Holocaust denial: Vatican shifts into damage control
The Vatican is trying to clarify efforts to reconcile with a sharply right-wing set of bishops excommunicated in 1988.
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The St. Pius X group is also known as the Lefebvrist sect after its founder, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who led attempts in the 1970s to renounce Vatican II. Vatican II brought new efforts to modernize and open the church, to shift away from the use of Latin in services. It corresponded with a rise in liberation theology that stressed in poor nations that individuals had a right to challenge repressive regimes. The group was finally excommunicated under John Paul II.Skip to next paragraph
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The Latin mass
The Lefebvrists favor the old Latin mass, which contains a statement in its texts regarding the "perfidious Jew" – though current St. Pius X leader Bernard Fellay affirmed in an interview last week the importance of good Catholic-Jewish relations.
The Vatican stated that Benedict had been unaware of the Holocaust denial of Mr. Williamson, who said in an interview this month on Swedish television that historical evidence was "hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers.... I believe there were no gas chambers."
Yet given the long history of relations between the Pius group and Ratzinger, such an explanation is not entirely satisfying.
Mr. Fellay congratulated the Vatican for elevating Ratzinger to the papacy, calling it a "gleam of hope" in a letter written to the Vatican at the time. He wrote that "His Excellency Bishop Fellay implores Our Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the Mystical Body, that the two-thousand-year-old Tradition of the Church, forgotten and mistreated during the last forty years, may regain its place during this Pontificate, and that the Traditional Holy mass may be reestablished in all its rights, without restrictions."
In 2007, Benedict made headlines by restoring the Latin Mass in churches wishing to use it.
Crisis of confidence?
In France, Jérôme Anciberro, writing in Christian Testimony, a progressive Catholic review, echoed German dismay, describing a crisis of confidence: "It's as if something has been broken since the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops.... The reactions, commentaries, petitions, protests are multiplying in the Catholic world. Bishops, left in the dark during several days, do not hesitate to dismiss the announcements of the Vatican, even the Curia as a whole."
The Holocaust discourse is weighted more heavily in recent years in Catholic and European circles after a biography of Pope Pius XII, titled "Hitler's Pope," by Roman Catholic scholar John Cornwell – charging a deeply anti-Semetic sentiment and complicit policy with Berlin before the war. The book has spawned many counterbiographies and views.
While the current crisis may bring the Vatican to examine its communication to the outside world, observers like Mr. Wynn say the inner workings of the church do not easily conform to pressure.
"The pope seems to say all the right things to put the fires out ... but I am not sure if this will be a crisis in the Vatican. [Pope] John Paul once told me that you can't try to apply American democratic politics to the faith."