolfo a great shuttle diplomacy has been set in train.

As a sign of a great coming together, the Pope has given the word for Mass in the old Rite, which is again more often than in the past possible in the Catholic Church without the need to obtain special permission for a service in Latin. The Society sees the majority of the Sacraments which they dispense such as baptism, confirmation, Mass, Last Rites and also priestly orders as recognised by Rome. In May of last year, the Vatican published a clarification that the Society is being courted by the Vatican.

All was going along a good path, but now a problem has surfaced. The tip of the Catholic traditionalist spear is not only pious, it is in parts also antisemitic. This makes the change brought about by the rapprochement also into a problem for the German Bishops’ Conference and, at the same time, for the German Pope himself, who in May will make his first visit to Israel in order to push ahead reconciliation between Christians and Jews.

The antisemitism of the leadership of the Society of Pope St Pius X showed itself to the representatives of the Pope just before Christmas, when the District Head Father Schmidberger sent a circular letter to all 27 bishops, in which he took the position, “The Jews of our day.....share in the guilt of deicide so long as they don’t distance themselves from their forefathers through belief in the divinity of Christ and baptism”.

After this statement, there has been tension between the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Bishops Conference.

Dieter Graumann, Vice President of the Council sees the letter as propagating the “worst clich├ęs against Jews” and asked the Bishops to distance themselves or to find a clear position statement. So far only the Hamburg Bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke has made use of the opportunity to answer publicly and that was in the form of a reprimand: Graumann probably does not know that the Catholic Church has nothing to do with the Society of Pope St Pius X, whereby every criticism of the Vatican and her representatives is irresponsible.

Schmidberger rejects the complaint, “These are only religious propositions.” For those knowledgeable in the matter, the anti-Jewish excursions are however no surprise, reservations about Jews having a long history in the Catholic Church and considered only to have been overcome since the Second Vatican Council in the middle of the sixties. The Society with its rejection of all fashionable innovations are also inheritors of this tradition. Exactly their fundamentalist convictions make them attractive to certain sorts of people, which is significant for the willingness of these people to donate money for the building of new churches.

Money flows because the Society does not only pray and talk, they are also prepared to fight for their case on Germany’s streets. Recently they could be found with demonstrators in front of the House of Art in Munich to protest against a “blasphemous exhibition”- which included a crucified frog. During the Christopher Street Day in Stuttgart, their supporters stood on the side of the street armed with rosaries, murmuring prayers against the alleged vice.

A particularly enthusiastic representative of the Society is Bishop Richard Williamson, born in Great Britain, who was commissioned by the founder, Archbishop Lefebrve when the latter was near death to continue the life’s work of the Archbishop. Williamson is frequently in Germany in order to push ahead with this development. In consequence, the next generation lies close to his heart, that will be introduced into the so-called crusader camps. “Life as we know it is coming to an end,” he said a short while ago in a talk to confirmation candidates. “Martyrdom is perhaps coming. Perhaps our blood will be necessary to bring about the cleansing of the Catholic Church.”

An event which took place on the sidelines of a deaconing at the end of last year on All Saints Day can only severely damage the in any case tense relations between Catholics and Jews. Williamson travelled to Zaitkofen where the Society operate a seminary in a small baroque castle to make a Swedish convert, Sten Sandmark into a deacon of the Society. As his departure from the Protestant church was taken as a scandal in the far north, a Stockholm TV reporter Ali Fagan was there. After the deaconing, they both placed themselves in the chapel for an interview in front of the camera

Talk turned to the Nazis. One sees in the film Williamson breathing in and then says he does not believe six million Jews to have been gassed.

To the surprised counter-question “Were there no gas chambers?” “I believe there were no gas chambers, yes.” In the matter of the Holocaust, he associated himself with the “revisionists” who believe that “two to three hundred thousand Jews died in Nazi concentration camps. But none of them died as a result of gas in gas chambers.”

Then the cleric talked much about technically unsuitable chimney heights and unsuitable, as they could not be sealed, doors which can still be seen by tourists in Auschwitz. “If this is not anti-semitism,” added the interviewer, “what is it then?”

Bishop Williamson, “If anti-semitism is bad, it is against the truth. When something is true, it is not bad. I am not interested in the word anti-semitism”.

SVT1 will show the one hour long documentary film on Wednesday this week on the programme “Uppdrag granskning” - “The Task of Checking” and it will also be available on the internet.

The Central Council is now going to examine whether a legal case be possible as denial of the holocaust is a crime in Germany.

Graumann is also awaiting a clear statement from the German Bishops Conference, in the context of the Papal visit to Israel.

“They who cannot or do not wish to distance themselves, make themselves complicit.”

More on Williamson at Box Turtle Bulletin.

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