The Vatican recently angered many people when it stood by a decision to return Richard Williamson, a bishop who denies that the Holocaust happened, to the fold. Jewish leaders in particular have decried the move, saying it will undo decades of progress between the two faiths. Vatican officials, while denouncing Williamson's comments, argue that the true reason for embracing him is to make amends with the conservative religious group he belongs to, the Society of St. Pius X, which has had strained relations with the Catholic community in the past. Did the Vatican make the right decision?
Of course this was the wrong decision. Richard Williamson's Holocaust denial is a testament to his ignorant rejection of historical fact — and even more alarming, to his hostility toward the Jewish people. In my view, this is the kind of person the Catholic Church should shun — regardless of other considerations. By embracing him, the Vatican displayed incredibly poor judgment and a shocking disregard for the sensitivities of Jews across the world. This move is especially disturbing in light of recent attempts by Pope Benedict to rehabilitate the name of Pope Pius XII, who is alleged to have turned a blind eye to the horrific plight of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Williamson was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for good reason. The conservative Society of St. Pius X rejected the reforms of Vatican II, which, among other things, denounced anti-Semitism as the church attempted to make amends for its long and bitter history of persecuting Jews. By refusing to accept these constructive changes, Williamson and the society effectively revealed an underlying support of anti-Jewish behavior. This should never be acceptable.
If the Vatican wants to reincorporate this renegade society and its excommunicated bishops into the fold of the church, I feel it should set a prerequisite that the society accept our civilized culture's norms — including a blanket rejection of bigotry or hate directed toward people of the Jewish faith. I was pleased to at least hear the Vatican's recent call for Williamson to publicly and unequivocally recant his denial of the Holocaust, but I have yet to see a response from Williamson. Frankly, it would be a good idea if Pope Benedict completely reversed his unfortunate decision to reinstate this bishop. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, went to great lengths to repair Catholic-Jewish relations, and it would be a terrible shame to undo all those years of progress.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
In my opinion, the Vatican goofed big time on this one. I can understand wanting to bring back into the fold those who feel the church has moved too quickly and has become too liberal — it hasn't on either account, but I can understand the church's desire in wanting to reach out.
However, for the former Cardinal Ratzinger, a German who happens to be the current pope, to try to bring closer a person who denies that there was a Holocaust, something perpetrated by the Germans under Hitler, sets back Jewish-Catholic relations many years, maybe even decades.
What's more, Richard Williamson, the cleric to whom the pope is extending an olive branch, has said that “only” 300,000 Jews were killed in World War II, not 6 million. Is “only” 300,000 murders a walk in the park for Williamson? Where is this guy's head, anyway? Ratzi, take a public relations course, please — and while you're at it, maybe a little sensitivity training, too.
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
La Cañada Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
I have numerous first cousins living in cities across America. A handful of them live in Europe. Four of them were adopted, two in the States and two from Russia. Many of them follow Jesus Christ, some don't; one claims to be a Wiccan. Most are married and have children; a few are homosexuals. Some vote Republican, others vote Democratic; some don't vote at all.
My point is this: When it's time for a family reunion, everybody gets to attend — even the ones who are really “out there” in the eyes of the majority. Richard Williamson was received back into the good graces of the Catholic Church as part of the reconciliation between the larger church and his particular order. Williamson's position on the Holocaust is certainly unpopular, and it is unfortunate for the cause of Jewish-Catholic relations. But should it really exclude him from membership in the church and the priesthood? Is anyone outside of the Catholic family entitled to make that call?
Paul the apostle wrote that “we, who are many, are one body in Christ.” Every one of us was “out there” in sin. But now all believers have been reconciled “in one body to God through the cross” of Jesus Christ. It takes diligence, and a lot of grace, but the church is called to “maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
Let me begin by affirming the historic fact of the Holocaust — that there is ample evidence, and that it was horrible to the 6 million Jews who died as a result. Christians also died during that time aiding their persecuted neighbors.
The story of Corrie ten Boom, whose efforts to hide Jews in her house is depicted in the movie “The Hiding Place,” comes to mind. People like her were caught in the wave of genocide perpetrated by the Nazis, and to deny the horrors is to deny the heroes. It seems absurd to negate such a documented episode, but then there are people out there who think the moon landing was a hoax, and who believe “The Da Vinci Code” is an actual history book.
The difficulty here is whether a qualified bishop should automatically forfeit position in his own spiritual tradition because another tradition calls for it, and that on account of his naïve embrace of quack scholarship concerning them. Can such a man credibly disseminate Roman Catholic dogma, yet be obtuse concerning the Jewish experience of World War II, and would that necessarily make him an anti-Semite?
I believe Richard Williamson has denied such bigotry, but if he's also a liar and truly hateful, then he should be disqualified for having an improper biblical perspective regarding human beings in general. Otherwise, teach him.
Invite him to the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel; provide him a tour of German concentration camps and let him meet some survivors. You can't force belief, but you can show evidence.
Many people deny that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, that he was virgin born, crucified and rose from the dead; that he is the messiah and necessary for their atonement and salvation. Yet that's the truth, and it's as true as the Holocaust, believe it or not.
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
Conservative Congregational Christian Conference