The leaders of the Catholic Church seem genuinely baffled whenever they ignore or excuse anti-Semitism and someone objects. Why, they wonder, were people so upset that the pope met with Kurt Waldheim? There was that Wehrmacht business, but didn’t the former United Nations secretary general lead an otherwise exemplary life? What’s wrong with Carmelite nuns erecting a huge cross at Auschwitz? Can’t we just live and let live? Can’t we stop harping on these unpleasant secular matters that have no significance theologically?
The latest case in point is Richard Williamson, a priest in the ultraconservative movement known as the Society of Saint Pius X. The society is a traditionalist Catholic group that rejects the reforms of Vatican II and still uses the Tridentine Latin Mass. Williamson and three other members of the society were excommunicated in 1988 when movement founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, now deceased, consecrated them as bishops in spite of specific orders from Pope John Paul II not to do so. While not obeying the pope is a really big no-no and Lefebvre and his “bishops” have also gone so far as to call recent popes, including John Paul II, “heretical,” the current pope has apparently decided it’s time to make peace. Benedict has just rescinded the excommunication of Williamson and his three comrades. The announcement of the pope’s decision came not long after Swedish television aired an interview in which Williamson denied the existence of gas chambers and said no more than 300,000 Jews had died in Nazi custody.