Pope Orders Reform After Holocaust Denial Flap

By: Ariel David AP Email
By: Ariel David AP Email

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI moved Wednesday to tighten
control over reconciliation with an ultraconservative group byputting one of the Vatican's most powerful offices in charge of an effort that sparked fierce criticism when it led to the lifting of excommunication for a Holocaust-denying bishop.

The pontiff put the Pontifical "Ecclesia Dei" Commission,which had been trying to heal the schism with the Society of St. Pius X, under the authority of the Vatican's powerful orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican said Benedict had expressed thanks to Cardinal Dario
Castrillon Hoyos, the commission head who had claimed that officials there knew nothing about Bishop Richard Williamson's denial that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews. The decision came less than a week after Castrillon Hoyos turned 80, the Vatican's customary retirement age.

The Society of St. Pius X, which broke from the Vatican over the
liberalizing reforms of the 1960s.

Shortly before the excommunication of Williamson and three other Society bishops was lifted in January, he denied in an interview with Swedish TV that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. He said about 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered and none were gassed.

Williamson later apologized for the "hurt" caused by his remarks but didn't recant them.

After Jews and Catholics around the world voiced outrage, Benedict made a rare acknowledgment of a Vatican mistake, saying in a March letter to Catholic bishops worldwide that he was unaware of Williamson's positions when he lifted the excommunication.

On Wednesday, Benedict reiterated that until theological differences with the Society are resolved, the group has "no canonical status in the church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry."

The Society has been defiant, with new priests being ordained last month in Switzerland and Germany. The Vatican had said any ordinations would be considered invalid.

In putting the "Ecclesia Dei" commission under the control of the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, Benedict put Cardinal William Levada in charge of the reconciliation efforts. Levada, the highest-ranking U.S. churchman in the Vatican hierarchy, is the office's prefect.

The Vatican said Hoyos' tenure at the commission had run out and
did not mention the controversy when announcing that Levada would
now directly handle the reconciliation process.

Benedict said Levada's office would handle upcoming talks with the Society because it is most suited to resolve doctrinal differences.

The Vatican in 1988 excommunicated the four bishops after they were consecrated without papal consent by the late traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre founded the society in 1969, opposed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including its outreach to Judaism and other religions.


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