Saturday’s decision by Pope Benedict XVI to revoke the excommunication of four schismatic bishops affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has ignited a firestorm among Jewish community leaders here and abroad. SSPX was founded in 1970 by the late French archbishop, Marcel-François Lefebvre, after Lefebvre rejected the Vatican II reforms that enacted several liberalizing and modernizing reforms within the church.
The anger has centered on the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of Holocaust denier and SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson, an Englishman who runs the SSPX seminary in La Reja, Argentina. Just a few days before the Pope issued his decision, Williamson appeared on Swedish television claiming that the Nazis did not use gas chambers to murder people. “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against — is hugely against — 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” he said in the interview. “I believe there were no gas chambers,” he added.
This is not something new for Williamson, even if the Nazis’ use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews and others is universally accepted by all credible World War II historians. In 1989, Williamson gave a speech to a Canadian church in which he decried the alleged persecution of Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel by the Canadian government. Williams, who was then rector of SSPX’s main North American seminary in Winona, Minn., told his audience: “There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies.” (More videos of Williamson expressing his extremist views can be found at the online Huffington Post here).
Jewish leaders have strongly denounced the Pope’s decision. “We are stunned that the Vatican has ignored our concerns by welcoming back into the fold a bishop who denies the Holocaust and rejects the seminal reforms of Vatican II,” wrote Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, on the group’s website. “This decree sends a terrible message to Catholics around the world that there is room in the Church for those who would undermine the Church’s teachings and who would foster disdain and contempt for other religions, particularly Judaism. Given the centuries-long history of anti-Semitism in the Church, this is a most troubling setback.” Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee told CNN the move by the Roman Catholic Church was “shameful.”
What hasn’t been widely remarked upon in this controversy is the fact that SSPX as a whole, which has chapels and schools across the United States and in several other countries, is a font of anti-Semitic propaganda. It is in The Angelus, published monthly by the SSPX, and on SSPX’s website that the radical anti-Semitism of the order is most evident today. One example now on the website is a 1997 Angelus article by SSPX priests Michael Crowdy and Kenneth Novak that calls for locking Jews into ghettoes because “Jews are known to kill Christians.” It also blames Jews for the French Revolution, communism and capitalism; suggests a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy has destroyed the Catholic Church; and describes Judaism as “inimical to all nations.”
Another document reproduced on the SSPX’s current website is a 1959 letter from Lefebvre’s close friend, Bishop Gerald Sigaud, who also rejected the Vatican II reforms. “Money, the media, and international politics are for a large part in the hands of Jews,” Bishop Sigaud wrote. “Those who have revealed the atomic secrets of the USA were … all Jews. The founders of communism were Jews.”
The Angelus Press also sells anti-Semitic tomes like Hilaire Belloc’s The Jews, which blames Jews for Bolshevism and corrupt financial practices, and Monsignor George Dillon’s Freemasonry Unmasked, which purports to explain a centuries-old Judeo-Masonic plot to destroy the Catholic Church. More recent SSPX publications include the 2005 pamphlet “Time Bombs of the Second Vatican Council,” by Franz Schmidberger, the former superior general of the SSPX. In the pamphlet, Schmidberger denounces Third World immigration into Western countries as “destroying our national identity and, furthermore, the whole of Christianity,” and collectively accuses the Jews of deicide.
The group has other extremist views. Last February, the SSPX K-12 school, St. Mary’s Academy, in St. Marys, Kan., barred a female referee from officiating a boys’ basketball game held on its campus. According to Sports Illustrated, the referee was told that “as a woman, [she] could not be put in a position of authority over boys because of the academy’s beliefs.”
While Jewish leaders decried the pope’s decision, SSPX Superior General Bernard Fellay was thrilled. “We express our filial gratitude to the Holy Father for this gesture which, beyond the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, will benefit the whole Church,” Fellay wrote on one of the group’s websites. He added that he expected the Vatican to move in the direction of SSPX. “We are pleased that the decree of January 21 considers as necessary ‘talks’ with the Holy See, talks which will enable the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X to explain the fundamental doctrinal reasons which it believes to be at the origin of the present difficulties of the Church.”