Dismay as Pope welcomes back Holocaust bishop Richard Williamson
Pope Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of a British bishop who denies that millions of Jews died in Nazi gas chambers has alarmed Catholics who fear it risks dealing a fatal blow to the inter-faith dialogue promoted by his predecessor.
Over the weekend the Pope issued a decree welcoming back into the Roman Catholic Church Richard Williamson, 68, and three other breakaway bishops excommunicated by John Paul II in 1988. The bishops had been ordained without Vatican permission by the renegade French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The Vatican decree referred to the need to overcome the “scandal of divisiveness” and seek reconciliation and “full communion” with Lefebvre’s order, the ultra-conservative Society or Fraternity of St Pius X. It lifted the excommunication not only of Bishop Williamson, rector of the Seminary of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix in La Reja, Argentina, but also of Bernard Fellay, the leader of the order, Alfonso de Gallareta, and Tissier de Mallerais.
Renzo Gattegna, head of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, said the rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson was “terrible not only for Jewish people but for the whole of humanity”. He said that Italian Jews would refuse to take part in joint prayers with Christians on Tuesday marking Holocaust Day, known in Italy as “The Day of Memory”.
Some Vatican officials are also saying privately that although the Pope’s stated aim was to unite the Church by bringing the rebels back into the fold, his move would have the opposite effect. “The Church will pay a price for this” one Vatican prelate said. “The Pope is undermining the legacy of John Paul II.”
Benedict’s actions are also reviving his old nickname when he was Cardinal Ratzinger — that of the “Panzerkardinal”, known for his hardline conservatism as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“This is not so much an act of grace as a surrender,” the veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi said. Benedict wanted a new era of reconciliation, “but the new era has begun with a lie. The Pope has made a openly declared and unshakeable anti-Semite a legitimate Bishop”.
Lefebvre, who died in 1991, had set up “a fanatical and reactionary counter-Church which openly contested, repudiated and defamed all the crucial points of Vatican II, from respect for the Jews to modernisation of the liturgy”. There are an estimated 500 Lefebvris bishops and 600,000 followers worldwide.
Gianni Gennari, a theologian and contributor to the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire, said it was “shameful that the lifting of the excommunications was not accompanied by any repentance whatever on the part of the Lefebvrists”.
Bishop Williamson, who has said that the Vatican is controlled by Satan and that the Jews are bent on world domination, reiterated in a broadcast last week on Swedish television that the historical evidence was “hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers”.
He added: “I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them by gas chambers.”
Prosecutors in Regensburg in Germany, where the interview took place — and where the Pope once studied and taught — have opened an inquiry. Holocaust denial is an offence under German law.
Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, insisted the lifting of the excommunications had “absolutely nothing to do” with Williamson’s views on the Holocaust. “One is not connected to the other,” he said. Vatican Radio said Williamson’s statements had been condemned by other members of the St Pius X fraternity.
This month Elia Enrico Richetti, the chief rabbi of Venice, said Jews had been deeply offended by the reintroduction by the Pope in March of a Good Friday Latin prayer for the conversion of the Jews as part of the revived Tridentine Mass. “We are moving toward the cancellation of 50 years of Church history” the rabbi said.
Other Catholic-Jewish tensions include plans by the Pope to beatify Pius XII, the wartime pontiff accused by critics of failing to speak out in defence of Jews. The Vatican insists that Pius helped the Jews while avoiding public statements that would have made matters worse, and has demanded the removal of a plaque attacking him at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
The Pope has twice visited synagogues, in the US and his native Germany, and sought to make amends with the Islamic world after a speech at Regensburg two years ago in which he appeared to suggest that Islam was inherently violent and irrational. However, he recently declared that inter-religious dialogue “in the strict sense of the word” between Christians, Jews and Muslims was “not possible”.
Accompanying this Holocaust denial is that of other aspects of what would correctly be term the Holocaust of Wlodimir Ledochowski's, such as the clerical-fascist Utashe Croatia, and the eastern European 'cleansing' of liberal catholics and eastern orthodox upon a war with a planned culmination with the rape and destruction of Protestant Eastern Germany - Prussia, perhaps from a childhood revenge vow.