Like any plague, Anti-Semitism is painful, long-lasting and, seemingly, impossible to eradicate. This fact was underscored by the recent decision of a breakaway order of the Roman Catholic Church to permanently expel a Holocaust-denying Bishop.
The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) consecrated Richard Williamson as a bishop in 1988 against the orders of Pope John Paul II. The ultra-conservative order was founded in 1970 as a breakaway order because it disapproved of the modernizing reforms adopted by the Catholic Church during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
For denying papal authority, Pope John Paul II excommunicated the society’s founder and three others, including Williamson, whose hate speech against Jews was well documented.
In January 2009, Pope Benedict XVI—in an attempt to reunite the breakaway order with the mainstream church—ended Williamson’s 20-year excommunication. A scandal soon erupted, however, when it emerged that just three days before his restoration as a Bishop, Williamson told a Swedish television interviewer that the Nazis did not use gas chambers and killed no more than 300,000 Jews.
The Vatican claimed it did not know about Williamson’s extreme anti-Semitic beliefs, although they could easily be found on the Internet. A public relations disaster ensued with many groups and individuals, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling for the permanent expulsion of Williamson, 72.
On Oct. 24, 2012, the Society of St. Pius X—in hopes of reviving the effort to reunite with the mainstream Catholic Church—excommunicated Williamson for “refusing to show respect and obedience deserved by legitimate superiors.”
The scandal, however, is far from over. Voicing sentiments expressed by many groups and individuals devoted to human rights, the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement, saying, in part, “Until the SSPX publicly rejects those hateful positions and accepts the Vatican II teachings that laid the foundation for the historic improvement in the relationship between Catholics and Jews, the expulsion of Williamson is no more than cosmetic surgery that attempts to cover up the ugly reality of anti-Semitism and hate that is imbedded in the theology of the SSPX.”