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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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