German-speaking bishops insist SSPX accepts opening to Jews

January 27, 2009

Catholic bishops in the German-speaking countries have been especially outspoken in demanding the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), whose four excommunicated bishops were welcomed back into the Church on Saturday, must explicitly accept Second Vatican Council documents assuring respect for the Jews. The Vatican had been demanding full acceptance of Council documents for years, including in a compromise it offered last June but the SSPX rejected it. As far as is known, it was not part of the deal that has now led to the bans being lifted. The issue has hit the headlines because one of the four, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, openly denied the Holocaust in an interview on Swedish television broadcast last week.

(Photo: St. Peter’s Basilica, 5 Feb 2005/Tom Heneghan)

The German Bishops Conference noted the four bishops, whose dissent against Rome mostly concerned its rejection of the Council reforms including a modern liturgy and recognition for Judaism and other religions, must now discuss their future status in the Church with Vatican officials. “We have the clear expectation and make the urgent request that the four bishops and the Society announce unmistakably and credibly their loyalty to the Second Vatican Council and especially the declaration ‘ostra Aetate,’ said a statement by Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, its main official for relations with Jews. Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, is the cornerstone of the post-Council opening to Jews, Muslims and other religions.

Munich’s Archbishop Reinhard Marx said Williamson’s comments were “unspeakable, unacceptable…” and added “Every denial of the Holocaust must be punished harshly.” In a statement, he noted the Vatican would now negotiate the conditions of the four bishops’ return into the Church. “There is no doubt that the decisions of the Second Vatican Council are binding for that.”

(Photo: Archbishop Reinhard Marx, 3 Oct 2008/Michael Dalder)

The Swiss bishops apologised to the Jewish community there “for the irritations that have arisen in recent days.” In a statement entitled “Denying the Holocaust cannot be accepted,” bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Kurt Koch said the Swiss-based SSPX had long rejected the Council’s opening to other religions. “We Swiss bishops expect that in these discussions (with the Vatican) … these bishops say credibly that they accept the Second Vatican Council and especially the positive view of Judaism set out in Nostra Aetate.”

In Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn wrote a Holocaust Day letter to the city’s Grand Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg saying it was “shameful and frightening that there are still voices publicly denying the Shoah and question the right of the Jewish people to exist.”

John Allen has posted an excellent summary of the problem of anti-Semitism in the SSPX. Vatican damage management has cranked up to the point where the spokesman and the official daily have called Williamson’s comments unacceptable. L’Osservatore Romano ran a front-page article stating that Nostra Aetate “is an indisputable teaching for a Catholic… the recent negationist declarations contradict this teaching.”

The SSPX will have to go to Rome at some point to start negotiating its return. It wore down the Vatican to the point that Pope Benedict agreed to lift the excommunications on the SSPX’s terms, without an explicit condition to accept Vatican II reforms. Will they continue to get their way when it comes to Nostra Aetate?

LINKS: Here are links to my Q&A Why has the pope welcomed back traditionalists? and to a bilingual France24 cable TV discussion I took part in —
Benedict XVI: Provocative Pardon and Benoît XVI:le pardon qui fâche.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see


There has been a lot of misreporting on this issue in the mainstream press, and Reuters is to blame for some of it.

The views of Williamson (and any racism or anti-semitism anywhere) are to be condemned.

But the Popes decision to lift the excommunications

1) does not in any way indicate approval of these views (which are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church)

2) does not readmit Williamson or any of the other SSPX bishops to the fold of the Catholic Church

The recent statements by Cardinal Ricard and Cardinal Kasper make it quite clear that this is a “first step” in the very long process of dialogue to draw the Society back to the faith of the Catholic Church, which includes the full acceptance of the teachings of Vatican II – including the teachings on religious freedom, the Church’s respect for the Jewish people, and ecumenism – which the Society currently rejects. This rejection remains the greatest barrier preventing full communion between the Society and the Church.

The Holy Father is obviously of the opinion that more can be done to eradicate these anti-Christian ideas within the Society and establish greater unity and harmony through a process of dialogue than a process of straight forward condemnation.

Posted by David Schutz | Report as abusive


There has been lot of misreading of our reporting on this issue and you are participating in it.

Reuters has reported on several occasions that Church officials have condemned Williamson’s views. We have not said that the pope’s decision to lift the excommunications indicates approval of them. We have quoted Jewish leaders as charging that. This issue would not attract so much attention if they hadn’t protested so loudly. Just because we report a person’s reaction or a politician’s speech does not mean we support the view expressed. And just because the Vatican insists that the lifting of the bans has nothing to do with Williamson’s comments does not mean we can ignore a context that others concerned by these events, i.e. Jewish leaders, see and object to loudly.

You say that the pope’s decision does not readmit Williamson or the other SSPX “to the fold of the Catholic Church.” The term “the fold” is not clear. If by it you mean “full communion,” this statement is correct — and we have reported their situation as such. But “the fold” implies a very broad concept of membership, indicating there is an “inside” and an “outside” of a group. If the lifting of the excommunication ends the SSPX bishops’ absolute exclusion from the Church, but they are not yet in full communion and in approved posts in it, these bishops must be in a half-way status that is just inside the Church, one step through the door, so to speak. The general term “the fold” seems to describe that aptly, and therefore the pope’s decision would readmit them to “the fold.”

We have reported from the start that the lifting of excommunication was a first step and the SSPX bishops still had to hold negotiations with the Vatican to determine their actual place in the Church (for example, in a personal prelature like Opus Dei). We have also said repeatedly that the teaching of the Catholic Church includes the Second Vatican Council, including the teachings on religious freedom and respect for Jews, and that the SSPX rejects this. We have pointed out that this is the the focal point of discord and gone further by noting that the Vatican did not insist on their prior acceptance of Vatican II as a condition for lifting the bans.

You say the pope obviously thinks that dialogue will do more than confrontation to “eradicate these anti-Christian ideas within the Society.” That seems to be the case, but the Vatican has not stated that among its reasons for allowing the four to return. If it did, we would report that along with the criticisms pouring in from Jewish leaders.

We have reported all the key points you mention. Why call this misreporting?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Vatican II, by its own admission, did not bind anyone to anything. It was merely a pastoral council. No decrees were made binding; no anathemas were stated. But it has become, in the words of former Cardinal ratzinger, some sort of “super Council”, which aims to eradicate all previous councils.

Well, that simply wont do. I am perfectly free as a Catholic to ignore, totally or in part, the “teachings” of Vatican II. I can and do admire a statement here and there made at that Council, but I am not bound to anything in it – because nothing was formally, infallibly defined, least of all our relations with other faiths. I will go as far as to state that the Vatican II statement on the Jews is one of the most scandalous statements ever to come from a Church body, and it is a statement that will be corrected one day in the future.

As for Bishop’s Williamson’s imprudent remarks one can only say this: if I question just how many Ukranians were murdered by the Communists in the 1930s I will not face world-wide opprobrium. If I am skeptical of precisely how many innocent peons were killed by the murderer Zapata I will not lose my job and my reputation. If I wonder how many Palestinians are being murdered by the Israelis no attacks will come my way. Why, then, is Williamson so vilified if he questions just how many people suffered under the Nazis?

It is a question that needs to be answered.

Posted by schmenz | Report as abusive