This week Pope Benedict XVI holds a global interfaith meeting in Assisi, Italy, where he has invited religious leaders from around the world “solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.” However, brewing scandal over an ultra-traditionalist Catholic fraternity means that the pope does not have to look far to find evidence of actions by religious leaders that put the cause of peace in jeopardy.
The controversy goes back to Jan. 21, 2009, when Pope Benedict revoked the excommunication of four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). The Pope had already worked for two decades, starting when he was a cardinal, to bring the group back into the Vatican’s fold in an effort to prevent further schism.
The excommunication and its revocation was an internal church matter until one of the excommunicated bishops, Richard Williamson, gave an interview on Swedish television in which he denied the Holocaust. “I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but that none of them via gas chambers,” he said just a few days after the excommunication was lifted. Mr. Williamson has yet to retract his statement.
So what kind of Christians are members of the SSPX? The Society of Saint Pius X was founded in 1970 by the soft-spoken but uncompromising French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who opposed the then-recent modernizations of the Catholic Church. In 1988 Lefebvre violated an explicit command by Pope John Paul II not to consecrate the bishops at his church in Econe, Switzerland. He and the four prelates were excommunicated by the Vatican. It was the first break with the Holy See in 118 years.
Divine retribution against Jews?
The Vatican is now pushing forward with the rehabilitation of the society. During the summer the Holy See had unity talks with the group and few days ago Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented “the path to full reconciliation with the Church” to Bishop Fellay, the superior general of the fraternity. No deadline has been set for them to accept the deal, but Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, confirmed that the group is expected to sign it “within a few months.”
European rabbis are urging the pope to suspend talks with the society. If the Catholic rebels accept the deal, the most plausible solution would be for the society to become a “personal prelature” of the Roman Catholic Church, not unlike Opus Dei, whose superior is appointed by the Pope.
Williamson’s hatred is not an isolate case. A radical anti-Jewish ideology and practice permeate the entire Society of Saint Pius X, and in offering its sympathies to the fraternity, the Vatican is inviting serious doubt about its commitment to friendly relations between Catholics and Jews. The Pope’s unity with Lefebvre’s group is a renovation of Vatican’s Adversus Judeaos teachings and 2,000 years of enmity.
Consider that, when Pope John Paul II made his first visit to Rome’s synagogue in 1986, the society distributed a placard saying, “Pope, don’t go to Caiaphas,” a reference to the Jewish high priest who organized the plot to kill Jesus, according to the New Testament.
In 2005 Franz Schmidberger, the German head of the Society of Saint Pius X, asked the pope to convert Jews: “St. Peter, the first pope, preached to the Jews and told them that ‘If you want to be saved you must do three things: You must regret your sins and convert, believe in our lord Jesus Christ and, thirdly, be baptized.’ We expect that every pope who claims to be the successor of St. Peter . . . should take the same stand.”
A few days after Mr. Williamson’s tirade about the gas chambers, Mr. Schmidberger wrote to German bishops to remind them of the supposed Jewish original sin. “With the crucifixion of Christ, the curtain of the temple was torn and the old alliance destroyed. The Jews are complicit in deicide, as long as they do not distance themselves from the culpability of their forefathers by acknowledging the divinity of Christ and the baptism.”According to Lefebvre’s pupils, the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem confirmed divine retribution for Jewish misdeeds.
‘Zionism is satanic’
Last month, Régis de Cacqueray, the head of the French SSPX chapter, also accused Jews of deicide. "How can one imagine that God is pleased with the prayers of the Jews, who are faithful to their fathers who crucified his son and deny the Trinitarian God?" wrote the Lefebrist superior.
This is the revival of the “replacement theology” that underpinned centuries of Christian anti-Jewish hatred arguing that because of their denial of the divinity of Christ, the Jews have forfeited God’s promises to them which have been transferred to the Church. This calumny also underlay Europe’s anti-Jewish pogroms, which consisted of massacres and forced conversions.
The Society of Saint Pius X has also a record of collaborating with France’s most wanted war criminals. In 1989 Paul Touvier, Klaus Barbie’s right-hand man in Vichy France, was arrested at a Society of Saint Pius X’s priory in Nice. The society stated at the time that Touvier had been granted asylum as “an act of charity to a homeless man.” When Touvier died in prison in 1996, a church operated by the fraternity offered a requiem mass in his honor.
The Saint Pius X spoke also approvingly of the “Catholic order of Pétain”, referring to the pro-Nazi Vichy head of state. The Society organizes pilgrimages to Pétain’s tomb. In 1990, one year before his death, Lefebvre gave an interview to the journal of the National Front in France, suggesting that opposition to a Carmelite convent at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp was being “instigated by Jews”. Lefebvre also defined Zionism as “satanic.”
According to Ansa news agency, in 1997 Ugo Carandino, the head of the Italian Society of Saint Pius X community, refused the Vatican’s request of forgiveness to the Jewish people: “It’s the Jews which should ask our pardon for their usury.” Another of the bishops pardoned by Pope Benedict, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, has said that “the Jews are the most active artisans for the coming of Antichrist.”
If Pope Benedict brings these anti-Semitic bishops back into the Vatican’s fold, he may also bring the Jewish-Catholic dialogue to an insurmountable impasse. As with the opposition to the Vatican’s canonization of Pius XII, Israel’s current religious and political leader should bravely speak against the Pope's course with the gas chambers' deniers.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism
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