Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"An Act of Mercy" vs. "Understandable Outrage"

Minutes ago, the first official response of the US bishops to Pope Benedict's 24 January "remit" of the Lefevbrist excommunications surfaced in the form of a statement from the conference's president, Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago.

George's statement in full:
Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the personal penalty of excommunication incurred by four schismatic bishops belonging to the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. This gesture on the part of the Holy Father was an act of mercy and personal concern for the ordained and lay members of this Society and was meant to coincide with the fiftieth commemoration of the convening of the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy Father’s lifting of the excommunications is but a first step toward receiving these four bishops, and the priests who serve under them, back into full communion with the Catholic Church. If these bishops are to exercise their ministry as true teachers and pastors of the Catholic Church, they, like all Catholic bishops, will have to give their assent to all that the Church professes, including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

As is now widely known, one of the four bishops, Richard Williamson, has recently made some deeply offensive and utterly false statements about the Holocaust of the Second World War. Bishop Williamson has denied historical facts about the Shoah, in which six million Jews were cruelly annihilated, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred. These comments have evoked understandable outrage from within the Jewish community and also from among our own Catholic people. No Catholic, whether lay person, priest or bishop can ever negate the memory of the Shoah, just as no Catholic should ever tolerate expressions of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry.

I make my own the words of the Holy Father spoken at the General Audience on January 28, 2009: “[May] the Shoah show both old and new generations that only the arduous path of listening and dialogue, of love and forgiveness, can lead peoples, cultures and religions of the world to the longed-for goal of fraternity and peace, in truth. May violence never again humiliate man's dignity.” We Catholic bishops in the United States are as committed as ever to building bonds of trust and mutual understanding with our elder brothers and sisters, the Jewish people, so that together with them we may be a blessing to the world.

Francis Cardinal George
As the controversy over Williamson's comments and the resulting blow to Catholic-Jewish relations have kept the story afloat in the global press, Italian reports have begun to indicate the circulation of a dossier inside the Vatican aiming to prove that the airing of the cleric's interview on Swedish television hours after the de-excommunication decree was signed was a deliberate effort to turn "what had been intended as an act of 'fatherly mercy'... which did not signify the absolute reintegration of the Lefevbrists into full communion" into public perception of "a decision by which the Pope readmitted a group of anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying faithful into the Catholic church."