Bishop Richard Williamson and Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz, members of the controversial Society of St. Pius X, have sparked an inexcusable scandal by denying the mass murder of Jews during the Nazi dictatorship. This is certainly not a simple misunderstanding.
People who fundamentally question this genocide and misrepresent the gas chambers as “an instrument for disinfection” should face criminal prosecution rather than promotion to bishop of the Catholic Church. It comes, however, as no surprise to see such thinking emanating from the Pius brotherhood – they inhabit the same niche within the Catholic Church as the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD) does in German society.
The brotherhood has stirred trouble far beyond France’s borders since the 1970s. It includes almost 500 priests, has an estimated 600,000 supporters and is dangerously close to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right-wing extremists. They even celebrate requiems for the functionaries of his far-right party Front National. The Pius brotherhood also constantly makes public provocations with its anti-Semitic and revisionist theories. Many French Catholics, including the late Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, whose mother was murdered at Auschwitz, have struggled tirelessly against these fundamentalists. Such efforts deserve praise.
But now a German Pope has made gestures of reconciliation towards the Pius brotherhood – a surprise for many. This decision has caused much consternation in both France and Germany and the German Bishops’ Conference responded quickly and unambiguously. However the lifting of excommunication is to be understood in theological terms, it must not be considered a rehabilitation of the Pius brotherhood and the Holocaust deniers. There should be no place in the Catholic Church for members of the clergy seeking to play down “Final Solution” or even question that it ever took place.
The Pope himself – if rather belatedly – has assured the Jewish community of his “complete and indisputable solidarity” and of efforts to safeguard “against forgetting or denying the Holocaust.” This is comforting, but does not remove all doubts. The gesture of reconciliation towards the Pius brotherhood was no accident. It is instead one among a number of decisions and statements made by Benedict XVI during his near four-year papacy that have been criticised even by many Catholics as moving backwards on issues – for example, regarding lay movements, abortion, celibacy, the position of women in the Church and ecumenism.
More than anything, the introduction of the Tridentine Mass creates feelings of bitterness since it has a distinctly anti-Semitic side: in an intercession prescribed in the traditional Good Friday ritual, Catholics must now, once again, pray for the conversion of the Jews, who live in “blindness” and “darkness.”
Still, I believe breaking off dialogue between Jews and Catholics in Germany would be unwise. The feelings behind such a step are understandable, however it is not helpful. A new Ice Age would not affect the enemies of the Jews. Quite the opposite: they will rejoice. In contrast, the friends of the Jews within the Catholic Church will be wrongly alienated and marginalised by such a decision.
Stephan J. Kramer is the Secretary General of the German Jewish Council. Translation by The Local.