Vatican orders Williamson recant after calling case closed

February 4, 2009

Holy flip-flop!

Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who is Number 2 to Pope Benedict at the Holy See, ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to recant his Holocaust denial “absolutely, unequivocally and publicly” if he wants to serve as a prelate in the Roman Catholic Church. The tough statement, reported here by our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella, came after a mounting chorus of Catholic bishops denounced Williamson’s statement and more or less clearly urged the apparently reluctant Vatican to take some strong disciplinary measures. Many of those appeals included calls for Williamson’s ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) to support Second Vatican Council reforms they have until now rejected.

(Photo: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 19 June 2008/stringer)

Bertone’s statement (original here in Italian) also said clearly that an indispensible condition for a rehabilitation of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunications were lifted last week was “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”

This might seem like the logical next step in the Vatican’s damage control campaign. But now look at the interview with Bertone the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire published just yesterday. When asked about Williamson’s comments, he answered: “There’s no need to confuse things… The Society of Saint Pius X …has asked the pope for forgiveness for this regrettable episode. The pope spoke clearly on Wednesday. It seems to me that the question can be considered closed.” (emphasis mine).

I wonder what the last straw was that made Bertone (and Benedict) suddenly change tack. Those unusual comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel? The mounting chorus of comments from German and other bishops?  Whatever it was, this does seem to bear out a fact that several readers posting comments in recent days either fail or refuse to recognise — that the Church operates in the world and adopting a stand of sublime isolation from it can have its costs.  That doesn’t mean it should not have lifted Williamson’s excommunication, but it could have considered the context and explained it from the start.

(Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican watcher, has posted a detailed and informative analysis on his website www.chiesa — Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication. He has tough words for Bertone: “With Bertone, the curia seems even more disorganized than before, perhaps in part because he has never completely dedicated himself to fixing its problems.:


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I like, and fully concur with you on the “Holy Flip-Flop!”

I am puzzled, Tom, given the International FLAP this has caused that the Pope himself did not seek this recantation.

It seems a shame to drag (poor) Cardinal Bertone into the FRAY at this stage.

As you know “Flip-Flops” played a key role in US elections over the last 6 years. But it was so refreshing and striking, yesterday, to see President Obama admit on TV: “I screwed up.”

He didn’t ask his Secretary of State to fall on the sword (though I have a feeling that she may have told him, in no uncertain terms, what he could do with the figurative sword).

Yes, I fully appreciate that the Pope is on a different footing (maybe even pedestal) to the US President.

Yes, by getting Cardinal Bertone to make the demand, the Pope has a fall back position.

But, I can’t help but feel that in this situation the Pope may have thought about following Obama’s ‘cut to the chase’ approach. This was not an issue of doctrine or dogma.

Anyway, as I had commented on an earlier post, I have a feeling that this FLAP followed by the ‘FLIP-FLOP’ will further strengthen my belief that the next Pope will not be from Europe per my Papabili 2009 list

Keep up the good coverage Tom. Thank you.

Grace and may peace be with you all.

Anura Guruge

Posted by Anura Guruge | Report as abusive

[…] fazer. Agora, sentiu a pressão e voltou atrás: o secretário de Estado cardeal Tarcisio Bertone deu ordens para que o bispo Richard Williamson peça perdão de forma ‘absoluta, inequívoca e […]

Posted by O Vaticano recua perante a Alemanha | Report as abusive

I was watching recently this: hA
and now I’m thinking, does it really matter what Bishop Richard Williamson said?

Posted by vp | Report as abusive

The Holy Father HAS been very clear on this subject. Some use any chance they can to jump on the church and the pope with both feet. The reactions to this are way over the top. I love the Holy Father. God Bless Pope Benedict!

Posted by taad | Report as abusive

vp, I also watched the you tube on Bishop’s Williamson interview. And I came up with the same question. I’m just wondering why some sectors are very intolerant with the Bishop’s statements instead of coming up of evidences that will overturn his claim? The SSPX Bishop was clear, if there is an evidence that will overturn such findings, then he will be glad to change his conclusion as well. He based his statements on expert evidence, I just forgot the name of that expert, but he made some scientific research and studies that turn out impossible for the 6 million Jews to be killed by Gas chamber since it will endanger everyone including the nazis if the gas will leak out. A chimney was also necessary if gas chamber is to be used, however upon investigation, there was none. I suppose, they were not that high tech during that time.

