Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston is praising Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, saying the move is a step toward "unity and reconciliation" within Catholicism. But the cardinal also describes the statements denying the Holocaust by one of the bishops (Richard Williamson, shown above) as "outrageous," says, "it certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society (of Saint Piux X) has," and, in a novel defense of the pope's actions, says, "it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities.'' O'Malley offers an apology of sorts, saying, "We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements," and he repudiates Holocaust denial, saying, "It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again."
Here's the full text of O'Malley's statement, posted on his blog at 10 p.m. last night:
The Vatican announced this week that the Holy Father has lifted the excommunications of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. I was pleased with the news which shows, once again, the Holy Father’s concern for unity and reconciliation in the Church.
In 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was critical of some elements of the Second Vatican Council, ordained four bishops without the approval of the Holy Father, incurring in automatic excommunication on himself and the four bishops he ordained.
This action follows the publication of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum a year and a half ago, in which the Holy Father lifted previous restrictions on the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.
Just before the publication of the Apostolic Letter, I was privileged to be a part of a meeting of cardinals and bishops with the Holy Father in which he expressed his hope that his action would help convince those disaffected Catholics to return to full union with the Catholic Church.
So, his outreach to the communities who follow these bishops is just one more manifestation of his ardent desire to bring these people (which some estimate to be as many as 1.5 million) back into the fold. We know that these are generally people who practice their faith and try to live a Christian life seriously but, unfortunately, I believe that they have been misled by their leadership.
Of course, lifting the excommunications was a first step; it does not regularize these bishops or the Society of St. Pius X, but it opens the way for a dialogue. This step was in response to a letter in which they professed their desire for full participation in the life of the Church.
It was tragic that one of the four bishops, Bishop Richard Williamson, had made outrageous statements about the Holocaust and about the September 11 attacks on the United States. It certainly raises questions as to the caliber of the leadership that the Society has. Additionally, as terrible as the comments were, it underscores the importance for the Holy Father to have increasing influence over those communities.
We are very sorry that the people in the Jewish community have been so pained and outraged by Bishop Williamson’s statements. I think the Holy Father’s statements and those of Cardinal Walter Kasper, chairman of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, have been very clear to dissociate the Catholic Church from those kinds of sentiments. I was pleased that the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, also repudiated the statements of Bishop Williamson.
It is very important for us to always remember the Holocaust so that such an atrocity could never take place again. I recall the words of the Holy Father this week: “May the Shoah be for everyone an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism, because violence against a single human being is violence against all.”
The U.S. bishops have been uncharacteristically silent about the pope's actions, and so far as I know O'Malley is the first cardinal to speak publicly about the controversy. The bishops of Canada, however, did issue a statement this week, taking no position on the wisdom of lifting the excommunications, but declaring, "The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops finds abhorrent the notion that somehow the terrible evil of the Holocaust is not a fact of history."
UPDATE: At America magazine's blog, the Rev. James Martin visits the Society of Saint Pius X's web site, finds an article with stunning anti-Semitism ("they crucified the One," "It is public knowledge that the Jewish sector...controls especially the financial power that is exercised through banks," and "Judaism is inimical to all nations in general"), and poses the question, "Is anti-Semitism a pattern that pervades the Society of St. Pius X, or is it simply a bigotry expressed by only a few members?"
And at the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen Jr. asks "What was the Vatican thinking?" Allen writes that: "The way this decision was communicated was a colossal blunder, and one that's frankly difficult to either understand or excuse,'' before exploring how things might have unfolded differently. But, reinforcing the America magazine analysis, Allen also suggests that Williamson is not alone in his views. Allen writes, "Williamson's views should not be used to discredit every Catholic who feels the tug of classical liturgical forms, or who takes a traditional doctrinal stance. Many of the people drawn to the Society of St. Pius X, or any of the various traditionalist groups already in communion with Rome, are simply Catholics hungry for a clear sense of spiritual identity in a rootless world. On the other hand, it would be equally misleading to style Williamson as a "lone gunman," an isolated crank with no connection to broader currents of thought in the traditionalist world."
UPDATE: My story on Cardinal O'Malley's comments in Sunday's paper.
(Photo, by AFP/Getty Images, shows Bishop Williamson's controversial interview with Swedish television about the Holocaust as seen in Argentina.)