February 2 2009
VATICAN'S VACATION FROM REALITY
Church Blasted for Controversial Appointment
One controversy is apparently not enough for the Catholic Church. In addition to ire over his decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop, Pope Benedict XVI has now raised hackles by promoting a priest who welcomed Hurricane Katrina as "divine retribution" for New Orleans' permissive ways.
Another week, another public relations disaster for the Catholic Church. While the furor continues swirling around the pope's decision to reinstate an ultra-conservative bishop who denies the Holocaust, the Vatican has once again raised hackles by promoting a controversial pastor to be a bishop in Austria.
On Saturday Rome announced that Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner would be auxiliary bishop in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, a decision that has angered many within the Austrian church and beyond. The priest has a knack for inappropriate comments, writing back in 2005 in a parish newsletter that Hurricane Katrina was an act of "divine retribution" for New Orleans' permissive ways. "This was not the sinking of any city but that of a people's dream city with the 'best brothels and prettiest prostitutes,'" he wrote.
The same man warned children in 2001 against reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books because the tales of a boy wizard were "spreading Satanism." Then in 2004 Wagner said that it was no coincidence that the Tsunami disaster had occurred at Christmas, inferring that it was punishment for "rich Western tourists" who had fled to "poor Thailand."
News of his planned ordination on March 22 has unleashed a storm of criticism from other Austrian clergy, with many complaining that the selection process was made without consulting them. Hans Padinger, spokesman for the Upper Austrian priests' council, told the Oberoesterreichische Rundschau newspaper he was "not very pleased" by the appointment while Franz Wild, a parish priest in Traun, said that he was "appalled" by the news. "I hope it's clear to the church that we're living in the 21st century and that it also has to live there," he told the ORF channel.
The group "We are Church," which promotes reform, predicted that the appointment could lead to people leaving the church. Liberal Catholics now fear that the pope is steering the church in an ultra-conservative direction and there is increasing concern about his leadership style. In a commentary for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Catholic theologian Hans Küng said that the pope risked losing the trust of millions of Catholics across the world. Küng said that Pope Benedict XVI is obviously "so shielded and cut off from the real world, that he has no idea how disastrously his actions are received."
Damaged Relations with Jewish Community
The uproar over Wagner's appointment comes while the repercussions about the Vatican's decision to overturn the ex-communication of four bishops who were ordained by the founder of the archconservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are still being felt. One of the bishops, British-born Richard Williamson, recently told Swedish TV that he did not believe that Jews had died in gas chambers and that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had perished in the Nazi concentration camps instead of the figure of six million that is accepted by mainstream historians.
The pope had hoped that re-admitting the men into the church would heal the rift with the ultra-traditionalist society, which rejects the reforms that were implemented after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, including the decision to allow mass to be said in languages other than Latin.
Instead, the lifting of Williamson's excommunication has severely jeopardized relations between the Vatican and the Jewish community, threatening to undo efforts by the late Pope John Paul II to build bridges between different faiths. The Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs Yitzhak Cohen told SPIEGEL that he had recommended "completely cutting off ties to a body in which Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites are members."
In Germany there is widespread astonishment that the German-born Pope Benedict XVI would give the go ahead to rehabilitate Williamson. The vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Salomon Korn told SPIEGEL that Williamson's rehabilitation was "unforgivable." "A German pope of all people ... has pardoned a Holocaust denier. And that just a few days before Holocaust Memorial Day," he said.
Italian Priest Joins in Holocaust Doubt
The Bishop of Hamburg Werner Thissen accused the Vatican of not doing enough research into the SSPX society and Williamson's views before overturning the excommunication. "Rehabilitating a Holocaust denier is always a bad decision," he told the Hamburger Abendblatt on Monday, adding that relations with Jews had been damaged.
The Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart Gebhard Fürst said in a statement: "It saddens me as a bishop and as a pastor that these actions have lead to the external and internal alienation of many believers from the church, to the loss of trust particularly of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the church as well as to a considerable breakdown in the Christian-Jewish dialogue."
The Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn was also scathing. "Whoever denies the Shoah cannot be rehabilitated to a position in the church," he told the Austrian broadcaster ORF on Sunday.
