Saturday, January 24, 2009

Vatican lifts excommunications on SSPX hierarchy; Bishop Williamson - an obstacle to reconciliation

From Vatican Radio comes the news that Holy See today has lifted the excommunications of the four bishops of the SSPX by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops.

Amy Welborn offers a good assessment of the situation and a roundup of responses to the Vatican's move -- among them the helpful post from the clerical blog Rationabile Obsequium (What precisely has the Pope done?) and this analysis from Carlos Palad of Rorate Caeli; a good aid in discerning what this means (an invitation to reconciliation with the Catholic Church); and more importantly what it does not ("The lifting of the excommunications on the SSPX bishops does not signify that the SSPX is back in full communion with the Holy See").

The ball is now in the SSPX's court.

* * *

Earlier this month, SSPX Bishop Williamson gave an interview to the Swedish press, in which he espoused his oft-repeated view that none of [the Jews] died as a result of gas in gas chambers."

Williamson has previously endorsed the anti-semitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion ("God put into men's hands the Protocols of the Sages of Sion... if men want to know the truth, but few do") and has asserted that the Jews are fighting for world domination "to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem."

In the past, he has also indulged in 9/11 conspiracy theorizing and denounced Vatican II as "the religion of man, of man put in the place of God ... it's a new religion, dressed up to look like the Catholic religion, but it's not." (See Catholic Herald March 5, 2008) and "The Politics of Bishop Richard Williamson" (Fringewatch January 25, 2006).

I fear that the Pope's gesture will not go over well with the Jewish people or those sympathetic to the betterment of Christian-Jewish relations. Some will see the lifting of excommunication without a concurrent demand for a change of mind and heart on the part of avowed anti-semites like Williamson as a tacit acceptance.

Writing to Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations With the Jews, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league expressed his concern that lifting Bishop Williamson's excommunication "could become a source of great tension between Catholics and Jews.":

"The re-admittance to full communion of a bishop who appears to publicly reject key teachings of the Second Vatican Council could provide succor to those whose views threaten the Jewish people and the Church's desire to improve and deepen its relationship with us to benefit all mankind."

From my understanding Williamson's views have scandalized some within the SSPX; however, Bishop Fellay has taken a 'hands off' approach in his handling of the controversy. In a stern reply to the Swedish television studio, he castigated them for their "vile attempts" to question Williamson's views on the Holocaust, stating:

It is obvious that a bishop can only speak about questions of faith and morals with any ecclesial authority. If he deals with secular issues he is personally responsible for his own private opinions. The Society I am governing has no authority to address such issues, or will it ever claim such authority.
No doubt that if the SSPX has any desire to reconcile with Rome, particularly after Pope Benedict's significant gesture in their direction, they will have to confront the obstacle of Bishop Richard Williamson.