Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 9, 2009
Holocaust-denying 'bishop' urged to recant his views
Williamson not in communion with Church, not allowed to serve as bishop
BY JOHN THAVIS
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - A traditionalist bishop who has minimized the full extent of the Holocaust must disavow his positions before he will be accepted into full communion with the Church, the Vatican said Feb. 4.
A Vatican statement said Pope Benedict did not know about the controversial statements by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson when he lifted the excommunication of him and three other traditionalist bishops ordained illicitly in 1988.
"The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and are strongly rejected by the Holy Father," said the statement issued by the Vatican's Secretariat of State.
In order to function as a bishop, Williamson must distance himself from his previous statements in "an absolutely unequivocal and public manner," it said.
The statement came as outrage continued to grow over the Church's decision to lift the excommunication of Williamson.
The Vatican statement said lifting the excommunications did not change the juridical status of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which still has no canonical recognition in the Catholic Church.
The society was founded by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who also incurred automatic excommunication when he ordained the four bishops against papal orders.
The society has not accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.
The statement from the Secretariat of State said the four bishops do not have a canonical function in the Church and "do not licitly exercise a ministry in the Church."
It said the society would have to recognize the teachings of Vatican II to be in full communion.
"The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and are strongly rejected by the Holy Father," the statement said.
The Secretariat of State statement - like a statement the previous day from the Vatican press spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi - reiterated the pope's remarks at his Jan. 28 audience, in which he recalled the suffering of Jews during the Second World War.
The Holocaust should stand as a "warning to everyone against forgetting, denying or minimizing" evil, the pope said.
Lombardi said the pope's words at the general audience were "unequivocal."
The spokesman said the pope had spoken about the horror of the Holocaust in his 2005 visit to a German synagogue and in his 2006 visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
The papal statement at the Jan. 28 audience "could not have been clearer, and from the context it is apparent that it referred to the positions of Bishop Williamson and to all similar positions," Lombardi said.
"On the same occasion, the pope also clearly expressed the reason for removing the excommunication, which has nothing to do with legitimizing positions denying the Holocaust - positions which were clearly condemned by the pope," the spokesman said.
Lombardi's statement was released by the Vatican press office late the same day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pope and the Vatican needed to make clear there could be no denial of the Holocaust.
At a news conference in Berlin Feb. 3, Merkel said she normally did not comment on Church matters "but we are talking about fundamental questions."
"This is not just a matter, in my opinion, for the Christian, Catholic and Jewish communities in Germany, but the pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial" of the Holocaust, she said.
On Jan. 21, the same day the pope lifted the excommunication, a Swedish television station aired a November interview with Williamson in which he repeated his position that the Holocaust had been exaggerated.
When the papal decree lifting the excommunication was made public Jan. 24, Jewish groups - especially in Germany, the U.S. and Israel - expressed shock that the Vatican would lift the excommunication against Williamson even after his comments had been televised.