While Williamson posted a letter on his blog apologizing to the pope for the "unnecessary distress" he had caused he did not retract his comments on the Holocaust. And his does not seem to be not an isolated case within the SSPX. The head of the society in northeastern Italy, Florian Abrahamowicz, told the Tribuna di Treviso newspaper last Thursday that he knew "gas chambers existed as a means to disinfect, but I cannot say for sure if they killed anyone."
smd -- with wire reports
January 26 2009
THE WORLD FROM BERLIN
Pope Benedict 'Is Sabotaging Christian-Jewish Dialogue'
The Vatican's decison to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies that the Holocaust took place has angered Jews across the world. German papers on Monday argue that the pope is ruining decades of work aimed at improving relations between Jews and Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI insists that his only concern was that of eliminating a schism within the Catholic Church. But his decision to mend ties with the far-right Society of Saint Pius X (SPPX) by overturning the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist bishops has outraged Jewish communities across the world. The reason for their anger is clear: One of those brought back into the fold is an unrepentant Holocaust denier.
In comments made to Swedish television and broadcast last Wednesday, British-born Richard Williamson said "I believe there were no gas chambers." He claimed that only 300,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps, instead of the 6 million figure that is widely accepted by historians. Despite these extreme views, Williamson was included in a group of supporters of the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who were returned to the fold on Saturday after the Vatican issued a decree lifting their excommunication.
The men were thrown out of the Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without permission. They and the 600,000 members of their society reject the modernization of the Catholic Church that came about after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which included priests facing the congregation and speaking in the vernacular instead of in Latin.
Jewish organizations have been quick to condemn the move by German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who has long sought to end the schism in the Catholic Church. Rabbi David Rosen, head of the American Jewish Committee, contrasted the pope's actions with those of his predecessor. "In welcoming an open Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church without any recantation on his part, the Vatican has made a mockery of John Paul II's moving and impressive repudiation and condemnation of anti-Semitism," he told Reuters.
On Saturday, Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris said that he understood the Vatican's desire for Christian unity but said that the pope could still have excluded Williamson. "I'm certain as a man who has known the Nazi regime in his own flesh, he understands that you have to be very careful and very selective."
"We have no intention of interfering in the internal workings of the Catholic Church," Israel's Ambassador to the Vatican Mordechai Lewy told Reuters. "However, the eagerness to bring a Holocaust denier back into the Church will cast a shadow between Jews and the Catholic Church."
Meanwhile in Germany, the vice president of the Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, has accused the pope of an "incomprehensible act of provocation." Speaking to the Handelsblatt newspaper on Sunday, Graumann said: "The fact that it is of all things a German pope who conjured up this new ice age between Jews and the Catholic Church … that is something particularly painful, astonishing and deplorable."
The Vatican has said that Williamson's comments on the Holocaust had no bearing on the excommunication issue. "This act regards the lifting of the excommunications, period," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters. "It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of one person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree."
This apparent tin ear on the part of the Vatican comes at a time when relations are already strained with the Jewish community due to moves to have the war-time Pope Pius XII, who is accused by some of having turned a blind eye to the mass deportation and murder of Jews, named a saint.
Despite warnings that this decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust denier could damage ties between Jews and the Vatican, the Israeli government said that it would not affect the pope's planned visit to Israel in May. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Plamor told the Associated Press that this was "not a matter that concerns the interaction between the states."
German newspapers on Monday take a look at the sensitive issue, with many wondering why Benedict XVI is so intent on undoing the work of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The pope's reconciliation with an offensive anti-Semite is shocking. Benedict points to the fact that the bishop's tirades had nothing to do with his ex-communication more than 20 years ago. By doing this, the pope is not recognizing the fact that, as the head of more than 1 billion Catholics, he is not operating in a vacuum of dogmas and canon law. With the rehabilitation of the bishop, Benedict XVI is sabotaging the Christian-Jewish dialogue while endorsing those who have sharply criticized his papacy."
"Even without the issue of the Holocaust denial, the reconciliation with the Lefebrivists would be a mistake. Of course the pope has to be concerned with the unity of the church. However, that which Benedict XVI is winning back on the right wing of the church, he could lose in the center. Many Catholics see it as the church's duty to work toward a humane world alongside other faiths. They want their pope to build bridges with the Protestant churches and with Judaism. However, Benedict seems to lack the magnanimity here that he is now showing to the reactionaries."
"Pope John Paul II, a conservative man, was particularly concerned with reconciliation with Judaism and dialogue between the religions. … Now it seems as if Benedict XVI wants to undo that work."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Anti-Semitism is not only reprehensible, it is also social suicide when it is openly celebrated. Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in Germany. Therefore Bishop Richard Williamson knew exactly what he was doing when he recently gave an interview in which … he denied the Holocaust."
