Jewish leaders speak of tensions before meeting Pope Benedict

February 11, 2009

Two Jewish leaders due to meet Pope Benedict on Thursday say he has to ensure the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) changes some of its core views before current Catholic-Jewish strains can ease. We’ve run a news story on my interviews with them and a timeline on Catholic-Jewish relations. To give a fuller picture of what they’re saying, here are the transcripts of our talks.


Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

(Photo: Conference of Presidents)

What do you hope to get from the meeting with the pope tomorrow? Can steps be taken to put this behind you?

Yes, I do believe that steps can be taken for us to turn this very negative experience into something positive and that is to use this as an opportunity, a pervasive opportunity in the Church, to root out those who engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitism of any form, for the Church to declare that there is no place within the Church for people who espouse such abhorrent views, that they renounce them and say that they will not countenance their presence. It is not just Bishop Williamson but members of that group, the organisation of which he is part, who have espoused anti-Semitic views over the years. I think it is important that before there can be an reconciliation with them, that not only there has to be a complete renunciation of those views and the Church establishing this as a standard and that the message will go out, especially at a time when we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, that the Church can play a critical role in helping to stem it and to declare it morally objectionable and religiously unacceptable.

What do want to hear from the pope tomorrow and what do you think he must say to start putting this behind us?

There are several things we hope to hear from His Holiness tomorrow. I think that he must renounce the organisation and their views and make it clear that there can be no reconciliation until there is complete transformation in their views and public renunciation not only of Holocaust denial but of their anti-Semitic expressions as well and there will be an effort by the Church to address this within the Church itself and to the public to help make clear that there can be no justification for such views, that the views of people like (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, who espouses Holocaust denial, will find comfort in the fact that this group could be reconciled with the Church.

So, it is imperative for there to be a clear statement of declaration. There can be very great efforts by the Church and His Holiness tomorrow can help issue a clarion call about the rise of anti-Semitism, the unacceptability of anti-Semitism in any form, including those who call for the destruction of Israel, the de-legitimisation of Israel, a clear reaffirmation of the principles and tradition of Nostra Aetate. This I think (would be) a very important statement on the part of the Church at this time, for a group that renounces those principles and those provisions, to make clear that the Church stands by the commitments and that it expects all of the members of the Church to adhere to it.

Some members of the Vatican hierarchy say there were not aware of Bishop Williamson’s background. What do you think of that?

Well, it certainly raises questions, some of which remain unanswered, and we heard from the members of the hierarchy that they are deeply disturbed by the process. The question is at what point in the hierarchy were there people who knew but didn’t think it was significant or who may have even agreed with some of those views or didn’t believe that that this was reason
enough not to permit this process to go forward and to inform His Holiness, who has said he did not know about the views of Bishop Williamson and others. It seems this is a problem within the Church, not for us to decide, but for the Church itself to investigate and perhaps proper action taken to prevent its recurrence but also to hold to account those who were responsible.

(Photo: Pope Benedict with cardinals and archbishops at the Vatican, 22 Dec 2008/Max Rossi)

Did this wipe out decades of dialogue? You are now on the road to recovery but do you thing that the pain will be there forever?

The pain is very deep, especially for survivors in our community who went through the hell of the Holocaust and then are told that it is denied by people and that the Church didn’t feel that that wasn’t a litmus test for the actions that were taken. And for the community as a whole it seemed as not only symbolic but substantively very significant. But I believe that everyone wants to go into a process of reconciliation, a positive and constructive cooperation. We want it, I know that the Church has told us they want it. The question is what steps will be taken now, how do we take this opportunity and the Church take this opportunity to assert positively its positions on the issues of concern, on the issues that we have raised and see to it that we turn a negative into a positive.


Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi at New York’s Park East Synagogue, where he hosted the pope last year

(Photo by Gary Hershorn, 18 April 2008)

You welcomed the pope to your synagogue last year in New York. How did you feel when the whole Williamson affair exploded?

I am a Holocaust survivor. I lost my family in Auschwitz. I am a witness of man’s inhumanity to man. Therefore it was a despicable ideology that has no place, no room in the Catholic Church after Vatican II. I must say that I think that Pope Benedict’s visit, the first papal visit to a synagogue in
America, was a very significant moment because it shows his personal outreach and commitment to the Jewish community.

