Vatican/SSPX — the fallout continues

February 2, 2009

The fallout from the SSPX issue continues to rain down on the Vatican. Several items over the weekend showed how messy it can get when the Vatican botches its presentation of a potentially controversial decision.

  • A demonstration against Williamson at the Vatican nunciature in Paris by several dozen Jewish protesters on Sunday. The Reuters photo below by Mal Langsdon shows a man holding a cartoon from the Paris daily Le Monde in which two SSPX bishops say in mock Latin “The gas chamber doesn’t exist.” Pope Benedict holds up a cloak which says “Down with Vatican II” and comments: “As long as they don’t say it in Hebrew, I’m not saying anything.” Will there be more of these elsewhere?

  • Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, one of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunications Pope Benedict lifted last week, told the Italian daily La Stampa (here in English) that the rebel prelates have no intention of changing their traditionalist views when they negotiate their reinstatement in the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican officials.” No, absolutely not,” he said. “We do not change our positions, but we have the intention of converting Rome, that is, to lead Rome towards our positions.” This is the man who in 2005 told the traditionalist U.S. weekly The Remnant “I will say, one day the Church should erase this Council.  She will not speak of it anymore.  She must forget it.  The Church will be wise if she forgets this council.” Until now, most attention has focused on SSPX Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay and the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. Fellay is considered the most moderate of the group and statements from the others are likely to take a tougher stand against any concessions to the Vatican.
  • (Photo: Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, May 2008/SSPX)
  • Several news outlets such as The Times and the BBC have picked up a story from Austria that the pope had approved the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop of Linz, Gerhard Wagner, who once described Hurricane Katrina as God’s punishment for sin and sexual excess in New Orleans and denounced the Harry Potter books for “spreading Satanism.” In a new interview with the Austrian Catholic agency, he says “Islam is really a danger.” How much would you bet this would have gone unnoticed if there hadn’t been other negative news about the Vatican?

New statements and comments are popping up all over. A few trends emerge:

  • Denunciations of anti-Semitism by SSPX bishops. Bishop Fellay has made several such statements, each stronger than the previous one. His latest, to the French weekly Famille Chrétienne, calls Jews “our older brothers.” Fr. Franz Schmidberger, the head of the SSPX in Germany who has been quoted as saying the Jews must be converted, has also distanced himself from Williamson’s comments. While these statements have been welcomed, they have not answered the real question of whether the SSPX will accept Vatican II documents such as Nostra Aetate that changed the traditional Church position on the Jews (see Bishop Tissier above…).
  • Continued criticism of Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust. Several Jewish and some Catholic leaders have said his apology to the Vatican for causing the uproar was not enough. The message is that he may have apologised and Pope Benedict may have condemned the Holocaust, but where are his full retractions, more direct criticisms of him and his denial or statements that people expressing such views have no place as office holders in the Church? The Central Council of Jews in Germany says it expects to see some “consequences” from the Vatican to prove it supports continued dialogue with and respect for Jews. One suggestion is that it suspend the procedure to beatify Pope Pius XII and later make him a saint.
  • Criticism of the Vatican for botching its public relations. This is going Catholic mainstream, with even Radio Vatican (German service says:“This concurrence of the lifting the excommunication and the Holocaust-denial by Bishop Williamson was fatal. Simply fatal.”) and Benedict’s close ally Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn openly complaining about it. As veteran Vatican watcher John Allen wrote: “The way this decision was communicated was a colossal blunder, and one that’s frankly difficult to either understand or excuse.” Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz openly criticised Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos — head of the office dealing with the SSPX — of not doing his homework on Williamson’s controversial views.
  • Concern about a pattern in Benedict’s controversial statements. As Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: “We’ve heard the pope’s speech about Muslims in Regensburg, another statement about judging the Protestant church, then about evangelising Jews, the old Latin Mass, and now the rehabilitiation of a Holocaust denier. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The pope is a highly educated man. He says what’s being thought in the Church.”

    (Photo:Charlotte Knobloch, 24 Oct 2006/Arnd Wiegmann)
  • Investigations into anti-Semitism within the SSPX, such as here on the America magazine blog In All Things or John Allen’s All Things Catholic column.
  • Rumblings among Catholics who see Benedict as turning the clock back on many Vatican II reforms. Read this comment from Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent of the London Catholic weekly The Tablet.
  • Petitions by concerned Catholics, run in France by the Catholic weekly La Vie (entitled No Negationists in the Church) and in Germany by the Church reform group We Are Church (entitled Full Recognition for Conclusions of Second Vatican Coouncil Demanded). There’s another French petition going around by fax.

