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Jewish leaders missing the point about Bishop Williamson

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I am a cradle Catholic, but not a typical cradle Catholic. My mother was deeply suspicious of Vatican II and of the new, vernacular liturgy (the Novus Ordo Missae), so I grew up loosely affiliated with parishes of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

Background on the SSPX

The Society of Saint Pius X is a radical traditionalist group whose leadership was excommunicated in 1988. The story is long and complex, but in a nutshell, the head bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, illicitly consecrated four more bishops, by which action (according to the Vatican) all the bishops involved incurred a canonical latae sententiae excommunication as a result of direct disobedience.

One of Pope Benedict XVI's major missions has been to normalize relations with the SSPX, and the Catholic blogs and news sources have been abuzz with the word that the Pope last week lifted the excommunications on all the bishops of the SSPX.

Bishop Richard Williamson's infamous remarks

Unfortunately, there has been one "black sheep" SSPX bishop doing his best to muck things up. The man who confirmed me, Bishop Richard Williamson, has made many outrageous statements over the years (he once opined that Pope John Paul the Great had a "weak grasp" of Catholicism), and most recently he has publicly denied some aspects of the Holocaust.

The current head of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has made an extraordinary statement in response to Williamson's remarks. According to the blog Creative Minority Report, always a good source for Catholic gossip, Fellay "prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions," and publicly apologized to the Pope and to "all people of good will" for Williamson's statements.

CNN misses the point

CNN, which is among the worse of sources for Catholic gossip, has been silent on this entire issue until Monday. The headline did not refer to the historic end of the twenty-year excommunication, or to the remarkable lengths the Pope is taking to bring lost sheep back into the flock. No, the headline, astonishingly, was about the Jews: "Pope outrages Jews over Holocaust denier."

I wholeheartedly agree with Jewish leaders that Williamson's public opinions about the Holocaust are outrageous. They are outrageous not only to Jewish people, but to all "people of good will." I'm outraged. We're all outraged.

But Williamson was not excommunicated for denying the Holocaust. He was excommunicated for being consecrated a bishop, in open defiance of the will of Pope. The excommunication was an internal, administrative Catholic matter. It had nothing to do with teaching, beliefs, or opinions. And likewise, lifting the excommunication had nothing to do with teaching, beliefs, or opinions.

Bishop Fellay's public censure of Bishop Williamson could not have been expressed more forcefully. With all due respect to Jewish leaders, understandably stunned by Williamson's comments, they should take their cues from this response, not from the contemporaneous but unrelated lifting of the excommunication.

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