The Pope’s Dubious Holocaust Remembrance

Sunday sundown signals the start of this year’s Yom HaShoah, or “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” marking the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. First, in the name of optimism, let’s point out that it’s a good sign that we live in an age when the pope is expected to make a statement like the one B16 made today:

The memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated, so that every form of hatred and racism is overcome, and that respect for, and dignity of, every human person is encouraged.

Great. Great. Problem is, this same pope remains determined to bring the “ultra-traditionalist” Society of St. Pius X, which broke with the Catholic Church over the Vatican II reforms, back into the fold. The SSPX has a, let’s say, “problematic” relationship with Jews which they seem unable or unwilling to rid themselves of. 

Most famously, during an interview on Swedish TV, SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson claimed that “There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies!” And he put the number of Jews killed at “200,000 to 300,000.” Straight from the Holocaust denier’s handbook. 

You’d think the pope would’ve been humiliated by these statements since the interview aired on the very day that he lifted the excommunication of Williamson and three other SSPX bishops. The pope and his supporters of course claim that he had no idea that Williamson held these views and that he was shocked—shocked—to learn of it.

Okay, so maybe the pope and his team didn’t have access to obscure technologies like Google or YouTube (where Williamson’s conspiracy theories/sermons had been posted for years). But who would fault you for expecting that the man formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger might have learned a bit about Williamson’s numerous controversial and offensive remarks about Jews over the years when he was named by John Paul II to the Ecclesia Dei commission—the one responsible for the relationship with the SSPX bishops—back in February of 2001? 

I suppose it’s plausible that Ratzinger heard nothing about Williamson’s promotion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on the SSPX website a few months earlier, or the Oct. 3, 2000 letter in which he wrote the following loony-toons statements about the head of the Ecclesia Dei commission, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos: 

I do believe that behind the cardinal… there are villains at work, either Judeo-Masons or prelates working for Judeo-Masonry, who are far more sinister than this cardinal is. … [Castrillón] is, in Lenin’s phrase, a useful idiot who will be cast aside the moment he no longer serves their forward march to the One-World-Religion.

This is a letter, mind you, that came after Castrillón “wrote to each of the four bishops, addressing them as ‘my dear brother’ and saying that the pope’s arms were open wide to embrace them.” (These arms were John Paul’s.)

And this is years after it was widely reported in the Canadian press that Williamson was probed and nearly charged for comments about Jews. It goes on, forward and backward, without rest or repentence. It reads like the rap sheet of a career criminal. 

So now here we are, years into B16’s attempts to bring the SSPX back into the fold, something like 14 years into the Vatican’s attempts to do so, and into the midst of sputtering efforts at reconciliation comes the news that the head of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, uttered some very familiar sounding things about Jews at a conference in Canada: that Jews and Masons were the enemy of the Church who stood in the way of the reconcilation. 

You might expect those comments to shut the door once and for all on the SSPX, but you would be wrong. Weeks after the SSPX leader spoke of Jews as enemies the American vice president of the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei sent a letter noting that hope for reconciliation remains strong. 

Fortunately (for Catholics) the pope’s dream of healing the “painful wound in the body of the church” looks fairly remote, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s made the effort he has over the years despite the information that’s widely available… despite what happened a few weeks ago. So no warm fuzzies from his remarks on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m afraid. Guess I’d prefer the complete and utter rejection of a group that’s so clearly steeped in anti-Semitism to important, if slightly unremarkable, pronouncements about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Evan Derkacz, editor of Religion Dispatches, was previously an editor and writer at the award-winning web magazine AlterNet.org from 2003-2007. Before that, he worked for Tikkun magazine. His writing has appeared in McSweeney's, AlterNet, The Huffington Post and Start Making Sense (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004). He has been interviewed on Air America and Pacifica Radio.