What would like to hear from him tomorrow about Williamson, about anti-Semitism and about the SSPX?

I can rely on Pope Benedict to send the right message. He already made a statement, a very clear statement, a firm statement, condemning Holocaust denial but also describing the relationship between our two communities and therefore I think what needs to be reiterated is a reaffirmation of the guidelines of Nostra Aetate and a very firm stand against anti-Semitism. There is no room for anti-Semite or Holocaust denier in the Church post-Vatican II.

What do think of the SSPX? Is the problem deeper than Williamson?

I think the problem is deeper than Williamson because of what the Pius X Society stands for, that is why they were excommunicated to begin with, because they rejected Vatican II. But I must say, as a Holocaust survivor, you have to look beyond the moment and we have a great opportunity to even strengthen Catholic-Jewish relations after this particular event.

What do you think went wrong in the Vatican. Some people, like Cardinal Kasper, didn’t know about the decree until just before it was made public.

(Photo: Clouds over the Vatican, 12 Dec 2008/Chris Helgren)

Really, I like to be constructive. The meeting with Pope Benedict tomorrow, when I will present leaders of the American Jewish community to Pope Benedict, is a very important statement in itself. Second, we need to find ways to heal the wounds and the pain, and particularly as a Holocaust survivor you can understand that I don’t have to read history books. I’m an eyewitness. We need to heal the wounds and then just build on the future because we need each other. Catholics and Jews need to work together. There are so many issues facing mankind. For the benefit of our own communities and in service to humanity. So, let’s not get stuck. There has to be not only clarification, there has to be a reiteration of the policy of Vatican II which
is the basis, the foundation, the road map of a relationship that really has come a long way. We have made many, many achievements. I also thing that the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to Israel will also be a very significant moment to even strengthen our relationship.

Do you think the visit to Israel will help heal this the way his visit to Turkey helped heal the Regensburg affair?

Let’s be clear. This is not just a Catholic-Jewish issue. Holocaust denial, yes, it certainly afflicts those of us who survived the Holocaust and the memory of those who perished. It’s beyond that. I think the very basic commitment of Vatican II, the vision of a Church reaching out, inter-religious dialogue, which has happened, that is being questioned by the Pius X society. So it’s just not a question of the Jewish community vs. the Catholic Church position. We have worked together on Nostra Aetate and were are very proud of some of our achievements, considering the past history of tensions. But we are going to go beyond that. We will emerge, I’m convinced, much, much stronger, with better understand of one another and
working together. However, there has to be a very clear affirmation that those who reject some of the values that we cherish, that are very basic in the Bible, in the Torah, that those values of respect for human dignity, respect for your fellow man, human rights, religious freedom, these are basic rights that every human being has and these rights are, again, reaffirmed in Vatican II. As a result of the reaffirmation, we have been able to work together all these years and have made progress. We still have a long way to go, but still … so yes, I feel that, yes, this is a painful moment, but on the other hand also an opportunity to go beyond this crisis and emerge in the better understanding and cooperation that we need to have.


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The first things the Jews have to do is get over themselves. This Cleric issue reminds me of Bernard Madoff. He was a Jew, so am I, so what? I lost almost all my family in the Camps. We have enough trouble at Home (Israel). There are plenty of Jewish and Gentile Crooks and idiots on both sides of the table. Let’s all get on with what’s important.

On the subject of Madoff: What fool would give someone their money based on some wierd story? Investors have a resposibility regarding their own funds. If they’re not willing to take it on, they get what they deserve. I’m not saying that Madoff shouldn’t be prosecuted, I’m asking that investors get off the Greed Train and look what they’re doing to themselves.

Posted by Andrew Franks | Report as abusive

It is totally inappropriate and more reminiscent of the Inquisition than the Second Vatican Council for the Vatican to attempt to coerce Bishop Williamson to “recant” his sincerely held historical and technological opinions. ( angre_intervju_med_williamson)

This is not a matter of faith or morals, but of history, technology, and now, politics. There is no “doctrine of the extermination” to which Catholics must give the assent of faith.

By their successful campaign to pressure the Pope to succumb to their demands, Jewish organizations have displayed an extraordinary degree of power and influence. The whole affair calls to mind a 1966 article from Look magazine entitled “How the Jews Changed Catholic Thinking.” ( .html)

It is ironic that Francis Cardinal George, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has joined the chorus of support for Jewish demands. In an October 2007 interview he dared to suggest that there be some reciprocity by Jews in interfaith matters.