Some recent Reuters copy on the controversy:

Where do you think this controversy is going? Should the pope take further steps to calm it?


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

“Fr. Franz Schmidberger, the head of the SSPX in Germany who has been quoted as saying the Jews must be converted”

There is the small matter that the Church has defined with the full extent of Her Apostolic authority that objectively, there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Baptism of Desire is an EXCEPTION. So, yes, we must seek the conversion of the Jews and all non-Catholics.

Posted by jdobbs | Report as abusive

Would not other religions want Catholics to join them? When you’ve got something good, don’t you want to share the “good news”, with your friends? Why is the Catholic church attacked when Evangelicals, JV’s, etc.. are always trying to convert others? Is the media so stupid to believe and report that the church beleives in punishment from God? The Jews believe that too! It’s in the Bible :) Why does the world care what the Catholic church says, does and thinks? The media give the Church quite a lot of credit and power. Thank you media! The Church is quite important isn’t it?

Posted by S.G. | Report as abusive

The Pope’s actions have generated unprecedented recent support for the Jewish cause. His actions have also re-focussed public attention against those who would deny the Holocaust – and precisely at a time when sentiment against Israel was strengthening in the media.

In addition, the situation has prompted apologies from leaders of SSPX, who formerly had nothing to say to Rome.

Posted by qvicvmqve | Report as abusive

The enemies of the Church are bound to kick up a fuss when it’s clear that she’s returning unapologetically to her roots, and to the full deposit of faith.

The return of the Church to her tradition positively terrifies those who hate Christ and His Church – particularly the Jews. Any affirmation of the Church`s perennial teaching on things like salvation is totally intolerable for the modern world, which values human respect above everything.

It`s best to ignore the storm. It can rage on as much as it likes, but it won`t sink the ship. Let`s pray for the Pope, that he won`t be deterred from the great path he`s laid out.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

Jews have so many real enemies in the world, people who want to see them dead, and their leaders are spending their time attacking the Pope and meddling in Catholic doctrine. What foolishness! The calumny and blood libel against the Church and against Pope Pius XII will benefit no one. Bishop Williamson’s comments are outragous and have been condemned by the Vatican and by the Superior General of the SSPX. Unfortunately, the anti-Catholic version of the Protocols of the Elders of ZIon is quite mainstream. (Ever heard of the DaVinci Code?) It’s also mainstream among Jews. Hyam Maccoby was a professor in good standing at a secular university, and no one has ever thought of condemning his paranoid theories about Catholicism.

Posted by trp | Report as abusive

Good post Paul! You’ve hit the nail right on the head.

The more people wail, whine and complain the more they expose their true intentions.

Posted by Saul | Report as abusive

When will the media get off the backs of Catholic clergy? What else do you want? The amount of comments and articles on this subject is overwhelming. If only those same complainers would devote as much time to defending the unborn then maybe some good will come of it. The news media is no longer taken seriously because of its inaccuracy or ignorance of certain subjects. It is amazing the hypocrisy that we see every day and this is a prime of example of how not to “love thy neighbour”. This mob mentality in journalism is pathetic.

Posted by anne | Report as abusive

I, on the other hand, apologise for the pain and offence that the Church to which I have faithfully belonged for over 40 years has inflicted on people due to its insensitivity and its belief that it exists in some sort of ahistorical vacuum.

Posted by Brendan Peters | Report as abusive

All this controversy over the Holocaust. I am sure that the Jews suffered so much, but why is the Catholic Church and above all Pope Benedict to blame!!! If a bishop from SSPX said something about the numbers of Jews that suffered in gas chambers, why is the Pope to blame!!! The Pope only wanted to unify the Church, not just with the SSPX but also with other Christians and especially the Orthodox Christians. I think that all this is fuelled by the media or to be exact by some of the media. If people do not agree with traditionalists in the Church the liberals are not seen by everyone as the other option. We are One Church, the Church of Christ and all those who are airing their views even inside the Church are giving the media more fuel. Time will tell that Pope Benedict XVI has done very well to end the schism because he is healing old wounds. The Pope is looking forward to do his best to keep up with the words of Pope John XXIII ut unum sint. Holy Father we are with you especially when you are showing much love for all the peoples of the world.

Posted by peter paul abela | Report as abusive

The thought police are at it again.

Posted by Cathy | Report as abusive

The survivors of the holocaust have not died off and already their tragedy is being dismissed or minimized by a bishop. If this continues, it is quite possible for that horror to reoccur.
I stand by my Jewish brothers and call on everyone who supports them to withhold their donations to their Churches this Sunday and the next to send a message to the Vatican. They can channel those to some other charity instead. I sure it will be done unto the Lord as well.

