By now you’ve probably heard about the Holocaust-denying erstwhile-renegade Catholic bishop who, a few weeks ago, was reinstated into Catholicism by the Vatican, along with the rest of the group known as the Society of St Pius X. The SSPX (as it has been acronymed) was founded in opposition to a number of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and therefore was an ultra-conservative group. The reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX last month had been the culmination of many years of negotiation and discussion.

Bishop Richard Williamson, originally from the UK but living and working more recently in Argentina (not coincidentally, Latin America tends to be ultra-conservative in its Catholicism, thus the SSPX had been at home there) has denied the Holocaust on multiple occasions, and very publicly. This speaks to the heart of the rift between the SSPX and the Roman Catholic Church, because one of the canons of II Vatican to which the renegades had objected, had been the doctrinal denial of collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Christ. While the SSPX did not make much of this particular aspect of the Vatican reforms, it did acquire something of a taint of anti-Semitism nonetheless — an accusation which the group has denied, but cannot seem to shake, especially since the Holocaust-denier Williamson ranked so highly in their organization.

In its effort to reconcile with the SSPX as a group, the Vatican appears not to have investigated the individual members of SSPX, though, since it was caught off-guard over Williamson’s Holocaust denials. After a couple weeks of trying to act as if there was no controversy, the Vatican finally ordered Williamson to recant his Holocaust denials, as the Boston Globe reports:

The Vatican, facing the biggest controversy to confront the papacy of Benedict XVI, yesterday called on a bishop who has denied the extent of the Holocaust to recant his views. …

The Vatican’s action yesterday came in the form of a statement from its secretary of state’s office. The statement said that Benedict was unaware of Williamson’s comments — some of which were made recently on Swedish television, but some of which date back much further — when he decided to lift the excommunication. The statement also said that in order for the Society of St. Pius X to be fully reconciled with the Vatican, it must accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which include the church’s renunciation of anti-Semitism.

Sounds good, but to date, Williamson has not done so, and is resisting having to do so, as Deutsche Welle reports:

A bishop recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI said he want to “examine the evidence” of the Holocaust before possibly recanting his statement that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers, a German newsmagazine reported.

Even as Vatican officials were working to control the damage caused by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to rehabilitate a Richard Williamson, a bishop who denied the Holocaust in an interview, with papal meetings and inter-faith dialogue, Williamson told Germany’s Der Spiegel news weekly he needed time to scrutinize data surrounding the Holocaust.

Note that this rhetoric is very typical of Holocaust-deniers. They frequently claim to have “examined the evidence” but they are simply not persuaded by it; if anyone gives them more evidence — they claim — they are certainly willing to change their views. Only they never do — no matter what evidence they’re given. Thus, they posture as though they are somehow “open-minded,” but never actually behave as though they are.

But Williamson was not directed by the Vatican to re-examine the evidence and reach a new conclusion; rather he was told explicitly and plainly to repudiate his Holocaust denials and reject anti-Semitism. He is not obeying the Pope. As a clergyman newly restored to the Church’s graces, it is a violation of his vows as a priest not to obey.

This in turn led SSPX to fire him from the seminary they’d set up, as the BBC reports:

An ultra-traditionalist British bishop who denies the Holocaust has been removed from his post as the head of a Roman Catholic seminary in Argentina. …

In a statement, the head of the Latin American chapter of the Society of St Pius X, which runs the seminary in La Reja, said Bishop Williamson had been relieved of his position as director.

My guess is that the SSPX, newly accorded with the Vatican, will dump Williamson altogether, unless he stops being a good little Holocaust denier, because right now the SSPX’s standing depends on his doing so.

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