Tom, in reference to your answer to my comments in the previous article, I can say that you do not apply the same rules whenever other religions speak ill against the Catholic Church. Like when Dan Brown through his novel, depicted Opus Dei and the Catholic Church as great deceivers, CNN, BBC and other mainstream media did not treat the literature as offensive to Catholics. When the National Geographic channel attacked the Holy Scriptures and the Divinity of Christ, maistream media were insensitive that they are offending the Catholics but instead, they considered it scholarly! Many other examples I can give but I do not wish my blog to be very long. According to you, the killing of Priests and Bishops in Iraq and in Orissa India does not interest people. On the other hand the very same killing in Gaza interests the people such that the mainstream media conducts more interview with Hamas Officials. What’s the difference? Obviously, its the mainstream media that dictates which topic should be given more media mileage and arouse the interest of the people. The persecutions and the holocaust of Christians are just presented only for 15 seconds on TV stations such as CNN, BBC, and NBC.

Going back, if indeed mainstream media are fair, why would they not emphasize that the lifting of excommunication is not related to Bishop Williamson’s statements but rather on the schism that SSPX had made? Rather than condemning the Pope for the alleged fault he never did, why not also dig evidences that will overturn Bishop Williamson’s claim that there were only 300,000 Jews that were killed instead of 6 million and not by gas chamber but by starvation? Let us not be emotional on this issue. Let us instead present reasonable arguments to contradict Bishop Williamson rather than condemning him, the SSPX and the Pope! Let the Jews argue with him, and abstain from making scandalous, offensive and abusive words against the former especially against the Pope. No namecalling! It really upsets when the media starts to namecall Bishop Williamson as Holocaust denier. Let us just focus on the arguments please. This is not anti semitism, this is all about the truth of the history! To remind, Bishop Williamson is not a Nazi, he is an English Bishop and therefore he has no motive to deny the Holocaust. He is only for the truth. My appeal applies the same to Catholic Bishops who had joined in condemning Bishop Williamson on his statements

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

Daniel, narrowing down your charge (disinterest in oppression of Christians) from the whole universe of mainstream media to CNN, BBC and NBC television makes it an actual accusation rather than a vague protest. I can believe they showed almost nothing and I do find that regrettable. But there were quite a few reports in the written media, which you completely overlooked. Even on this blog, which does not claim to cover all religion issues, we had three posts about Orissa:

Christians flee, leaders deplore religious violence in India —  /08/29/christians-flee-leaders-deplore- religious-violence-in-india/

Christians cower from Hindu backlash in Orissa —  /09/03/christians-cower-from-hindu-back lash-in-orissa/

Hindu national politics fuels anti-Christian campaign in India —  /10/13/hindu-nationalist-politics-fuels -anti-christian-campaign-in-india/

As for Bishop Williamson, you say the fact that he is English means he has no motive to deny the Holocaust. Are you saying only Germans can be anti-Semites? I don’t know what his motive is, but it doesn’t sound charitable, judging from his interview.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

We are all still suffering the effects of Eisenhower’s campaign at the close of the second world war to smear the German government in order to lessen German resistance to the victors, and also to give the public in Allied countries the sense that the war had been worth their sacrifices. The Holocaust story immediately took on a life of its own, and it has proved so useful to international Jewry that they have used their unmatchable media, financial and political resources to beat down all rational opposition to it. We see that at play today in the orchestrated attacks on Bishop Williamson. To get a quick introduction to the actual issues, I recommend the recent documentary, Buchenwald, by an anonymous American. It is available for free download at the website .

Posted by Syed A R Zaidi | Report as abusive

[…] that he reconsider his decision to welcome Williamson back into communion with the Church.    The Vatican has ordered Williamson to recant, but so far Williamson's response has been to hold his […]

Posted by President's Blog » Holocaust Denial, Vatican Dilemma | Report as abusive