Bishop Richard Williamson, the Holocaust-denying traditionalist who was reinstated by the pope in January after 20 years of excommunication, has apologized but not revised his claims that no more than 300,000 Jews died during World War II and none in gas chambers. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out against the bishop’s opinions, and in this week’s Jewish Journal Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, along with the AJC’s Rabbi Gary Greenebaum and Seth Brysk, will join the chorus.
Williamson is now persona non grata pretty much everywhere, except maybe Iran. (Do they have churches in Iran?) But I think Mahony’s official ban of Williamson from any Archdiocese of Los Angeles facility is a first.
In the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Williamson is hereby banned from entering any Catholic church, school or other facility until he and his group comply fully and unequivocally with the Vatican’s directives regarding the Holocaust. Later this year, I, Cardinal Mahony, will visit Israel and pay my respects to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.
We are heartened by the many other religious and civic leaders around the world who have also rejected Williamson’s views. In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentine Minister of the Interior Florencio Randazzo, whose country recently expelled Williamson, not to mention nearly 50 Catholic members of the U.S. Congress who wrote to the Vatican to express their concerns.
Holocaust deniers like Williamson will find no sympathetic ear or place of refuge in the Catholic Church, of which he is not — and may never become — a member. In rejecting the Second Vatican Council, the Society of St. Pius X and Williamson also reject Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), one of the most remarkable documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council. Published in 1965, the document changed forever the Catholic Church’s fundamental understanding of other religions, including Jews and Judaism.
In Nostra Aetate, the church explicitly rejects the charge of deicide against the Jews and affirms the kinship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths. “The church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Let us remember that the American Jewish Committee worked closely with the Vatican at the time of the council toward the creation of Nostra Aetate. The horror of the Holocaust, which took place a mere 20 years before, certainly was fresh in the minds of Catholic leaders as they composed the document.
Admittedly, the past two months have been difficult for Jews and Catholics. However, we can take heart that Catholic-Jewish relations in Southern California remain strong. Our commitment to this relationship is exemplified in the many initiatives that bring us together, like the annual InterSem Retreat for seminarians from various denominations, model seders that teach Catholic school students about this important Jewish ritual and the Catholic-Jewish Educational Enrichment Program, which educates our children and future leaders in each other’s traditions.
For our part, as Catholic and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles, we recognize that only by working together with renewed vigilance will we be able to keep anti-Semitism at bay and prevent its reassertion as a legitimate expression.