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.
- Papal reconciliation move will stir controversy, coverage by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter
- Where do we go from here? Creative Minority Report
- Superior General of the SSPX: Bishop Williamson forbidden to speak on political or historical matters January 27, 2009:
Communiqué of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard FellayNote of the District Superior for Germany of the SSPX:
It has come to our attention that Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Society, granted an interview to a Swedish network. In this interview, he also commented on historical issues, especially on the genocide of Jews by the National-Socialist regime. It is obvious that a bishop speaks with religious authority solely on matters of faith and morals. Our Society claims no authority over historical or other secular matters.
The mission of the Society is the offering and restoration of authentic Catholic teaching, as handed down in the dogmas. We are known, accepted, and appreciated worldwide for this.
We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.
It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.
The constant accusations against the Society have also apparently served the purpose of discrediting our mission. We will not allow this, but will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to offer the Sacraments in the ancient rite.
Menzingen, January 27, 2009
+ Bishop Bernard Fellay
As District Superior of the Society [of Saint Pius X] in Germany, I am very troubled by the words pronounced by Bishop Williamson here in this country.
The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.
The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities.
I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.
Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler's concentration camps.
Stuttgart, January 27, 2009
Father Franz Schmidberger