Excomm. Move Not Anti-Jewish

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrates four SSPX bishops in 1988.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrates four SSPX bishops in 1988. (photo: CNS)

The Daily Blog posted an entry Saturday about the lifting of the excommunications incurred in 1988 by four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X.

And later in the week in our next print issue, we’ll publish Edward Pentin’s detailed examination of the implications of this generous gesture by Pope Benedict XVI towards the society.

But what about the claims circulating in the secular media that the Church’s action is a slap in the face of Jews?

The reason that charge is being leveled is because one of the four SSPX bishops involved, Bishop Richard Williamson, said in a November interview with a Swedish TV station that he did not believe the historical truth of the Holocaust. The interview was not aired until mid-January.

Bishop Williamson, who is English, said he didn’t believe any Jews were gassed to death in Nazi Germany’s Second World War death camps. And the SSPX bishop suggested the aggregate death toll of Jews murdered by the Nazis was only a small fraction of the total of six million Jews who died, according to Holocaust historians.

But the Vatican wasn’t even aware of Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust-questioning comments on Jan. 21, the day Pope Benedict XVI approved the Vatican decree lifting the excommunications.

Furthermore, the Vatican subsequently stressed that the lifting of the SSPX excommunications had no connection to Bishop Williamson’s controversial statement.

On Jan. 24, the day the decree was publicly announced through a statement released by the Congregation for Bishops, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “Saying a person is not excommunicated is not the same as saying one shares all his ideas or statements.”

And Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, has disavowed any endorsement by the society of Bishop Williamson’s comments. In a Jan. 26 interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Bishop Fellay said he “deplores the fact that a bishop has given the impression of implicating the Society with a viewpoint that is absolutely not ours,” catholicculture.org reported.

One final point: It should be remembered that the lifting of the excommunications was required because of a single ceremony of consecration, undertaken in 1988 without the permission of Pope John Paul II by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX.

That action by Archbishop Lefebvre incurred the automatic latae sententiae excommunications of himself and all four of the SSPX bishops he ordained. Along with Bishop Williamson, this includes Bishop Fellay, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais and Bishop Alfonso del Gallareta.

So the decree by the Pope lifting those excommunications applies by its nature to all four of those bishops, and is directed solely towards removing the canonical consequences of that 1988 event in order to help restore the internal unity of the Church that was injured by Archbishop Lefebvre’s action.

— Tom McFeely.