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Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Benedict’s timing is both significant and controversial considering that Arch- bishop Marcel Lefebvre founded his priestly fraternity as a Pope Benedict’s Tightrope Act wholesale rejection of Vatican II. The SSPX has been spe- cifically critical through the decades of the Council’s teachings on the liturgy (which led to the New Mass), Pope Benedict XVI is no stranger to controversy. His religious liberty, ecumenism, and the Church’s stance recent decision to lift the excommunications of four tradi- toward the Jews. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has even gone tionalist bishops has sent shockwaves reaching far beyond so far as to call for the Second Vatican Council to be erased Christendom. This controversy may prove the greatest and all of its teachings and recommendations abolished. challenge of his pontificate to date — for more reasons In a 2007 interview with The Remnant, the Lefebvrite than one. bishop confidently proclaimed, “You cannot read Vatican Benedict’s watershed move was a follow-up to Sum- II as a Catholic work.” morum Pontificum, his July 7, 2007, motu proprio that The Pope’s decision would have created a dispropor- opened a path to wider use of the Tridentine Latin Mass tionate amount of controversy for this reason alone. But — an incredible act of openness and courage considering it is the personal opinions of Bishop Richard Williamson the amount of resistance the idea received even at the that have generated the real heat. Just a few days before highest levels of the Vatican. The Pope’s motu proprio the Pope was due to announce the lifting of the excom- was not only addressed to the Catholic Church as a whole; munications, Swedish television aired an interview with his intention was also to work toward healing the decades- the British-born Williamson in which he denied the full long rift with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). With more extent of the Jewish Holocaust, saying, “I believe there than 700 chapels and six seminaries spread across the were no gas chambers,” and asserting that no more than world, the SSPX’s following is not insignificant. On Janu- 300,000 Jews had died during World War II. The generally ary 21, the Holy Father took this reconciliation process accepted estimate is around six million. one step further: Benedict unilaterally lifted the excom- A denial of the historical realities of the Holocaust munications of the four bishops illicitly consecrated by by a man who presents himself as an authority in the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. Bernard Catholic Church (though he is still barred from any min- Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, istry in the Church) has understandably provoked anger and Alphonso de Galerreta — along with Lefebvre — had among the rational world, not least among the Jews. But incurred excommunication latae sententiae, meaning that the Pope’s decision to “reinstate” Williamson in the wake it was activated automatically by the very act of the illicit of the bishop’s vile comments is seen by many as uncon- consecration. scionable, and is generally regarded by Jews and many The Pope’s January decision marks the close of years Catholics as a huge setback in Catholic-Jewish relations. of dashed hopes on the part of the Vatican. Benedict’s re- “I do not see how business can proceed as usual,” key peated “magnanimous gestures of peace” made toward the Vatican-Jewish negotiator Rabbi David Rosen told the As- Lefebvrists have not been followed, so far, by any signifi- sociated Press (Jan. 24). Even chief rabbi of Rome Riccardo cant step of reconsideration and reconciliation on their di Segni, who has been generally supportive of the part. The Pope’s previous effort at reconciliation fell apart Ratzinger papacy, told The New York Times (Jan. 26) that just last year when the SSPX failed to respond to a set of he too finds the situation a bit hopeless: “I don’t know conditions laid out by the Holy See, most notably that the what kind of resolution there can be at this point.” Society would avoid “the pretext of a
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