Unity gesture leads to division

By | February 11, 2009

“I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” Bishop Williamson in the interview.

World reaction to the traditionalist bishop’s comments has been swift and condemning. The Vatican has also been a target of criticism for lifting the excommunications.

The Society of St. Pius X was established in 1969 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The French prelate, who died in 1991, did not accept the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. When Lefebvre went against Pope John Paul II’s orders in 1988 and consecrated the four men – Bernard Fellay, Alfonso de Galleretta, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and Williamson, – as bishops in the society, he and the four bishops incurred automatic excommunication under canon law.

Months before the illicit ordination of bishops, Pope John Paul II tried to prevent the schism. Among his trusted confidants working to mend relations with the Society of St. Pius X was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Even after an agreement in principle was hammered out, Lefebvre went ahead with the episcopal ordinations.

Since his election as pope, Benedict has continued to extend the olive branch to traditionalist leaders in the society. In 2005, he met privately with Bishop Fellay, one of the four excommunicated bishops. In 2007, he issued Summorum Pontificum, which eased restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

When he lifted the excommunications of the four traditionalist bishops Jan. 20, Pope Benedict knew nothing about Bishop Williamson’s views on the Holocaust. His desire was to bring unity to the church, according to German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who coordinates the Vatican’s dialogue with the Jews.

Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio that the controversy was fueled in part by a breakdown in communication within the Vatican. “There were misunderstandings and management errors in the Curia,” he said.

Since news of Bishop Williamson’s anti-semitic views were aired, reports of other similar statements by fellow society leaders have come to light. On Feb. 6, Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz was expelled from the society for expressing views similar to Williamson’s.

Events of the last two weeks suggest that the church must move slowly with reunification of the society. After all, the society does not see the Second Vatican Council as a valid church council. This is the same church council that issued Nostra Aetate, (In our Time), which calls for respect of other religions, including the Jewish faith.

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