Cardinal George said: “It does work both ways. Maybe this is an opening to say, ‘Would you care to look at some of the Talmudic literature’s description of Jesus as a bastard, and so on, and maybe make a few changes in some of that?’”

As one might expect, the only concession to this mild suggestion was made by Cardinal George himself when he meekly backtracked on his initial comments. (
“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” John 20:19

— James C. Russell, Ph.D., Historical Theology, Fordham University

Posted by James C. Russell | Report as abusive

The people who are writing these comments do not seem to understand. This is not an opinion about what they may think, but what they are required by their faith to think. The sooner the people who are writing these comments get it through their heads, the better it will be for them. This is not a suggestion by the pope. It is an Order. The SSPX is complying with this order, and the order is for you too to comply too, if you wish to remain in your religion.

Posted by anastasia | Report as abusive

There seems to be a lot of confusion among non-Catholics. The two issues regarding the lifting of the excommunications and Bishop Williamson’s statements are COMPLETELY separate. The comments made in this article show a level of ignorance among the people interviewed. If you want people to better understand how wrong Antisemitism and Holocaust denial is, then please make an attempt to understand how the Catholic Church functions.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

It is pointless for non-Catholics to attempt to impose their understandings of words and meanings on the Bride of Christ. The way of the world is foolishness and that world will never be reconciled to the Way, the Truth and the Light. It is for men, rather, to be reconciled to Christ, in whom all things are possible. If others wish to show respect for Catholic doctrine and to recommend courses of action – let them become Catholics. Elsewise, they should tend unto their own flocks.

Posted by Timothy N. Hunter | Report as abusive


I wish to express my outrage that the Holocaust, unlike any other historical event, is not subject to critical revisionist investigation. Furthermore I deplore the fact that many so-called democratic states have laws that criminalize public doubting of the Holocaust. It is my position that the veracity of Holocaust assertions should be determined in the marketplace of scholarly discourse and not in our legislatures bodies and courthouses.

Posted by Michael Santomauro | Report as abusive

The chutzpah of these Jews is quite staggering!

How dare they interfere in internal Catholic affairs? But, as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum and Vatican II did just that. It created vacuum and the Jews are filling it.

The self-destructive drive towards ecumenical dialogue, (as E. Michael Jones has repeatedly pointed out) has been little less than a one-way stream of Jewish attacks on ‘alleged’ Catholic guilt for Jewish suffering followed by endless requests for forgiveness. What on earth did John Paul II think he was doing at Yad Vashem? How do you think God will judge those who falsely condemn themselves? What about John Paul II’s solemn prayers at the 4,000,000 million murdered plaque at Auschwitz, only find later that the official number was reduced to 1,200.000!

The scriptures are quite clear – Christians should go out an convert Jews to the good news, but we now find Catholic Cardinals openly stating the Jews do not need to be converted. Does it really come as a surprise that the Jews are now imposing an article of faith into Catholic dogma with their holocaust?

Let a priest (or Bishop, or Cardinal) support homosexuality – this is acceptable. Let him agree with the Jewish slaughter of human beings in Gaza, or in Iraq Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran – who are we to judge him? Let him deny every part of the Nicene Creed and deny the very existence of God – and be regarded as a modernistic, free-thinking priest, an encourageable rascal who regularly appears on TV programmes as among the first to be consulted on ‘matters of faith’. “What a guy!”

BUT: Should the priest ask, in the mildest way:

“Are you sure that this building was a gas chamber? Where’s your evidence for this?”

Then the armoured legions of the pope will march against you, shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish inquisition, the millions of unthinking rabble driven before them, pitchfork and cudgels in hand, screaming their holiest hatred, fired by their most sacred blood-lust, as they pile up the tinder for the auto da fe.

For nowadays there is but one permitted faith, one universal religion- Holocaustianity. The formerly ‘Christian’ churches have exorcised Jesus Christ. As ALL the church leaders have avowed, the ONLY essential stipulation for membership of the church is one’s unquestioning belief – faith – in and assertion of the Holy Holocaust. The unforgivable, excommunicable sin is now heresy – infidelity to the only remaining tenet of the church- the magic ‘6M’.

Yes, the central dialogue is, today as 2,000 years ago, between Christians and Jews, but it is a culture war and will not be dealt with by brotherly ecumenical back-slapping. The Jews know this and we don’t and because of this we have created a vacuum that they are filling.

Given that the age-old Jewish Question has now become the Christian Question, I would, in conclusion, like to quote from Israel Shamir, an ex-Jew, converted to Christianity:

“Acceptance of Christ is the Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Posted by Kevin Hoover | Report as abusive

These Jewish people should understand that they can’t dictate to the Pope.
They can’t slander his good name, his reputation, his motives, actions, and his entire reign as Pope (calling him a hypocrit, and a liar like some Jews in Germany did), and expect to be given a warm and empassionate welcome and embrace.
Very many Catholics are furious at the Jewish outburst, and at the insulting and defamatory rhetoric hurled by many of the Jewish representatives, especially Rabbis, in Israel and elsewhere.
Jews should learn to mind their own business about the Catholic Church.
It’s not of their business to demand anything of the Pope, eitiher about the issue of the Holocaust, Bishop Williamson, the SSPX, or the canonization process for the great Pope Pius XII….which is on track and on scheduel and close to happening regardless of Jewish complaints.

Posted by Hirotimi Takemitsu | Report as abusive

dr russell: as a jewish protestant, i find amazement and amusement with you stating that holocaust denial is not an issue of morals. my understanding of scripture finds genocide immoral – how about yours? as for faith, i always thought the rcc believed the pope to have a fios connexion to heaven; how then does a bishop get to remain in good standing and reject an oecumenical council? finally, my understanding of the relevant nt passages on qualification for church office requires a man to be blameless; denying the holocaust is on par with belief that elvis lives, and such deniers are thereby morons and should not hold office in the church…or state…or be allowed to vote, drive motor vehicles, or handle sharp instruments

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

As a faithful Catholic, I am stunned by the anti-semitic tone of many of the comments on this issue. I fully understand that the lifting of the excommunications is not related to Bp Williamson’s rantings, so no need to lecture me on how the church works.

The canonical significance of the excommunications isn’t the issue anyway. The issue is that the Holy Father has made it clear that for a bishop to exercise jurisdiction in the Church, he can’t be a holocaust denier.

The Pope is correct. The church has been clear from the beginning that bishops should be of sound mind and beyond reproach (see I Timothy 3.2 and Titus 1.8).

Bp Williamson’s denial of a historical reality with mountains of evidence and actual survivors still alive is incredible. Couple this with Bp Williamson’s belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories, his bizzare pronouncements about such subjects as The Sound of Music (he thinks it is moral rot with “all the elements of pornography”), women in college and women wearing pants, and one has to at least question Bp Williamson’s mental stability.

Keep in mind that Bp. Williamson’s holocaust denial is not “merely an opinion about history” as some have suggested. Bp Williamson is on record as saying that the Jews manufactured holocaust stories to gain sympathy for themselves, and are actively working to prepare the throne of the AntiChrist. Bp. Williamson has also said that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a notorious and long-discredited Tsarist forgery) are true. These pieces add up to genuine anti-semitism. An anti-semite is certainly not “beyond reproach” and while he could be a member of the church (we’re all sinners), would not make a good bishop.

Of course, Bp Williamson already a bishop (validly, but illicitly ordained), so the Pope is doing the smart thing by restricting Williamson’s faculties.

Bp Williamson can clear all this up by recanting his holocaust denial, but just as important, repenting of and distancing himself from his other anti-semitic statements.

Don’t blame “the Jews” for a problem that has been simmering in our own backyard. I am very thankful for our Holy Father and pray for the full reconciliation of the SSPX clergy and laity.



Posted by Billl | Report as abusive

[…] of those groups — would approve. I mention this because when the Catholic Church advances the careers of anti-Semitic bishops, or when the American Baptist Association puts out a statement saying that “the practice of […]

Posted by Today In Opinion: Religion and the Columbia Intellectual » The Commentariat | | Report as abusive

This jewish community needs to close the door on this matter. They need to take the last sip from their cup of sorrow, find their inner-children and give them hugs, and realize that to the rest of the world the window has long since closed the window on this matter. In other words; get over it.

Posted by Ian Logsdon | Report as abusive