Leaders of Society of St Pius X apologise for scandal and take action against Anti-Semitism in their Society

The situation arising from the lifting of the excommunications of the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X at the same time as one of the bishops made remarks that amount to holocaust denial continues to cause confusion and scandal for the Catholic Church. On Tuesday, both the current Superior General and the past Superior (now District Superior in Germany) issued apologies and repudiations of the ideas proposed by Bishop Williamson.

The two letters are given in full below. (Thanks to Andrew Rabel for these texts).

Two observations:

First, it is appropriate that the leadership of the Society, rather than authorities within the Catholic Church, deal with this issue, as the Society has not yet been received back into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Second, this vindicates Pope Benedict’s act of lifting of the excommunications in order that dialogue aimed at the restoration of full communion may be commenced. The leaders of the Society have understood that the process of reconciliation with the Catholic Church will be jeopardised if the anti-Semitic opinions of some of its leaders and members (see here for more history from John Allen at NCR) are allowed to continue without condemnation.

Communiqué of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X,
Bishop Bernard Fellay

It has come to our attention that Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Society, granted an interview to a Swedish network. In this interview, he also commented on historical issues, especially on the genocide of Jews by the National-Socialist regime. It is obvious that a bishop speaks with religious authority solely on matters of faith and morals. Our Society claims no authority over historical or other secular matters.

The mission of the Society is the offering and restoration of authentic Catholic teaching, as handed down in the dogmas. We are known, accepted, and appreciated worldwide for this.

We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.

It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.

The constant accusations against the Society have also apparently served the purpose of discrediting our mission. We will not allow this, but will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to offer the Sacraments in the ancient rite.

Menzingen, January 27, 2009

+ Bishop Bernard Fellay
Superior General

________________

As District Superior of the Society [of Saint Pius X] in Germany, I am very troubled by the words pronounced by Bishop Williamson here in this country.

The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.

The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities.

I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.

Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Stuttgart, January 27, 2009

Father Franz Schmidberger
District Superior of the Society [of Saint Pius X] in Germany
(Previous Superior General of the Society)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Leaders of Society of St Pius X apologise for scandal and take action against Anti-Semitism in their Society

  1. Peregrinus

    I think what you say is correct.

    It’s noteworthy that Williamson has been spouting this stuff for years, but so far as I know this is the first time the SSPX has ever attempted to distance itself from his views, or to shut him up. It’s surely not a coincidence that this change of tack on the part of the SSPX follows hard upon the revocation of the excommunications.

    But I think this also illustrates the magnitude of the problem. Williamson holds, and frequently expresses, other views which are equally as detached from reality, if not quite as offensive, as his holocaust denial. On the kindest view, the man is daft, and any organisation concerned with either self-respect or credibility would have neutralised him long ago with early retirement, a permanent assignment to a Trappist house of strict observance, or outright expulsion. The SSPX hasn’t done anything about this to date because (sinister conspiracy theory) they secretly agree with Williamson or (plain common sense) they can’t afford the split which would likely result from alienating one of their four bishops.

    But even the plain common sense view is problematic; the SSPX can live with a rupture between them and the Bishop of Rome, but not with a rupture between them and the slightly addled bishop of nowhere in particular? What does that say about their Catholicity? But, to be fair, the latest statement does indicate that, in response to the generosity of Joseph Ratzinger, they are now prepared to risk the pique of Richard Williamson.

    The thing is, though, that they’ve got to move a lot further than that. Williamson’s views are a grotesque scandal, but they don’t really go to the heart of what separates Econe from Rome, and standing up to Williamson is about 1% of what the SSPX needs to do if it really wants to rebuild communion with Rome. If it takes the lifting of the excommunications to get them to do what any self-respecting religious society or congregation would have done of its own accord twenty years ago, it’s hard to be optimistic that they will advance very far along the road to communion.

  2. Anonymous

    Peregrinus is exactly right – except that Williamson is more than ‘slightly’ addled.

    See our own Bishop Fisher: Anthony Fisher: “Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?”, on the outlook of the Jansenists and their “Rigorist Mentality”, New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

  3. Schütz

    Anon, Thanks for the reference to Anthony’s article – I did not know he had written on the subject. It will be interesting to read it.

    And yes, Perry, that’s precisely how I see the case as well. The Holy Father is indicating his good will to seek unity wherever possible, but that doesn’t mean he can work miracles.

    As for all ecumenical unions, so for this. It hardly ever happens that two groups enter into an agreement of full communion without some in at least one of the groups breaking away into another splinter group, or remaining as “confessing [add name of denomination]-ers.”

    A good example is the Uniting Church, which saw a large percentage of Presbyterians staying out of the union.

    I can’t imagine a reunion of the Society with Rome happening without there being a significant percentage of those who currently belong to the Society continuing as their own traditionalist communion separate from Rome. I can’t imagine that all current members would ever be reconciled to the “conciliar Church” in toto.