Better late than never? The Vatican demands that a Holocaust denier recant

I guess even the Vatican responds to public pressure, if it’s intense enough.

Last week, I noted an extremely disturbing story, a story that outraged me, a story that I would have found even more disturbing were I still a practicing Catholic but that I found disturbing enough even though I no longer am one. I’m referring to the difficult to explain decision on the part of Pope Benedict XVI to rehabilitate four heretical bishops who had been ordained without the Vatican’s permission and who all belonged to a conservative Catholic organization known as the the Society of Saint Pius X. This organization was formed in the wake of Vatican II and its reforms, which its members explicitly reject.

One of the four bishops whose excommunication by Pope John Paul II was rescinded is a grade-A super loony nutjob. Specifically, this particular bishop, Bishop Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier. Moreover, he is the most obnoxious, blatantly idiotic sort of Holocaust denier, parroting the most easily debunked of denier canards as though they were fact; even his friend David Irving is not so dense. Even worse, it turns out that Williamson’s anti-Semitism is not at all subtle and over the years not even close to carefully hidden. Indeed, Williamson’s vile views were noted nearly a year ago in a news story that described just what he believed, including his acceptance of the Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the classic anti-Semitic tract that purports to describe a conspiracy by Jews to rule the world as described by the elders in its title, as authentic, as well as his being a 9/11 Truther, who, like many 9/11 Truthers, believes that the U.S. government was somehow in on the attacks of that day.

As you may recall, I, along with many others, was outraged that the Pope would try to rehabilitate such a raging anti-Semite. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why on earth the Church would want to rehabilitate such a hateful crank. One commenter by the ‘nym efarris tried to explain why:

The vileness of Williamson’s statements is undeniable, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a far more “nuanced” issue than the reporting indicates. Of course, “Pope says suspended bishop who has idiotic political views will be allowed to take Communion again – if he shapes up” doesn’t make nearly as sensational a news story as “Pope ’embraces’ Holocaust denier.”

In answer to the questions about whether this means the four are bishops again…

Lifting their excommunication does NOT make them bishops in good standing with the Church. It is essentially an invitation to reconcile with Rome. There’s a condition attached – to believe and obey what the Catholic Church teaches on faith and morals. This would include the recognition of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) that officially condemned all forms of anti-Semitism. (You can look this one up.)

They are still suspended as clergy and any services they perform are illicit. Lifting their excommunication doesn’t give them the right to function as priests or imply any approval of their views or actions. The only thing it does is give them permission to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church. If you think (like many do) that those are meaningless, then the Pope has done — absolutely nothing. The Church basically doesn’t deny communion to people on the basis of their political views even if those views are at odds with Church teaching. When the Church doesn’t deny communion to pro-choice American politicians, for example, most Americans think that this policy is a good thing.

This, of course, was a rather specious comparison, mainly because this issue was about far more than a single disagreement with the Church. It was about open heresy and the flouting of the Church’s authority. Moreover, the very problem that I had with Benedict’s action was that he didn’t say that a “suspended bishop who has idiotic political views will be allowed to take Communion again – if he shapes up.” He simply said that said suspended bishop who has idiotic political views will be allowed to take Communion again. Period. No preconditions. No requirements. The Pope didn’t even demand that Williamson renounce his Holocaust denial, accept the Church’s authority and teachings (including Vatican II, which SSPX despises), and ask forgiveness. That’s some pretty easy forgiveness, if you ask me.

All of that is why I responded by wondering why on earth the Pope’s excommunication of these bishops was rescinded without his first demanding from them as a precondition of having their excommunication lifted a public renunciation of their previous disobedience of the Church in having accepted their clearly illicit ordinations and their current heresy against the Church, a public vow of obedience to the Church and a public statement affirming their belief in Church teaching–including Vatican II. To me, reversing the Lefebvrists’ excommunications without first requiring of them even those minimal public demonstrations of repentance sent the worst possible message in that it suggested to me and others that Benedict was so desperate for reconciliation that he didn’t even bother to make sure that the bishops would come back to the fold in both word and deed if he rescinded their excommunication for having participated in the “rogue” ordinations of bishops outside the authority of Rome.