"The pope's dramatic gesture of reconciliation is completely abhorrent to (Williamson). That is why his interview should be seen as a suicide attack by a callous old man, who wanted to torpedo this reconciliation at the last moment. He has harmed the pope, the other three bishops, many of the faithful, as well as Jewish communities across the world. The only thing he couldn't do is prevent the lifting of the excommunication. That is still purely a matter of canon law, by which the pope is trying to get rid of sects which allow these kind of pathologies to thrive. It has nothing to do with the madness of this destructive bishop."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The rehabilitation of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops was not completely unexpected. Benedict XVI has made it known since the beginning of his papacy that he wished for reconciliation with the supporters of the French Archbishop Lefebvre. However, it remains a mystery why the pope is now making such concessions to the fanatical opponents of the Second Vatican Council, that he is making a mockery of his predecessor John Paul II's insistence on obedience to the teachings of the church and to the pope. Benedict's wish to leave his successor a united church is commendable. However, what is not commendable is that he is lifting an excommunication that they brought upon themselves -- according to canon law. When it comes to the question of teachings and discipline, which caused the break with Rome, then the members of the Society of Saint Pius X are still sticking to their schismatic points of view."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:55 p.m. CET
German News in English ~~ Monday February 2 2009
A German Pope's dangerous dance with Holocaust deniers
Following the rehabilitation of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, the Catholic Church under German Pope Benedict XVI must not sanction the deeds and ideology of the Society of St. Pius X, argues the German Jewish Council’s Stephan J. Kramer.
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.
London ~~ Sunday January 25, 2009
Pope readmits Holocaust-denying priest to the church
Vatican lifts excommunication on renegade British bishop who declared: 'There were no gas chambers'
By Philip Willan in Rome
The Vatican stirred a diplomatic maelstrom yesterday when it announced that it had lifted the excommunication of four rebel bishops, including the British Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson.
The decree repealing the 20-year-old Vatican punishment, imposed after the traditionalist French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated the four as bishops in defiance of the Pope's authority, was signed on Wednesday by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops. This coincided with the broadcast on Swedish state television of an interview with Mr Williamson in which the breakaway bishop denied the Holocaust.
"I believe there were no gas chambers... I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers," he told SVT television in an interview that was recorded in Germany last November. "There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies!"
Mr Williamson, 68, who is the rector of the Seminary of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix in La Reja, Argentina, is no stranger to controversy. He has endorsed "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, and claimed that Jews are bent on world domination. He supports conspiracy theories on the assassination of President Kennedy and the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, and has accused the Vatican of being under the power of Satan.
The Vatican's decision comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in its dealings with Israel following the bloodshed in Gaza. Pope Benedict XVI recently ruffled feathers in Israel by expressing the hope that regional elections would produce a new generation of leaders in the Middle East capable of making peace, as did Cardinal Renato Martino, the President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, when he likened Gaza to a concentration camp. Jewish leaders, including Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, had urged Pope Benedict not to lift the ban and to reiterate the Vatican's condemnation of Holocaust denial.
The head of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, said that there was no connection between Mr Williamson's views and the decision to lift his excommunication. "The Vatican has acted in relation to the excommunication and its removal for the four bishops, an action that has nothing to do with the highly criticisable statements of an individual," Fr Lombardi told reporters.
Vatican Radio also pointed out that Mr Williamson's statements had been severely condemned by other members of the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X, the breakaway organisation founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in Switzerland.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the fraternity and another of the rebel bishops readmitted into communion with the Catholic church, said the TV interview was an attempt to defame the organisation.
Archbishop Lefebvre broke with the Vatican over his opposition to the modernising reforms of the Second Vatican Council and, in particular, his refusal to give up the traditional Latin mass. He was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in 1988 after illegally consecrating the four bishops.
For Pope Benedict, the lifting of the excommunication heals a wound that had festered for 20 years and readmits a thriving community that has 150,000 followers in more than 20 countries. But what should have been a joyous occasion, ending what the Vatican called "the scandal of division", will be overshadowed by the Williamson interview.
London ~~ Sunday, 25 January 2009
Pope stirs up Jewish fury over bishop
The Vatican is reinstating a British priest who denies millions died at the hands of the Nazis
Tom Kington in Rome and Jamie Doward
Pope Benedict XVI. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters
Tension between the Vatican and Jewish groups looked set to explode yesterday after Pope Benedict XVI rehabilitated a British bishop who has claimed no Jews died in gas chambers during the second world war.
