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 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!”
In 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.”