Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Fallout Continues

Rome might well be keen to "turn the page," but almost six weeks since the twin emergence of the first leaks of an SSPX "remit" and Richard Williamson's comments on the gas chambers, the work of containing the damage and finding a way forward continues to preoccupy the global hierarchy at its highest levels.

Now deported from Argentina and removed as rector of the traditionalist group's seminary there, the illicitly-ordained bishop apologized for his incendiary statements last week, but the gesture was quickly rebuffed by the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, who said that Williamson's failure to recant the content of his interview with Swedish television rendered his latest statement insufficient. Meanwhile, in recent comments to a Swiss paper, the head of the Swiss-based Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, maintained his stance that the Lefevbrists were unable to accept the Holy See's condition of the Society's assent to the Second Vatican Council, given the SSPX's belief that the 1962-65 gathering had left a legacy of "only damages" to the church's life.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Jewish leaders met with a delegation of top prelates in Washington last week, Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley likewise sought to reassure his local "elder brethren" as word emerged that the Vatican's lead hand on Catholic-Jewish relations would soon parachute in to aid the effort, and even Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in the days before his appointment to New York, invited Milwaukee's Jewish leadership to his residence to make clear that, as one participant reported it, "what the pope did did not reflect what he [Dolan] felt” and that the church was "embarrassed" by the "inappropriate" impression created by the episode. (On the morning of his announcement as the Pope's choice for Gotham, the Appointed One -- a member of the national Jewish-Catholic dialogue -- repeated his outreach, this time to New York's Jewish community, in a series of phone calls to its top brass; the city's departing archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, had earlier slammed Williamson's comments as "hurtful, baseless and outrageous.")

Earlier today, the soothing operation took a new uptick as the head of the nation's largest Catholic community -- Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahony -- joined two of the SoCal church's lead Jewish partners to issue a joint editorial on the controversy.

Already published in the LA archdiocese's Tidings, the text will likewise appear in the area's Jewish Journal.

Here it is, in full:
Catholic-Jewish relations: Resilient in face of Williamson episode

By Cardinal Roger Mahony, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum and Seth Brysk

In January, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four bishops of a small ultra-traditionalist group that broke from the Catholic Church over the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The pope's action might have passed largely unnoticed had not one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, questioned the historicity of the Holocaust in a previously-taped television interview that was broadcast the very day his excommunication was lifted.

Williamson's outrageous comments set off alarm bells among Jews and Catholics alike. Jews wondered whether the lifting of Williamson's excommunication suggested that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial would be seen as acceptable positions for those within the Catholic Church. Both Jews and Catholics questioned why the Vatican apparently had not thoroughly investigated Williamson, an unrepentant Holocaust denier and open anti-Semite, prior to the lifting of his excommunication.

Subsequent statements by the Vatican and the pope reiterated the Catholic Church's deep respect and esteem for the Jewish people, while sharply rebuking Williamson and other Holocaust deniers. In a mid-February meeting with American Jewish leaders at the Vatican, Pope Benedict said that denying or minimizing the Holocaust "is intolerable and altogether unacceptable." He added, "This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten."

Also reassuring to Catholics and Jews was the Vatican's declaration that the Society of St. Pius X, the group to which Williamson belongs, must fully recognize the Second Vatican Council and the legitimacy of all the popes from Pope John XXIII to Benedict XVI before it can rejoin the Catholic Church. The Vatican also singled out Williamson, saying that before he can be reconciled with the Catholic Church he must distance himself in an "absolutely unequivocal and public way" from his positions regarding the Holocaust.

Williamson's recent "apologies" fall far short of satisfying the letter or the spirit of the Vatican's directives. Yet while Williamson seems unwilling or unable to reject his odious positions, many religious and civic leaders have used his situation to acknowledge the Holocaust and to affirm its unique and terrible place in history.

We are heartened by the many leaders around the world who have rejected Williamson's views. In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Argentine Minister of the Interior Florencio Randazzo, whose country recently expelled Williamson, not to mention nearly 50 Catholic members of the U.S. Congress who wrote to the Vatican to express their concerns.

In the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Williamson is hereby banned from entering any Catholic church, school or other facility, until he and his group comply fully and unequivocally with the Vatican's directives regarding the Holocaust. Later this year, I, Cardinal Mahony, will visit Israel and pay my respects to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.

Holocaust deniers like Williamson will find no sympathetic ear or place of refuge in the Catholic Church, of which he is not --- and may never become --- a member. In rejecting the Second Vatican Council, the Society of St. Pius X and Williamson also reject Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), one of the most remarkable documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council. Published in 1965, the document changed forever the Catholic Church's fundamental understanding of other religions, including Jews and Judaism.

In Nostra Aetate, the Church explicitly rejects the charge of deicide against the Jews, and affirms the kinship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths. "The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

Let us remember that the American Jewish Committee worked closely with the Vatican at the time of the Council toward the creation of Nostra Aetate. The horror of the Holocaust, which took place a mere 20 years before, certainly was fresh in the minds of Catholic leaders as they composed the document.

Admittedly, the past two months have been difficult for Jews and Catholics. However, we can take heart that Catholic-Jewish relations in Southern California remain strong. Our commitment to this relationship is exemplified in the many initiatives that bring us together, like the annual InterSem Retreat for seminarians from various denominations; Model Seders that teach Catholic school students about this important Jewish ritual; and, the Catholic-Jewish Educational Enrichment Program, which educates our children and future leaders in each other's traditions.

For our part, as Catholic and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles, we recognize that only by working together with renewed vigilance will we be able to keep anti-Semitism at bay and prevent its reassertion as a legitimate expression.

Cardinal Roger Mahony is Archbishop of Los Angeles; Gary Greenebaum is U.S. Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee; and Seth Brysk is Los Angeles Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee.
On a related note, plans continue apace for Pope Benedict's 8-15 May visit to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, which the pontiff formally announced last month in a quickly-arranged meeting of his own with American Jewish leaders.