Mixed messages


February 6, 2009

When the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp on January 27, 1945, it made some chilling discoveries.

It discovered the ruins of blown-up gas chambers and crematoria, which Heinrich Himmler had ordered destroyed days earlier in order to conceal evidence of the grotesque crimes which the Nazis had committed there.

There were 7,500 emaciated survivors – too infirm to accompany the 60,000 prisoners who had been evacuated ten days before by the Nazis and forced to undertake one of their notorious Death Marches. With the Russians approaching, the SS High Command had issued orders for all remaining prisoners to be killed, but amidst the confusion of the Nazi retreat, the order was never carried out.

In several warehouses, the Soviets discovered hundreds of thousands of shoes – many of them small enough to fit infants and toddlers.

And they discovered thousands of scraps of paper. Buried in the snow. Crying out to be heard. Each one an anguished cry from one of the estimated three million victims of that place of darkness, pleading to be remembered, desperately urging that the depravity and barbarity not be forgotten.

Seemingly, Bishop Richard Williamson has never visited Auschwitz. Or if he has, he has clearly never read any of those notes.

Despite mountains of evidence and the Holocaust being the most documented genocide in history, and despite the evidence produced at the Nuremberg Trials and the testimony of Adolf Eichmann – the architect of the system of mass murder – Williamson insists there were no gas chambers and that the Holocaust killed 300,000 Jews and not six million.

Furthermore, he has referred to Jews as “enemies of Christ” and endorses the authenticity of the infamous Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, which speaks absurdly of Jewish conspiracies to control the world and has been proved in at least three major court cases to be a fabrication. If that were not enough, Williamson believes that women should not wear pants and has aired conspiracy theories on the Kennedy assassination and 9/11.

Yet this is one of the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X recently reinstated into the Catholic Church by the Vatican.

Pope Benedict is understood to have lifted the excommunication of the bishops as an overture designed to settle a dispute which arose 20 years ago when the bishops were illegally consecrated. He has also restored to Catholic liturgy the infamous prayer calling for the conversion of the “perfidious Jews” – a prayer which was excluded by Vatican II and repudiated by the widely respected Pope John XXIII and his successors – until now – as an example of racism.

This partial dismantling of Vatican II has been part of a deal to return fringe conservatives to within the fold of the Church – a Faustian bargain which has done the Church no credit.

The Vatican has rejected the suggestion that lifting the excommunication endorses Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust, while some of his colleagues have distanced themselves from his claims. And the Pope, who has visited Auschwitz, has expressed his “full and unquestionable solidarity with our (Jewish) brothers”, hoping “the memory of the Shoah [Holocaust] will induce humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of hate”, and warning “against denial and reductionism”.

But Williamson’s rehabilitation has far-reaching implications. It sends a signal – from the office of the Pope, no less – that an individual who denies the Holocaust can nevertheless be accepted as a bishop of the Catholic Church. It sends a message that denial of the murder of six million Jews might be regarded as a blemish on an individual’s record, but not a significant enough blemish to preclude that person from holding a position of authority, respect and honour in the Catholic world community.

This cannot but undermine the moral authority of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

There is an odious corollary to this development. Racist extremists everywhere are getting the message that their bizarre views, while not openly endorsed by the Church, will be tolerated. German neo-Nazi websites and blogs have published contributions supporting Williamson, deriving comfort from the fact that even men of God – supposedly – may tell lies about the most egregious vilification, persecution and genocide in history without serious consequences.

The apology which Williamson belatedly proffered compounded the injury. Describing his remarks as “imprudent”, he proceeded to say that “all that matters is the Truth Incarnate” – injurious words which imply an attempt to defend the indefensible.

Because of the Pope’s exalted position at the head of the Catholic Church, his coarsening of the Church’s discourse on any matter of moral principle reflects adversely on Catholics everywhere.

All Catholics, indeed all people of goodwill, should raise their voices in protest against the rehabilitation of a religious leader who advances the cause of racial hatred – which is what Holocaust denial is about.

It is simply disingenuous to maintain that expunging a canonical penalty on four bishops has no bearing on whether the Church supports the offensive non-theological opinions of one of them.

While the rehabilitation of Williamson is indeed an internal matter for the Vatican, the embrace of an acknowledged Holocaust denier has damaged 45 years of ongoing attempts to rebuild relations with the Jewish community after two millennia of Christian antisemitism which culminated in the Holocaust. It insults the survivors and the victims, as it does the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. And it is a blatant attack on the truth.

Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher have criticised the Pope, as have numerous German clerics. Merkel has challenged the Pope to issue a “very clear” rejection of Holocaust denial, declaring she does not believe there has been sufficient clarification.

Without Williamson unequivocally withdrawing his denial, Catholic-Jewish dialogue is jeopardised. The Vatican’s move raises a question-mark over the Catholic Church’s commitment to combat anti-Semitism, which Pope John Paul II described as a sin against God and man. This is not simply a Jewish issue or an issue of Jewish-Catholic relations. It raises moral questions of universal import.

The point is perhaps best made by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, not in reference to Williamson, but on the broader issue of the place of the Holocaust in history.

After returning from a visit to Auschwitz last year, Archbishop Williams made a telling observation. The Holocaust was not someone else’s story, he noted. While it was unique in terms of seeking to eliminate an entire people from the face of the earth as an end in itself, it has a universal message: “It is what can happen to us all”.

Original article here.

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