Many people have protested Pope Benedict XVI’s pardon of four bishops in the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X. Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four, is an outspoken Holocaust denier. Ironically, the pardon came three days before Holocaust Memorial Day. Germans, Jews and a number of Catholic bishops have openly criticized the pope’s decision.
However, it is unlikely that the pope was aware of Williamson’s controversial views when the decision was made. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos supervised the vetting process for the four bishops and either failed to discover Williamson’s beliefs or didn’t recognize their significance.
The bishops were excommunicated in 1988 after being illicitly ordained and rejecting the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. For 20 years, the society operated outside of the church and, according to Vatican estimates, accumulated 600,000 members.
The pope has certainly made a mistake, but it’s clear that his intentions were good. Unaware of William’s controversial statements, he made the decision to pardon the four bishops in an attempt to heal a rift in the church, not to create one between Jews and Catholics.
Williamson believes “no more than 300,000 Jews” were killed during World War II and that there were no gas chambers, according to Reuters. He also thinks the stories of the Holocaust were created as part of a Jewish plan for world domination. Despite public outcry, he has stood by his beliefs.
He told the National Post: “Anti-Semitism can only be bad if it is against the truth. But if something is true, it can’t be bad.”
Williamson also believes 9/11 was part of a conspiracy.
The pope has attempted to quell public outrage by meeting with Jewish leaders and expressing sympathy for Holocaust survivors. He has also made it clear that he does not condone denial of the Holocaust.
According to World Politics Review, the pope told Jewish leaders from the United States: “It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.”
The immediate solution is to put pressure on Williamson to renounce his stance on the Holocaust. If he does not — and it appears he won’t — he should not go unpunished. Holocaust denial is not officially considered heresy, but it still has a damaging effect on the church, which should distance itself from Williamson as much as possible.
Even the three other bishops who were pardoned with Williamson have made it clear that they do not condone his controversial beliefs.
According to Italy’s ANSA wire service, the bishops said in a letter to the Vatican: “The
statements of Mr. Williamson in no way reflect the beliefs of our priestly brotherhood.”
The Vatican must work to prevent such a blunder from happening again. The pardon was a largely symbolic gesture, but it ended in disaster. Despite damage control, outrage continues in Germany, where Williamson made his controversial remarks in a television interview while visiting a seminary. In Germany, denying the Holocaust is a crime.
Some believe the pope’s actions indicate that he is taking the church in a far more conservative direction than his predecessor. It is uncertain what the pope’s overall intentions are, but it is clear that whatever his goals, he must improve the Vatican’s decision-making process to avoid seeming out of touch with the world.
According to the German broadcast service Deutsche Welle, theologian Hans Kueng said the pope “is increasingly aloof from the people. He doesn’t hear a thing in his ‘kingdom.'”
The Vatican must act to prevent future blunders if it wishes to avoid accumulating more of such critics.
Michael Hardcastle is a freshman majoring in mass communications.