Cardinal O’Malley: Bishop’s ‘terrible’ Holocaust comments show need for papal oversight

Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Cardinal Sean O'Malley

.- In a Friday article on his blog, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley commented on the controversy surrounding Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) Bishop Richard Williamson’s “terrible” statements which minimized Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. He argued the bishop’s comments prove the need to increase papal influence over the SSPX and its bishops, whose excommunications were recently lifted.

Expressing deep sorrow at the pain Jews have felt because of the bishop’s statements, he clarified that the removal of the excommunications does not regularize the breakaway “traditionalist” bishops but opens the way for further dialogue.

Recounting the history of the SSPX, which rejects some elements of the Second Vatican Council and adheres to the Tridentine Latin Mass, the cardinal mentioned that SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 ordained the four bishops without the approval of the Pope. He thus incurred an automatic excommunication on himself and the four men he ordained.

Efforts to return the SSPX and its adherents, who may number as many as 1.5 million people, prompted the remittance of the excommunications, Cardinal O’Malley said.

However, a November 2008 Swedish public television interview with SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson revealed that the bishop denied that six million Jews were killed in the Nazi genocide and also denied the use gas chambers to execute the Jews. He claimed only two to three hundred thousand Jews were murdered.

The January revelation of his interview comments provoked a media firestorm and accusations of Holocaust denial.

Bishop Williamson apologized for causing “unnecessary distress” to the Pope and to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” tasked with reconciling the SSPX to the Catholic Church. However, he made no mention of retracting his controversial comments.

Cardinal O’Malley said he was pleased with the news that Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications, adding it shows “the Holy Father’s concern for unity and reconciliation in the Church.”

But he was also critical of Bishop Williamson.

“It was tragic that one of the four bishops, Bishop Richard Williamson, had made outrageous statements about the Holocaust and about the September 11 attacks on the United States,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “It certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society has.”

“Additionally, as terrible as the comments were, it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities,” he commented.

“We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements,” the cardinal wrote.

He said statements from the Pope and Cardinal Walter Kasper, chairman of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, have been “very clear” to “dissociate” the Catholic Church from those sentiments.

“I was pleased that the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, also repudiated the statements of Bishop Williamson,” the cardinal said.

“It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

He quoted remarks Pope Benedict made last week, which said “May the Shoah be for everyone an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism, because violence against a single human being is violence against all.”

Cardinal O’Malley said the lifting of the SSPX bishops’ excommunications was a “first step” and does not “regularize” the bishops or the SSPX, but “it opens the way for a dialogue.”

The action was a response to a letter from the SSPX bishops which professed their desire for full participation in the life of the Church.

Pope Benedict’s “outreach” to those in SSPX communities, the cardinal said, manifests “his ardent desire to bring these people back into the fold.”

“We know that these are generally people who practice their faith and try to live a Christian life seriously but, unfortunately, I believe that they have been misled by their leadership.”

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