By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Jewish groups have called on the Vatican to suspend reconciliation talks with a traditionalist group after one of its bishops argued that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus.
“Comments like these take us back decades to the dark days before there was a meaningful and mutually respectful dialogue between Jews and Roman Catholics,” Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement Oct. 19.
“We call upon the Catholic Church to suspend negotiations with extremist Catholic tendencies until it is clear that these groups show a clear commitment to tackling anti-Semitism within their ranks,” he said.
He was referring to comments by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of St. Pius X, who said recently in his online newsletter that the killing of Jesus “was truly deicide, the killing of God” and that “only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide” because they clamored for his crucifixion.
Bishop Williamson criticized modern church leaders who have moved away from that position, and said: “Until (the Jews) convert at the end of the world, as the church has always taught they will do, they seem bound to choose to go on acting, collectively, as enemies of the true Messiah.”
Bishop Williamson, one of four bishops whose excommunication was lifted in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, became well-known at that time for his remarks denying the Holocaust. He has since been told by the Vatican that he will not be welcomed into full communion in the church until he disavows and publicly apologizes for those comments.
Meanwhile, Bishop Williamson has grown increasingly estranged from the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X. Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the society, recently told Bishop Williamson to stop publishing his online newsletter.
In New York, the Anti-Defamation League called on the Vatican to publicly repudiate Bishop Williamson’s remarks.
“Bishop Williamson’s remarks are further evidence that the Society of St. Pius X has no place in the mainstream church,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director.
“It is hard for us to imagine how a congregation that does not accept fundamental church teachings against anti-Semitism, and promotes classic anti-Jewish canards, can be accepted back into the fold,” he said.
In its landmark 1965 document on non-Christian religions, “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council affirmed that “though Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion.”
The document said that although the church is the new “people of God,” the Jews “should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed.” The text also underlined the church’s “common heritage” with the Jews.
Roman Catholic bishop Richard Williamson wrote in his weekly post that ‘the killing of Jesus was truly “deicide” ‘ and that ‘only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide’. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Richard Williamson, who has previously denied the existence of gas chambers and the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, accused the Jews of killing Jesus, a charge that divided the two faiths for centuries until Pope Benedict XVI declared this year that Jews could not be held responsible for Jesus’s death.
In his weekly post, Williamson wrote that “the killing of Jesus was truly ‘deicide’ ” and that “only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide because it is obvious from the gospels that the gentile most involved, Pontius Pilate, … would never have condemned Jesus to death had not the Jewish leaders roused the Jewish people to clamour for his crucifixion.”
His comments have angered Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors, who are urging Rome to cease reconciliation talks with the ultra-traditionalist splinter group to which Williamson belongs, the Society of St Pius X. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the European Council of Rabbis said: “We call upon the Catholic church to suspend negotiations with extremist Catholic tendencies until it is clear that these groups show a clear commitment to tackling antisemitism within their ranks.”
Last month, Régis de Cacqueray, the head of the French SSPX chapter, also accused Jews of deicide. To the despair of Jewish groups, there has been increased dialogue between the Vatican and SSPX.
Goldschmidt said: “Comments like these take us back decades to the dark days before there was a meaningful and mutually respectful dialogue between Jews and Roman Catholics. There must be no rapprochement within the Catholic church for those of its flock who seek to preach words of hate.”
The Vatican has said SSPX will have to sign up to core teachings if they are to reintegrate, although it has not stated what these are. Four SSPX bishops, including Williamson, were excommunicated in 1988 when they were illegally ordained.
But the Vatican lifted Williamson’s excommunication on the very day that his Holocaust-denying remarks were aired. The decision appalled Jewish leaders, with many suspending contact with the Vatican as a result. The Vatican said it did not know Williamson held such views.
Williamson has repeatedly ignored pleas to retract his remarks and not even the pope has managed to get the cleric to recant.
The fresh row will embarrass the pope, who is preparing to host a summit of world faith leaders in Assisi, Italy, next week as part of his interreligious outreach programme