Benedict yesterday welcomed back into the Roman Catholic Church Richard Williamson and three other men who were excommunicated in 1988 after being ordained without Vatican permission. The three had been appointed by breakaway French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican decree issued yesterday spoke of overcoming the "scandal of divisiveness" and seeking reconciliation with Lefebvre's conservative order, the Society of Saint Pius X, which opposes the modernisation of Catholic doctrine.
But Jewish groups have warned the Pope that the decision could damage Catholic-Jewish relations after Williamson claimed in an interview, broadcast last week, that historical evidence "is hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler ... I believe there were no gas chambers".
Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris, said he understood the German-born pope's desire for Christian unity but said Benedict could have excluded Williamson, whose return to the church will "cost" the Vatican politically.
In an interview taped last November and aired last Wednesday on Swedish television, Williamson said he agreed with the "most serious" revisionist historians of the second world war who had concluded that "between 200,000-300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber". Williamson added he realised he could go to jail for Holocaust denial in Germany.
British Jewish groups condemned the decision and said they feared it could damage social cohesion. "The Council of Christians and Jews have said that in recent years there has been a considerable increase in antisemitism from some of the eastern European churches," said Mark Gardner, spokesman for the Community Security Trust which monitors attacks on Jewish people in the UK. Gardner said he hoped the Vatican would make it clear it abhors Williamson's comments about the gas chambers.
"Jews will be extremely alarmed by the lifting of this excommunication on somebody who holds such extreme anti-Jewish views," Gardner said. "I hope the Vatican will speak out on this particular aspect of Williamson's ideology."
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, warned last week the Vatican's actions would play into the hands of those seeking to stir up trouble. "For the Jewish people ... this development ... encourages hate-mongers everywhere," Steinberg said. Rome's chief rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said that revoking Williamson's excommunication would open "a deep wound".
Senior Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi fought back yesterday, telling the Observer: "Williamson's statements are not agreed with and are open to criticism, and they have nothing to do with the lifting of the excommunication. One is not connected to the other. The Society of Saint Pius X has itself distanced itself from these statements."
Relations between the Vatican and Jewish groups are already strained by the row over Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff during the second world war, and is being considered by the Vatican for beatification. He is accused by some historians and Jewish leaders of failing to speak out against the Holocaust.
Israeli officials recently protested when a senior cardinal said Israel's offensive in Gaza had turned it into a "big concentration camp".
It is not the first controversy for Benedict. His decision to allow freer use of the old Latin mass, including a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews, caused widespread anger. His reintroduction of the Latin mass earned him criticism from Jewish groups but brought him closer to the Swiss-based Society of Saint Pius X, which opposed many of the changes introduced in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, including holding mass in local languages.
The society's leader, Lefebvre, was still at odds with Rome in 1988 when he ordained four new bishops, including Williamson, without permission from the Vatican, earning excommunication both for himself and all four bishops. Lefebvre died in 1991.
Benedict has pushed to normalise relations with the society, meeting the current head, bishop Bernard Fellay, shortly after becoming pope in 2005.
In its statement yesterday, the Vatican said Benedict was bringing the bishops back into the fold "with the hope that full conciliation and shared communion is achieved as soon as possible".
London ~~ Tuesday January 27 2009
Pope's decision on Holocaust priest criticised
Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
The Holocaust Centre yesterday condemned the Pope's "indefensible" decision to revoke the excommunication of a Catholic priest who claimed that no Jews died in gas chambers during the second world war.
Stephen Smith, director of the Holocaust Centre, said welcoming Richard Williamson back into the Catholic church was an insult and undermined the Vatican's pledge to tackle antisemitism.
Smith, who established the centre in Nottinghamshire as a memorial and education centre and played a key part in developing the UK's Holocaust Memorial Day, said: "Whatever the politics of the Catholic church, the readmission of Williamson, who is a self-proclaimed Holocaust denier and actively endorses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is indefensible ... and sends out entirely the wrong message about the Vatican's commitment to tackling antisemitism."
He is one of many to have criticised the Pope's desire to seek reconciliation with a traditionalist Catholic order - the Society of Saint Pius X - one of whose members is a Holocaust denier.
Williamson, a British-born cleric now living in the US, claimed in a television interview that historical evidence "is hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler ... I believe there were no gas chambers."