VATICAN CITY, FEB. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican spokesman says an apology from formerly excommunicated Society of St. Pius X Bishop Richard Williamson is not enough.
The Lefebvrite prelate released a statement Thursday regarding his declarations aired in January about the Holocaust. The prelate denied the gassing of 6 million Jews in an interview that aired on Swedish television at about the same time as he and three other Lefebvrite bishops had their 20-year excommunication lifted. The lifting of the excommunication is unrelated to the bishop’s interview and occurred in the context of Benedict XVI’s efforts to heal the schism with the Society of St. Pius X.
Still, the coincidental concurrence of the interview and the lifting of the canonical penalty was viewed as an affront to Jewish-Catholic relations in some circles. It led to Vatican officials — including Benedict XVI — making repeated clarifications about the Church’s respect for the Jews and its commitment to dialogue with Christians’ “elder brothers.”
In his statement Thursday, Bishop Williamson said that observing the consequences of his interview, “I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them. […] To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said in a verbal statement today that the apology is lacking. He told journalists that the statement “does not seem to respect the conditions established in the Feb. 4 note from the [Vatican] Secretariat of State, which stated that [Bishop Williamson] must distance himself in an absolute, unequivocal and public way from his positions regarding the Shoah.”
The spokesman also noted that the prelate’s declaration was not a letter directed to the Holy Father or to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the Church’s efforts to heal the schism with the Society of St. Pius X.
Keeping things clear
Bishop Williamson’s personal views of the Holocaust are unrelated to the larger issue of the Society of St. Pius X and that group’s lack of full communion with the Church.
Bishop Williamson is in the same canonical position as the other three prelates of the society, including its superior-general Bishop Bernard Fellay.
As ZENIT reported Thursday, citing canon lawyer Peter Vere, the prelates’ ordination 20 years ago was illicit, but nonetheless valid. In other words, it is unlawful because it was against the wishes of the Pope, but effective. This applies equally to Bishop Williamson and to the other three.
The lawyer explained, “Bishop Williamson is not a Catholic bishop in that his episcopal consecration was carried out without papal mandate. […] However, the episcopal consecration was valid — that is, effective. So he is in fact a bishop with episcopal powers, meaning he can validly — but unlawfully — ordain, confirm, celebrate Mass, and validly — but unlawfully — perform any other episcopal function.”
The lifting of the excommunication, Vere affirmed, does not make the ordination of the four prelates lawful.
The Vatican Secretariat of State note from Feb. 4 clarified the position of the society in relation to the lifting of the excommunication: “The remission of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very serious canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical status of the Society of St. Pius X, which presently does not enjoy any canonical recognition by the Catholic Church. The four bishops, even though they have been released from excommunication, have no canonical function in the Church and do not licitly exercise any ministry within it. […]
“A full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition for any future recognition of the Society of St. Pius X.”
And those conditions do not promise to soon be met. According to the Italian ANSA news agency today, quoting the Swiss daily Le Courier from Thursday, Bishop Fellay says Vatican II has brought “only damages” to the Church.
“The aftermath of the Council has been to empty seminaries, nunneries and churches,” he said.
Bishop Williamson, with his views on the Holocaust, faces a challenge above those of his order at large. In a separate section, the Secretariat of State note went on to speak of Bishop Williamson’s positions on the Holocaust, saying they are “absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father.”
In addition to the requirements extended to all the prelates of the Society of St. Pius X, the Vatican added that for Bishop Williamson “to be admitted to function as a bishop within the Church, [he] must also distance himself in an absolutely unequivocal and public way from his positions regarding the Shoah, which were unknown to the Holy Father at the time of the remission of the excommunication.”
Missing the mark
The Vatican spokesman was not the only one who found Bishop Williamson’s apology Thursday lacking. Jewish groups from various countries have also expressed their dissatisfaction. Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, told the Handelsblatt newspaper that the prelate’s statement “leads one to the conclusion that he still believes in the Holocaust-denial.”
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On the Net:
Vatican Secretariat of State Feb. 4 declaration: www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/2009/documents/rc_seg-st_20090204_note-decree-cbishops_en.html
On ZENIT’s Web page
Full text of Bishop Williamson’s apology: www.zenit.org/article-25208?l=english