From this action, I had a really hard time not concluding one of two things: Either Pope Benedict XVI and his underlings didn’t know (or don’t really want to know) the full extent of the anti-Semitism and nastiness of these bishops, particularly Williamson. If that is the case, they are incompetent and ignorant, having exercised insufficient due diligence before making this decision. Indeed, as one wag put it, this mistake “suggests a failure on the part of Vatican ‘vetters’ that makes any of the Obama team’s mistakes small beer indeed.” On the other hand, the problem might well have been that the Pope apparently failed to consult the prelate in charge of interfaith dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a man who would certainly have warned them of Williamson’s extremist views.

The other possibility is that they did know and simply didn’t care. In that case, although I do not for one instant believe that he shares the anti-Semitism of SSPX and Bishop Williamson, I still have to wonder if the Pope himself sympathizes with other SSPX’s beliefs, a frightening thought to me indeed. Even worse, that Benedict announced his rescission of these bishops’ excommunications on the very week of Holocaust Remembrance Day showed a real tin ear and serious insensitivity.

It appears that, better late than never, the Pope has come around to my way of thinking:

ROME — Responding to an extraordinary burst of global outrage, especially in Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, the Vatican for the first time on Wednesday called on a recently rehabilitated bishop to take back his statements denying the Holocaust.

Late last month, the pope revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops from the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, including Bishop Richard Williamson, a Briton, who in an interview broadcast last month denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Vatican Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson “must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Shoah,” or Holocaust, or else he would not be allowed to serve as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.


Benedict has said he revoked the excommunications in an effort to heal a rift within the church. Last week, he called them a gesture of “compassion” and a first step on a longer path toward the society’s full reconciliation with the church.

The statement from the Vatican on Wednesday also addressed questions about what conditions the society would have to meet before being fully welcomed back into the fold, saying it would have to offer its “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council” to receive “recognition” by the church.

Of course, this issue is about a lot more than Williamson’s Holocaust denial. The SSPX is a rogue organization steeped in anti-Semitism and anti-modernism, including a defense of the Inquisition, a 15th century view of the role of women, and a generally medieval and absolutist mindset. Apparently the anti-modernism and medieval mindset didn’t bother Pope Benedict in the least. Only the Holocaust denial, it seems, did. And, it seems, ignorance was the reason, although I wonder if that’s just a story:

The statement said that the bishop’s recent comments denying the Holocaust had been “unknown to the Holy Father at the time he revoked the excommunication.”

Efforts to reach Bishop Williamson were unsuccessful, and he issued no public response. The bishop has a history of public statements denying the Holocaust.

Yes, indeed, the Pope is claiming ignorance. There’s just one problem. This latest idiocy by Williamson was far from the first time that he had denied the Holocaust. Let’s take a look. First, here’s an excerpt from a letter Bishop Williamson wrote in 2001 shortly after 9/11:

The Jews are a similar case. As early as 200 the Church author Tertullian remarked that as Catholic faith goes up, so Jewish power goes down, while as Catholic faith goes down, so Jewish power goes up. In the Catholic Middle Ages the Jews were relatively impotent to harm Christendom, but as Catholics have grown over the centuries since then weaker and weaker in the faith, especially since Vatican II, so the Jews have come closer and closer to fulfilling their substitute-Messianic drive towards world dominion.

If we return for a moment to politics, the United States is now caught precisely between these two scourges of God. Unquestionably one main grievance of Arabs against the United States, provoking their terrorists to lash out as we have seen, is the United States’ one-sided favoring of Israel over the Arabs for the last forty years. But each time the United States attempts to act even-handedly towards the Arabs, Jewish power inside the United States – e.g. virtual control of finance and the media – blocks the attempt, and the United States returns to oppressing the Arabs.