Posted by Vox Populi | Report as abusive

The Pope has said very forcefully and unambiguously that the holocaust happened, that it was unspeakably evil and that it must never happen again.

The lifting of the excommunication of the SPXX bishops had nothing to do with the holocaust and all of the very vocal critics of the Pope must know that. It therefore seems clear that the attacks are not out of righteous indignation but are a cynical attack against the Pope, the Catholic Church and. In many cases, against religion itself.

The media is complicit in this attack by sensationalizing the story and by repeated and most likely willful errors in what is being reported.

The bishops who are adding their voices against the Pope, not those who agree that it has turned into a PR nightmare but those who outright condemn the Pope and accuse him of anti-Vatican II opinions, are those same ultraliberal bishops who have opposed the Pope from the very beginning. That they would join in this unwarranted attack seems to be as schismatic as the situation that brought about the SPXX excommunications in the first place.

Posted by Johnson | Report as abusive

Johnson, I’d be interested in hearing who you think are these ultraliberal bishops now accusing the pope of anti-Vatican II opinions.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I am one who is outside the Catholic Church looking in and what I see is a pattern. This pattern is one of rebellion within the ranks of Catholic Bishops who show their utter lack of respect for their leader who, according to Catholic teaching, was established by Jesus himself. Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) has made it clear about his intentions and yet the Catholic liberals are crying foul.

Jesus commands us as Christians to forgive even the gravest of sinners, is not this Bishop Williamson, in the eyes of many, a human too? Are not all Christians to forgive? And if we don’t what did Jesus say about us?

This may get some angry but as a Christian I am obligated to share the Gospel with the Jew first and then Gentile. The Jewish people seem to have great animosity towards anyone who would even question the holocaust “honestly” and with not malice. I thank God that I live in a country where we are free to think and be open about our own convictions, even if they may be incorrect or just against the status quo.

The Jewish people need to heal over the terrible holocaust and the only way to truly do this is to forgive and let it go, otherwise they are condemning themselves by their refusal to forgive. How can they expect God to forgive them their own sins if they will not forgive others? Jesus a Jew made that statement to them himself.

Posted by Danny Blaze | Report as abusive

God warned te Jews three times in the Old Testament {Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28 and 3Kings 9)of what wouldbefall themif they did not obey Him. The generation of Jews who most experienced His love, those of the exodus, turned away frim Him and that entire generation, save two, perished in the wilderness. Starting with the public ministry of Christ, they were given 40 years to accept Jesus as their Savior, and they refused. The Romans, who were used by the Jews to crucify Jesus, were the instruments used to destroy the temple and disperse the Jews. And these Romans were the ones used by God to bring Catholicism into the mainstream of history. The “stiff necked” Jews continue to deny their Messiah. I would suggest that they heed Christ, let the dead bury th dead and accept their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Then they may at long last find peace.

Posted by Bobby Joe | Report as abusive

The issue is ecumenism, or how one should position oneself before other faiths. Benign tolerance was generally the Church’s position regarding other faiths, unless they were unusually aggressive, or, in some cases, dangerous to public order and safety (like the attacks on albino children for their ‘magical’ body parts being encouraged by witchcraft in modern Africa today;) Catholic countries allowed private practice of other religions. But this tolerance was elevated to an absolute right by Vatican II, and it is from this perspective that many of modern society’s most perverse practices, like abortion, homosexuality, and widespread divorce and cohabitation without marriage, have sprung.

Catholics Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, et al, explain their refusal to vote against abortion in Vatican II terminology, for example, citing freedom of religion in their tortured logic. Contradictory verbiage may be noticed in most of the constitutions of Vatican II, where it is said, ‘keep the Latin but push the vernacular,’ ‘all hail to the kingship of Christ but elevate the secular state to pride of place in the Church and the world’. It’s an old leftist trick, much used by Sol Alinsky, for one: say two things, it will confuse the opposition.

For any faith, for any nation, for any group, respect for others, with clear limits, is good and necessary; total leveling of difference in the name of equality is quite another, and not condusive to achievement, to peace, or to beauty. One is reminded of the recent episode of Community in which the politically correct administration attempts to design a logo of the perfect race-and-gender-neutral student, not white, not black, not Asian, not female or male. What one gets is indifference, and in theology it has a name, one which Benedict refuses to use: liberalism, condemned by all the popes up to Paul VI, along with the ‘neutral,’ bloodless secular state.

Posted by JanetBaker | Report as abusive