Benedict XVI was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views on the Holocaust, Vatican insists
BY SIMON CALDWELL AND CINDY WOODEN
POPE BENEDICT XVI has insisted that a Holocaustdenying Lefebvrist bishop cannot exercise any ministry within the Catholic Church unless he recants claims that Adolf Hitler did not gas the Jews.
The Vatican also said that the Pope was unaware of the position of the British Bishop Richard Williamson when he agreed to lift his excommunication late last month.
An unambiguous statement by the Vatican came a day after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Pope to issue a clearer rejection of Holocaust denials, saying there had been insufficient clarification.
The Holy See said that while Bishop Williamson’s excommunication had been lifted he had no canonical function in the Church because he was consecrated illictly by the schismatic French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
“Bishop Williamson, in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted,” a statement from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said.
The Vatican also said that the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), the group to which Bishop Williamson belongs, must as a whole must fully recognise the reforming teachings of Second Vatican Council of the Sixties, which accepted Judaism as the “elder sister” of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Williamson denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers on Swedish television just days before the Pope lifted the excommunication, prompting speculation within the Church that he was deliberately attempting to derail efforts toward unity.
He has claimed that Jews are fighting for world domination, that the Americans planned the 9/11 attacks, and that Freemasons have conspired to corrupt the Church. He has said the Vatican is under “the power of Satan”, and has criticised the musical The Sound of Music.
Born in London in 1940, he joined the Catholic Church in 1971 under the influence of Malcolm Muggeridge and become a novice at the London Oratory. However, he soon left for Archbishop Lefebvre’s seminary in protest at the reforms of the Catholic Church and was ordained in 1976.
The SSPX was founded in 1969 by Archbishop Lefebvre. It does not accept the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Williamson were both excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
The Pope’s intention in lifting the excommunication was to bring back to full communion with the Catholic Church almost a million members of the breakaway sect but it provoked international outrage.
Last Sunday the Pope discussed the matter in a telephone conversation with Miss Merkel.
“It was a cordial and constructive conversation, marked by a common and profound agreement that the Shoah is a perpetually valid warning for humanity,” said a statement released by the pair.
In an interview published last Saturday by the German magazine Der Spiegel Bishop Williamson said he was willing to review the historical evidence about the Holocaust, and “if I find this evidence, I will correct myself”.
“But that will take time,” he said.
Bishop Williamson emailed Der Spiegel from Argentina, where he had been the head of the seminary of the SSPX in La Reja for the past five years. The Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported on Sunday that Bishop Williamson had been sacked as the rector of the seminary.
Fr Christian Bouchacourt, the Society’s South American district director, said Bishop Williamson had been removed from his duties, and he repeated the Society’s position that “the affirmations of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any way the position of our congregation”.
Fr Davide Pagliarani, superior of the Society’s Italian district, said that another Holocaust denier, Fr Floriano Abrahamowicz, had been expelled from the SSPX.
As the controversy surrounding Bishop Williamson grew Fr Abrahamowicz gave several interviews in which he denied the Holocaust and in which he claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were used to disinfect inmates upon arrival at concentration camps.
As The Catholic Herald went to press Pope Benedict was scheduled to meet more than 60 American Jewish leaders, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.
A Vatican official said the group had requested the papal audience before the Bishop Williamson controversy erupted, but that the German-born pope would use the occasion to reaffirm his respect for the Jews and his position that the Holocaust was real and that it was a horrific proof of the existence of evil.
Top officers of the World Jewish Congress met Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, at the Vatican on Monday.
Ronald Lauder, president of the congress, said that he and the other officers told Cardinal Kasper that the Vatican’s insistence that Bishop Williamson recant “was a welcome first step”, but that concrete actions must be taken to emphasise that the Catholic Church itself will not tolerate “accommodating anti-Semites”.
Mr Lauder said he hoped the Pope would be able to make his planned May visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. “We are looking forward to the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land,” he said. “This will be an opportunity to reaffirm the Vatican’s commitment to dialogue with Jews.”