Nice. But that’s not all. Let’s go back even further. In fact, let’s go back 20 years to 1989:

In 1989, for instance, one of the Society’s four bishops, Richard Williamson, delivered a virulently racist sermon while touring Quebec. Williamson, who runs a Lefebvrist seminary in Winona, Minnesota, was speaking at Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes church in Sherbrooke when he stated that “Not one Jew was killed in the gas chambers. It’s a lie… the Jews invented the Holocaust so that we would kneel before them and accept their state of Israel… the governments don’t touch the Jews but they persecute the Zundels who fight for the truth.” [8] When a complaint was lodged under the hate laws, the RCMP found that there was no basis to charge Williamson because he “wasn’t inciting violence”. The bishop himself was unapologetic, claiming that “The church is going badly because of the Protestants, the Freemasons, the Communists, the media and the Jews…. I don’t believe that 6 million Jews were killed (in the Holocaust), it’s a physical impossibility.” [9]

There was also more:

There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel…. Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism.

As I said before, nice.

Actually, it’s so bad that even SSPX can’t take it. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of SSPX, issued this statement:

It is obvious that a Catholic bishop can only speak with ecclesiastical authority about matters concerning faith and morals. Our Society claims no authority on other matters. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, set forth in the dogmas of the Faith. It is for this that we are known, accepted and esteemed throughout the world.

We are deeply grieved to see how much harm the violation of this mandate can do to our mission. Bishop Williamson’s statements do not in any way reflect the position of our Society. This is why I have forbidden him, until further notice, to make any public statements on political or historical issues.

We ask forgiveness of the Sovereign Pontiff and of all people of good will for the dramatic consequences of such an act. While we recognize how inappropriate these declarations were, we can only note with sadness that the incessant accusations against our Society are also obviously intended to discredit it.

I can’t resist noting that it’s funny how no one from SSPX, including its leadership, appears to have spoken out against Williamson’s Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism until it caused embarrassment to the organization. In other words, because Williamson’s interview is being used to “discredit” SSPX (which, if you read some of the essays on its website, doesn’t really need Williamson to be discredited; there’s plenty of anti-Semitism not involving Holocaust denial in the “mainstream” SSPX teaching to discredit it), SSPX had to try to distance itself from Williamson. Fellay’s protestations would have been more convincing to me if they hadn’t been necessitated by the worldwide outrage Williamson’s comments had caused, if SSPX had shunned Williamson all along. Remember, Williamson’s views have not been a secret. He’s been preaching them openly for at least 20 years. It’s only now, when Williamson’s Holocaust denial endangers SSPX’s best opportunity to rejoin the Church, that Fellay says anything. Less than a year ago, this is what SSPX said about Williamson:

Although Williamson’s anti-Semitism has been an open secret in the traditionalist Catholic world for years, there will be widespread dismay at the willingness of the SSPX headquarters to defend his views.

The Rev Arnaud Sélégny, the general secretary of the SSPX General House in Menzingen, Switzerland, said Bishop Williamson would not prove an “obstacle in any reconciliation with the post-Conciliar Church” and that the Society was “sure to include Mgr Williamson if there was a reconciliation” because “everyone is allowed to have his opinion in the Society”.

He also said that the Society did not have a policy on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and that “the Society has no duty or ability to make a pronouncement” on the document’s authenticity.

In other words, SSPX didn’t mind Williamson’s bigoted and hateful views until they became an impediment to its goals and sees no reason to condemn an anti-Semitic forgery that has been used to justify Jew hatred for over a century.

Finally, it beggars the imagination that Pope Benedict XVI wasn’t aware of Williamson’s long and very public history of denying the Holocaust and spewing the most virulently racist and anti-Semitic comments. Not knowing this about him would indicate a level of ignorance and incompetence beyond anything I would have imagined before. One would have to be quite willfully blind not to be aware of Williamson’s history. Combine that with a preemptive gesture of “forgiveness,” and it looks as though the Vatican got snookered into giving up something a Catholic would consider very valuable for, in essence, nothing, giving itself a black eye in the process. Apparently, “reconciliation” with an ultraconservative breakaway society takes precedence over responsibility, giving the appearance of supporting anti-Semites and Holocaust denial, or even the pure power calculation of enforcing obedience to the Church before providing forgiveness in turn.