VATICAN CITY — Responding to two weeks of international outcry, the Vatican on Wednesday (Feb. 4) demanded that a traditionalist bishop recant his statements denying the genocide of Jews during in the Holocaust.
The statement from the office of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Secretary of State is the Vatican’s No. 2 official, said Bishop Richard Williamson would not be permitted to function as a bishop without first “distancing himself in an absolute and unequivocal way from his positions” on the Holocaust.
Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, called the statement “the sign the Jewish world has been waiting for.”
“Holocaust denial must not go uncensored, and anti-Semites should not be allowed to have a say in the church,” Lauder said.
Williamson is one of four bishops of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) whose 1988 excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 21.
Jewish groups were outraged when Williamson recently told Swedish television that as many as 300,000 Jews “perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.”
In an apparent response to the controversy, Benedict on Jan. 28 condemned the Nazi genocide of “millions of Jews” and expressed his “full and indisputable solidarity” with the Jewish people.
The pope has not, however, explicitly condemned Williamson’s remarks.
Wednesday’s statement noted that Benedict had not known of those remarks when he lifted the excommunications. Even so, harshly anti-Semitic writings — some dating back to 1997 — are widely available on the SSPX Web site.
The statement also stressed that Williamson and the other three readmitted bishops do not “licitly exercise a ministry” in the Catholic Church, which still does not recognize the SSPX.
As an “indispensable condition” of such recognition, the statement said SSPX must first offer “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council” from the 1960s, which explicitly rejects anti-Semitism and says Jews should not be blamed for the death of Christ.
The SSPX is the most vocal and militant group resisting changes in the Catholic Church that emerged from Vatican II, including Mass in local languages and a greater openness to ecumenism.
The four bishops were excommunicated in 1988, along with the society’s founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, after Lefebvre ordained them without the Vatican’s permission.
By FRANCIS X. ROCCA
c. 2009 Religion News Service
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