When the Vatican lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist Catholic bishops Jan. 21, its entirely possible Rome was unaware that one of those bishops, an Englishman named Richard Williamson, had just given an interview to Swedish television in which he denied that the Nazis had used gas chambers and asserted that no more than 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had died during the Second World War.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.Reacting to the furor over Williamson, the Vatican has stressed that lifting the excommunication is not an endorsement of his views on the Holocaust, and has repeated its firm commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and to combating anti-Semitism. The popes outreach to traditionalists should instead be seen, spokespersons said, as an act of peace intended to end the only formal schism in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).Canonical experts also point out that, technically speaking, Holocaust denial is not heresy. Its a denial of historical truth, not a truth of the faith, and hence repudiating it is not inconsistent at least from a strictly logical point of view with the Jan. 21 decree from the Congregation for Bishops ending the excommunication of the four Lefebvrite prelates.Thats a fine distinction, however, likely to be lost on much of the world, especially given that Williamsons comments hardly came out of the blue.
Read the rest right here.Update: John Allen reports today that the Vatican has released a statement from SSPX head Bishop Bernard Fellay, who apologizes for Williamson's offenses. It reads, in part:
Its clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on questions that regard faith and morals. Our Fraternity does not claim any authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, expressed in the dogmas of the faith. Its for this reason that we are known, accepted and respected in the entire world.The affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any sense the position of our Fraternity. For this reason I have prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions.We ask the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. Because we recognize how ill-advised these declarations were, we can only look with sadness at the way in which they have directly struck our Fraternity, discrediting its mission.This is something we cannot accept, and we declare that we will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to administer the sacraments of grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Shrewd move, as far as it goes. I would have preferred something stronger ("ill-advised" doesn't begin to describe what Williamson spews), sooner (why did it take so long for Fellay to publicly condemn Williamson's unhinged views about the Shoah when he has been repeating them for years?), and less, well, huffy (yes, yes, you're respected the world over, but why not name the Jewish people in your apology to the pope and to "all people of good will"?). And P.S.: the Fraternity isn't the only one that suffers as a result of this train wreck. But at least Fellay seems to have an inkling of the gravity of Williamson's transgressions.Interesting, too, that the statement was releasd by the Vatican.