Society of St Pius X & Vatican II

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CNS: "Pope condemns Holocaust denial, reaffirms solidarity with Jews"

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI renewed his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with the world's Jews and condemned all ignorance, denial and downplaying of the brutal slaughter of millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The pope's comments Jan. 28 came a day after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel broke off ties with the Vatican in protest over the pope lifting the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who has minimized the severity and extent of the Holocaust.

Speaking the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Pope Benedict said he hoped "the memory of the Holocaust will persuade humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man."

The Jews were "innocent victims of a blind racist and religious hatred," he said at the end of his general audience in the Paul VI hall.

The pope recalled his many visits to Auschwitz, calling it "one of the concentration camps in which millions of Jews were brutally slaughtered."

"May the Holocaust be a warning to everyone against forgetting, denying or minimizing" what happened to millions of Jews "because violence waged against just one human being is violence against everyone," he said.

"May violence never again humiliate the dignity of mankind," he said.

The Holocaust should be an important lesson for old and new generations, teaching them that "only the arduous path of listening and dialogue, love and forgiveness leads the world's peoples, cultures and religions to the hoped-for goal of fraternity and peace in truth," said the pope.

The pope's appeal came after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel canceled a March 2-4 meeting in Rome with the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

Rabbi David Rosen, a member of the delegation of the Chief Rabbinate, said on Israeli television's IBA News that ties with the Vatican had been cut off indefinitely "until a response comes from the Vatican that's satisfactory to enable us to resume our relationship as before."

In a letter sent to the pontifical commission's chairman, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Chief Rabbinate director general, Oded Weiner, asked for a public apology before the dialogue could continue, The Jerusalem Post reported Jan. 28.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters Jan. 28 that Vatican officials hoped the rabbinate would resume dialogue with the pontifical commission so that its concerns could be addressed with "further and deeper reflection."

Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict's remarks condemning the Holocaust Jan. 28 and on previous occasions, which included visits to the Nazi's Auschwitz death camp, "should be more than enough of a response to the expectation of those who have expressed doubt concerning the pope and the Catholic Church's position" on the Holocaust.

The spokesman said only with continued dialogue could relations between the Jewish world and the Catholic Church "successfully and serenely continue."

British-born Bishop Richard Williamson of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X has claimed that reports about the Holocaust were exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

He repeated his position in a Swedish television interview recorded last November but aired Jan. 21 -- the same day Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication against Bishop Williamson and three other bishops who had been ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican made the decree public Jan. 24.

The Vatican's top ecumenist and head of its dialogue with the Jews, Cardinal Kasper, said the traditionalist bishop's remarks were unacceptable, "foolish" and in no way reflect the position of the Catholic Church.

"Such gibberish is unacceptable," the German cardinal said in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica Jan. 26.

"To deny the Holocaust is unacceptable and is absolutely not the position of the Catholic Church," he said, adding that the bishop's remarks were "foolish."

The Vatican released a statement Jan. 27 from the head of the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who apologized for the damage caused by Bishop Williamson's remarks and said they in no way reflect the positions of the Society of St. Pius X.

"We ask forgiveness of the pontiff and of all people of good will for the dramatic consequences of this act," Bishop Fellay wrote. He said he had prohibited Bishop Williamson from speaking publicly on political or historical questions "until further orders."

"While we recognize that these remarks were inopportune, we cannot help but note with sadness that they have directly struck our society, discrediting its mission," he said.

Bishop Fellay's statement followed a letter he wrote Jan. 21, complaining about the way the interview had been conducted and suggesting the television station was trying to misrepresent and smear the Society of St. Pius X.

Jewish groups expressed shock that after Bishop Williamson's comments were televised the Vatican would still lift the excommunication against him.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a Jan. 24 statement that the pope's decision "undermines the strong relationship between Catholics and Jews" and was "a most troubling setback."

He said the ADL was "stunned the Vatican ignored (its) concerns" after it wrote a letter Jan. 23 to Cardinal Kasper saying that lifting the excommunication against a bishop who minimized the Holocaust and rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council would "become a source of great tension."

Foxman said the pope's gesture toward reconciling with the bishop sent "a terrible message to Catholics around the world that there is room in the church for those who would undermine the church's teachings and who would foster disdain and contempt for other religions, particularly Judaism."

The American Jewish Committee expressed its "shock and regret over the Vatican's decision" in a press release Jan. 24.

Rabbi Rosen, who also serves as the committee's director of interreligious affairs, said, "It is a serious blow for Jewish-Vatican relations and a slap in the face of the late Pope John Paul II who made such remarkable efforts to eradicate and combat anti-Semitism."

Rabbi Rosen urged the Vatican to "call Bishop Williamson to task and to apologize for his deplorable comments regarding the Holocaust."

Cardinal Kasper, who co-chairs the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee with Rabbi Rosen, told La Repubblica he could see how Bishop Williamson's opinions could "cast a shadow over (Vatican) relations with Jews, but I am convinced dialogue will continue."

The cardinal said removing the excommunication against the British bishop and the bishop's comments were two completely separate issues. By lifting the excommunication, he said, the pope was removing an obstacle to the Vatican's dialogue with the society.

"We will need to see in what way they accept the (Second Vatican) Council" before further steps toward reconciliation and unity can be taken, he said. In the past, the Society of St. Pius X has not accepted the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.

A front-page article in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, called Bishop Williamson's remarks on the Holocaust unacceptable, "very serious and regrettable."

The paper underlined the church's teachings against anti-Semitism, which are clearly outlined in the declaration "Nostra Aetate." The Jan. 27 article said these teachings were "not debatable" within the Catholic Church.

It said the reforms the church adopted after Vatican II could never be jeopardized or "thrown into crisis by a magnanimous gesture of mercy" by the pope in seeking to reconcile with the traditionalist society.

French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bourdeaux said that resolving the many dogmatic and ecclesial questions remaining between the church and the society will be a journey that is "undoubtedly long."

But doctrinal issues are not the only thing making reconciliation difficult, said the cardinal, a member of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," which oversees the reconciliation of Lefebvrite Catholics with the church.

Cultural and political attitudes, such as those reflected in the "unacceptable" remarks by Bishop Williamson concerning the Holocaust, also can hamper full reconciliation, he said in a press release Jan. 24.

The Swiss bishops' conference said the traditionalist bishop's remarks "worsened concerns" over the "deep divergences" between the society and the Catholic Church.

The Swiss bishops condemned Bishop Williamson's comments and apologized to the Jewish community in Switzerland for the upsetting episode.

"Those who know Benedict XVI and his positive attitude toward Judaism know that the indefensible ravings of Bishop Williamson will not be tolerated," they said.