Saturday, January 31, 2009

"We Are Embarrassed"

Long a key voice in Catholic-Jewish relations, Cardinal Sean O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston blogged a response to the week's events late last night:
The Vatican announced this week that the Holy Father has lifted the excommunications of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. I was pleased with the news which shows, once again, the Holy Father’s concern for unity and reconciliation in the Church....

[The Pope's] outreach to the communities who follow these bishops is just one more manifestation of his ardent desire to bring these people (which some estimate to be as many as 1.5 million) back into the fold. We know that these are generally people who practice their faith and try to live a Christian life seriously but, unfortunately, I believe that they have been misled by their leadership.

Of course, lifting the excommunications was a first step; it does not regularize these bishops or the Society of St. Pius X, but it opens the way for a dialogue. This step was in response to a letter in which they professed their desire for full participation in the life of the Church.

It was tragic that one of the four bishops, Bishop Richard Williamson, had made outrageous statements about the Holocaust and about the September 11 attacks on the United States. It certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society has. Additionally, as terrible as the comments were, it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities.

We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements. I think the Holy Father’s statements and those of Cardinal Walter Kasper, chairman of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, have been very clear to dissociate the Catholic Church from those kinds of sentiments. I was pleased that the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, also repudiated the statements of Bishop Williamson.

It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again. I recall the words of the Holy Father this week: “May the Shoah be for everyone an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism, because violence against a single human being is violence against all.”
In his weekly post, O'Malley likewise recalled Rabbi Leon Klenicki, the interfaith "pioneer" over whose 2007 investiture as a papal knight of St Gregory the Great he presided; the rabbi's obit appeared in the pages of today's New York Times.

Meanwhile, the US bishops' lead ecumenists have likewise gone public:
“It has been very hurtful to our Jewish partners,” said Father James Massa, executive director of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “They’ve been calling us for answers for what this means. The mood is very tense.”...

“Bishop Williamson’s disgraceful remarks ... indicate his contempt for those who oppose his advocacy of Holocaust denial,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the American Jewish Committee’s U.S. director of interreligious affairs.

“While we appreciate that Pope Benedict has again declared his support for the Jewish people and his rejection of Holocaust denial,” he continued, “we fear that the Vatican’s decision to invite (Bishop) Williamson back into the Catholic Church will give legitimacy to these outrageous lies and suggest toleration of those who perpetuate them.

“Doubtless, this will contribute to the deterioration of the excellent relations between Jews and the Catholic Church,” the rabbi said in a statement.

The entire ordeal has created a lot of confusion, Father Massa told Catholic News Service Jan. 29.

There is a difference between the lifting of excommunication and being in full communion with the Catholic Church, he said.

“Removing excommunication doesn’t mean they are fully reconciled as priests and bishops of the Catholic Church,” Father Massa said. “Like any other Catholic, they can go to Mass and receive holy Communion, but they cannot perform the sacrament themselves as fully recognized ministers of the church.”...

“In no way am I excusing (Bishop) Williamson,” Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said in a Jan. 26 blog.

“But I am willing to entertain that however much pain his reinstatement might cause relative to this issue,” he said, “it may not be the only basis upon which the pope should make his decision, nor should it govern the future of church-Jewish relations, as some have already suggested/threatened it will.”

Though Jewish-Catholic relations in the U.S. may be strained at the moment, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the foundation is solid and he is confident they will forge ahead with friendships intact.

“We (Catholics) are embarrassed during this episode, like when a family member has said a shameful thing,” Archbishop Gregory told CNS Jan. 30.

“We’ll have to take those steps necessary to let them know we value those (Catholic-Jewish) relationships, as well as our bond, love and unity with our Jewish counterparts,” he said, “and that we don’t in any way indent to step aside from our great tradition of friendship in this country.”

The archbishop noted he was to speak at an upcoming Jewish event in his city that he already had on his calendar, and he planned to take that opportunity to assure the Jewish community he will do whatever he can to reinforce Catholic-Jewish relations.

“That is what many bishops in America will have to do – to take that opportunity to let them know of our esteem, and strengthen our relations,” he said. “The vehicles are there. We need to use them. We need to show our Jewish friends our desire to continue to move forward.”

It is important now for the Catholic hierarchy to explain theological and canonical distinctions to their Jewish partners, and assure them of the church’s commitment to Jewish-Catholic dialogue based on Vatican II, Father Massa said.

“We are expressing our profound dissatisfaction with the egregiously offensive comments of Bishop Williamson,” he said. “It is unacceptable for a bishop who seeks to be in communion with the Catholic Church to deny the historical fact of the Shoah.”