Saturday, January 24, 2009
Comment: it has been widely reported that the excommunications of the SSPX bishops, to which they were subject automatically on being ordained without the Vatican's permission in 1988, is to be lifted today.
In what appears to be a spoiler story, remarks made by one of these bishops, Richard Williamson, denying (substantially) the Jewish Holocaust, to Swedish TV back in November, have been made public.
This is of course a huge embarassment. The secular press - including the notoriously half-witted Ruth Gledhill of The Times - are making the most of it. May I issue a small plea to keep the matter in perspective?
First, from the Pope's point of view: the SSPX bishops were not excommunicated for Holocaust denial or anti-Semitism. They were excommunicated for their participation (as ordinands) in an illegal episcopal ordination (naturally, canon law regards this as very serious). If there is good reason for sorting out the canon-legal situation created by the 1988 consecrations, Williamson's views about the Holocaust do not effect it.
To deny this would suggest that if you are accused of speeding, and the evidence against you is rejected, the accusation should not be dropped if you are in the meantime accused of littering. The fact is, like it or not, Holocaust denial is not an excommunicable offence.
Although the details of exactly how the excommunications will be lifted is not known, it should be emphasised that this is NOT 'reconciliation with the SSPX' - it is just one step towards it. The Society remains without canonical status. Wider issues will have to be addressed if and when the next steps are attempted.
Second, from the SSPX's point of view: they have distanced themselves from Williamson's views. It seems extremely unfair not to accept this (as Damian Thompson and others are doing). Fellay makes it very clear (in his letter: h-t Fr Blake) that these views are not held by the SSPX, Williamson alone is responsible for them, he made his remarks in a private capacity, etc.. Further, by criticising Swedish TV for raising secular questions which Williamson is not qualified to answer, he is implicitly criticising Williamson for answering them. (See also The Sensible Bond on this.) Schmidburger, Fellay's predecessor as Superior General, condemns anti-Semitism (h-t Fr Finnigan): "Our Lord Jesus Christ is in His human nature a Jew, His Holy Mother is a Jewess and all the Apostles are Jews. Therefore, no true Christian can be an Anti-semite."
The line Fellay is taking is that the SSPX does not and could not hold positions on matters of secular historical fact. In itself this is a reasonable position: the Church demands Catholics believe the truths of faith. It does not, must not, and cannot demand that Catholics take up positions on anything else.
In this case however the reasoning is flawed, since Holocaust denial is so closely linked to moral claims. Williamson's Jewish conspiracy theories, which are well documented, are text-book examples of anti-semitism. They are also indicative of a state of mind totally unfit for the excercise of episcopal office. The SSPX and the Vatican must be realising this, and they must deal with Williamson in an appropriate way. Let us hope they are able to do this together. Anyone expecting something to happen instantly, however, will always be disapointed: internet age or not, the wheels of justice in the Church grind slowly.
Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael
Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen