Unusual tit-for-tat in the Vatican over Williamson affair

September 25, 2009

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(Photo: Video grab of Bishop Anders Arborelius on Swedish TV, 23 Sept 2009)

There’s nothing new about tit-for-tat and finger-pointing in diplomacy and politics but the Vatican is usually quite careful not to wash its dirty laundry in public. So it was surprising to see some of the principal characters in the the long-running saga of Richard Williamson, the traditionalist bishop who sparked a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations when he denied the extent of the Holocaust on Swedish television, now spatting in public over it.

Just when the Vatican thought it had put the Williamson affair behind it, the story has came back to haunt the Holy See. On Wednesday evening, the Swedish television network SVT aired a follow-up to its January 2009 documentary about the Society of St Pius X (SSPX). That program sparked off a public controversy POPE-JEWS/because the Vatican lifted excommunications on Williamson and three other SSPX bishops three days later, creating the impression the Church either didn’t know or didn’t care about his Holocaust statement. In the uproar that followed, Pope Benedict once again condemned Holocaust denial and said he hadn’t known about the statements in advance. Usually discreet Vatican officials publicly blamed others for not informing him.

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

The new report on the “Uppdrag granskning” (Assignment: Investigate) program said the Vatican knew about Williamson’s views well before the bans on the SSPX bishops were lifted. To make matters worse, in conjunction with the new broadcast, the website of Stockholm’s Roman Catholic diocese posted a note saying Bishop Anders Arborelius and the Vatican nuncio to Sweden told the Holy See in November 2008 about the not-yet-aired interview that Williamson had given to Swedish television in which he said “I believe there were no gas chambers”. The interview was recorded in Germany in November 2008 and aired in Sweden on 21 January 2009. See our latest story on this here.

Now, in an interview with the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (excertps in German here and English here), the Vatican official at the center of the controversy, Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, is fighting back. Castrillon Hoyos was until July the head of Ecclesia Dei, the department set up by Pope John Paul in 1988 to try to bring the traditionalists back into the fold. He said “None of us knew about Bishop Williamson’s statements. None of us!” and then he adds this: “And no one had the duty to know it!”

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, 25 Dec 2005/Alessandro BianchiIn the full text of the interview published only in the print edition, Castrillon Hoyos fired away at Bishop Arborelius for saying he informed the Vatican last November. “I regret this dubious statement very much because it is wrong,” he said. “Spreading this information is slander. We store digitally all documents that we get. So Bishop Arborelius should say how, to whom and when he communicated that, and whether this was done in writing or orally.”

(Photo: Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, 25 Dec 2005/Alessandro Bianchi)

Williamson’s interview and the story and reactions to it made headlines in the Italian and international media for days afterwards. Radio Vatican’s German service reported on it as early as January 23. While defending himself, the cardinal implied he was completely unaware of all that for two weeks: “I was only informed of his (Williamson’s) statements on Feb 5. The nunciature had informed the Secretariat of State, which then gave me the information in sealed envelope that I have kept.” In his defence, he added that no other bishops had ever told him about Williamson’s views.

After being presented as the guilty party by others, Castrillon Hoyos took his turn to point the finger — at Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the head of the Congregation of Bishops: “If anyone should have known about Williamson’s statements, he was the one. He was working for many years in the Secretariat of State. And now he runs the Congregation of Bishops, which has the task over watching over the bishops.”

reThe question of who knew what and when in the Vatican has never been fully answered and the broadside from Castrillon Hoyos did not shed much light. The Vatican press office has several times asserted that Pope Benedict did not know anything about Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust when the excommunications were lifted. “Affirming or even insinuating that the Pope was informed beforehand of Williamson’s position is absolutely groundless,” chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Wednesday when before the follow-up program that Swedish television was about to air.

(Photo: Cardinal Battista Re, 13 April 2005/Max Rossi)

According to Vatican sources, Lombardi himself was involved in a spat with Castrillion Hoyos earlier this year. He told the French newspaper La Croix in February that if anyone in the Vatican should have known about Williamson’s background, it was Castrillon Hoyos. The cardinal was reportedly infuriated and pulled rank and some sources say he demanded an apology from Lombardi, which he got.

The Vatican’s communications disaster, both internal and external, over the Williamson affair was clear from the start. Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the the Vatican office that oversees relations with Jews, was furious at the time of the lifting of the excommunications because he had not been informed ahead of time. Even the pope said that the Vatican had to learn how to use the internet. After the Williamson affair many journalists noted that his positions on the Holocaust and Jews were out there for all to see for some time.

What do you think the whole saga says about how the Vatican communicates internally and externally?

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9 comments

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It is unimaginable for any Churchman to cooperate with this sleazy Swedish TV program.Cardinal Hoyos is very diplomatic and making accusations is unlike him. To see him accuse someone of slander says to me that he has good reason to say such a thing.In any event, they’re making a mountain out of a molehill. This numbers game is a sideshow and has no bearing on one’s status in the Church unless you are actually someone motivated by racial hatred and false pagan racist ideologies like Nazism.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Why is such a horrible thing to question the jewish holocaust during WWII and not the Armenian holocaust during WWI, Mao Tse Tung holocaust against the chinese,Pol Pot holocaust agains the cambodian after Vietnam war,all the Stalin holocausts against entire ethnic population.etc., etc.

I believe that Bishop Williamson apologized for denying the extent of the Holocaust.If he did apologize, let’s end this discussion; if he did not, then disciplinary action needs to be taken against Bishop Williamson.

That interview was in the year 2006 , it was used as an anti – traditional stroke , because cardinals Castrillon & Casper are anti – traditionalists . I have a question for cardinal Castrilion Hoyos : What kind of catholic goes to any given government and ask them to remove Christ as the king of their country ? It does not make sense, is Christ not your king ? Is He not your Redeemer ?

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

Ahmadinejad is utterly correct when he said that the jewish holocaust is mostly a lie.Why don’t they take him up on the challenge of an International Study of the jewish holocaust?

Posted by Lember | Report as abusive

Two situations have me totally fed up! First and foremost, we have the opoportunity to voice our comments in this script. yet you say they may not be published! Why not??? Folks should be willing to be quoted, and not guarded. Second. Bishop Williamson shoud be defrocked by the Pope or whoever. But first he needs to be sent to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and forced to view every exhibit. Or maybe it would be better [if that is posible} to jusrt ignore the rantings and ravings of one who has lost his senses, if he every had them! When will the Catholic Church regain it’s sanity AND guts.I agree with the Wall Street Journal’s article relating to the need for the Church to have a general house cleaning of the heirarchy and a return to the days {if they ever existed} when reverence, prayer, and worship were the venues of the day. Not grandstanding and violating the canons of the Church. Have these clerics lost their faith? Do they not understand why they were ordained? These are my comments, and I stand with them!

Jack E. Boucher, thanks for sending in this comment — and thanks especially for signing it with your own name! Most readers sending in comments use pseudonyms and some hide behind this camouflage to write crude, unreasonable or even irrelevant comments they apparently wouldn’t want to own up to by signing them openly. As someone who writes under his own name and exposes himself regularly to criticism and abuse from readers, you can imagine I don’t have a high opinion of those who take pot shots from behind pseudonyms. But we have to allow pseudonyms, that’s the custom on the web. That said, we don’t have to let people misuse that concession to make this into their personal soap box where they can rant and rave. We also have to monitor and sometimes delete comments because they could contain libelous statements that we would be responsible for, even though they were made by anonymous readers. So that’s the reason for this policy, not — despite what some people may think — any desire to censor what we don’t agree with. If you think we have an agenda and want to censor comments, just look through some of the comments that have been posted on this and other blog posts in recent days. You get all shades of opinion.

Modern scientific, historical and social inquiry indicate that Bishop Williamson’s comments on the Holocaust are justified, honest and are in accord with current professional inquiry. To make inquiry and scientific investigation unlawful as regards the “story” of the Holocaust surely indicates that it is just that “a story” or maybe the biggest fraud ever put forward on the world stage. My mother spent two years in the concentration camps, Buchenwald, the labour camps and Nuremburg and said that the gas chambers never existed until made up after the war. The International Red Cross was allowed full 100% access to all camps and prisoners during the war and recorded all deaths which totalled no more that 300,000 for all causes including Typhoid which was the biggest killer. The allies bombed anything that moved during the last two years of the war and prevented any supplies and food from reaching the camps resulting in disease and starvation. Less than three million Jews were in German occupied territory and nearly two million claim to be “survivors”. Do the math. One year after the war the Jewish population world wide had risen to 15 million from less than 10 million before the war. ?????????? Let a neutral scientific, historical investigation put things to rest or rather expose the fraud.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

Several Catholic Mystics who have been approved by the Church in the past have related that a “New Mass” will be imposed on the Church that is both “Odious” in Gods sight (Marie-Julie Jahenny – 1902) and “Impious” Blessed Anna Catherine Emmerick – 1800′s, just to name a few. Recently a Jesuit German Seminary Professor, friend of JPII and HHPBVI, said that in 2000 he questioned then Cardinal Ratzinger about the supposed missing part of the 3rd secret of Fatima. He related that Cardinal Ratzinger said that Our Lady specifically warned in the 3rd secret that the Church was not to touch or change the Mass or the Sacraments and that that warning givin what today’s situation is the Church will not make public. So, it would seem from the above, which is no where exhastive on this subject, indicates that we are heading towards God’s punishment for going against Heaven and God’s will. Did not Our Lord say to Lucy in 1930′s in Spain that until Russia is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (not the world but Russia by name – which has not been done yet) by all the Bishops of the world at the same time – that the Church and the world will fall into ruin – notwithstanding the indefectibility of the Church whereby God will intervene when all seems lost.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive