Vatican Clarification on Lefebvrites, Holocaust
"The Holy Father Asks Accompaniment in Prayer"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2009 ( Here is a translation of a note issued today by the Vatican Secretariat of State regarding last month's lifting of the excommunication of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X.

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In the wake of the reactions elicited by the recent decree from the Congregation for Bishops, with which the excommunication of four prelates of the Fraternity of St. Pius X were lifted, and in relation to negationist or reductionist declarations on the Shoah from Bishop Williamson of that same fraternity, it is considered opportune to clarify certain aspects of the issue.

1. Remission of the excommunication.

As has already been published previously, the decree of the Congregation for Bishops, dated Jan. 21, 2009, was an act by which the Holy Father graciously took in the reiterated petitions from the superior-general of the Fraternity of St. Pius X.

His Holiness wished to remove an impediment that adversely affected the opening of a door to dialogue. Now he expects that the same willingness be expressed by the four bishops, in total adhesion to the doctrine and discipline of the Church.

The most grave penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, which these bishops incurred June 30, 1988, afterward declared formally on July 1 of the same year, was a consequence of their illegitimate ordination by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The lifting of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a most grave canonical penalty, but it has not changed in any way the juridical situation of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, which for the moment does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church. Neither do the four bishops, though liberated from the excommunication, have a canonical function in the Church and they do not licitly exercise a ministry in it.

2. Tradition, doctrine and the Second Vatican Council.

For a future recognition of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, the full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition.

As has already been affirmed in the decree of Jan. 21, 2009, the Holy See will not cease, in the ways in which it judges opportune, to go deeper with the interested parties in the questions that remain open, in such a way that a full and satisfactory solution to the problems that have given rise to this painful fracture can be reached.

3. Declaration on the Shoah.

The viewpoints of Bishop Williamson on the Shoah are absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father, as he himself noted last Jan. 28, when, referring to that savage genocide, he reaffirmed his full and indisputable solidarity with our brother recipients of the First Covenant, and affirmed that the memory of that terrible genocide should induce "humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the human heart," adding that the Shoah remains "for everyone a warning against forgetting, against negating or reductionism, because violence committed against even one human being is violence against all."

Bishop Williamson, to be admitted to episcopal functions in the Church, must also distance himself in an absolutely unmistakable and public way from his position on the Shoah, which was unknown to the Holy Father in the moment of the lifting of the excommunication.

The Holy Father asks accompaniment in prayer from all the faithful, that the Lord may enlighten the path of the Church. May there be an increase in the determination of the pastors and all the faithful in support of the delicate and heavy mission of the Successor of the Apostle Peter as "guardian of the unity" of the Church.

From the Vatican, February 4, 2009


Forgiveness and Judaism
Interview With Carmelite Father F. Millán

MADRID, Spain, JULY 27, 2006 ( Judaism offers a positive challenge to the Christian idea of forgiveness, says Carmelite Father Fernando Millán Romeral.

Father Millán, professor at the faculty of theology of the Pontifical University of Comillas in Madrid, explains in this interview with ZENIT that "modern Judaism has kept some essential features of forgiveness that we Christians -- at certain times and in certain ways, even with the best intentions -- have tended to neglect."

Q: Could you explain the Jewish concept of forgiveness?

Father Millán: First, it must be said that the concept of forgiveness is very important, not only for Judaism, but for all religions. More than that, it is such an essential experience that, understood or misunderstood, it is present in every cultural expression, in the political debate, in family life, etc.

In Judaism, forgiveness is conceived in a very similar way to what we Christians practice -- not in vain did we also inherit from them, among many other things, the idea of forgiveness.

Perhaps -- and this is what I usually speak about -- modern Judaism has kept some essential features of forgiveness that we Christians -- at certain times and in certain ways, even with the best intentions -- have tended to neglect.

Because of this, I believe that thinkers like Vladimir Jankelevitch or experiences such as those recounted by Simon Wiesenthal in his work "The Sunflower" can help us to rethink our idea of forgiveness, the idea that sometimes is addressed in theology and catechesis.

Q: Do you think that Christianity -- or, rather, Christians -- have abandoned the concept of conversion and that the concept of forgiveness has become somewhat "juridical"?

Father Millán: I don't think so. The believer who takes his faith fairly seriously is constantly hearing talk of conversion and forgiveness.

What has perhaps happened, at least in certain milieus, is that by preaching a merciful God, which could not be otherwise, we have forgotten that forgiveness means a "return" to God, a conversion -- that God does not rain down forgiveness and does not distribute it indiscriminately.

God always forgives and he forgives everything. There is no sin that is so great that it cannot be forgiven and that God is not willing to forgive, but only he who wants to be forgiven and this presupposes a series of elements such as the desire to repair in the measure possible the evil committed, sincere repentance, careful attention to the victims of our sin, etc. If it is not so, forgiveness becomes something else.

Of course all this makes sense when we speak of sin in the strong sense; otherwise this discussion becomes a caricature. Perhaps our trivialization of the concept of forgiveness comes from our trivialization of the concept of sin. When anything is called sin, in the end real sin is no longer taken seriously.

Q: Some theologians and pastors speak of a "crisis" of the confessional. Does that crisis exist? What are its causes?

Father Millán: It does exist, though it is also true that there are Christian groups, communities, movements, etc., of very different orientation that have included this element in their journey and in their living of the faith. But, in general terms, a crisis does exist.

The reasons are very varied and very complex: from a loss of a sense of sin in our society […], to a loss of values and moral points of reference, as well as a certain disaffection and lack of appreciation for this sacrament in the pastoral program and in Christian practice.

Also of influence, perhaps, is the trivialization of which we spoke earlier. When forgiveness is granted in a routine way, with little meaning, without consequences on real life, etc., it ends up by being something trivial and, often, believers with a strong faith experience have abandoned this practice.

Likewise the liturgical and symbolic poverty of this sacrament is now something chronic, despite the efforts of the new rite of penance of 1974. ... However, I stress, the causes are very complex.

Q: Does Pope John Paul II's petition for forgiveness for the errors committed by Christians in history, especially toward the Jews, come close to the idea of "conversion"?

Father Millán: I believe that gesture of John Paul II is of enormous grandeur and it will take us centuries to appreciate it properly.

It is true that some Christians might have felt disconcerted, and there were even those who complained that no one asks for forgiveness, only we Christians acknowledge our faults --blessed be God! By asking for forgiveness, one does not lose stature or dignity -- on the contrary.

Nor does this gesture in any way imply looking negatively at 2,000 years of history. Above all the Jubilee was an act of thanksgiving for all that the Church has received in the course of the years and for what she has given the world, but there have also been enormous infidelities, persistent errors, lamentable negligence, and for this the Pope, in the name of the whole Church, asks God for forgiveness.

I think that any person from another religious tradition, if he looks at this gesture of John Paul II without prejudices, would see something beautiful and hopeful in it.

Q: What influence has the Holocaust had on contemporary Jews?

Father Millán: Jean Amery, a Jewish thinker who has written much on this topic, says that the experience of the Holocaust is not only a "shema" Israel, but a "shema" world.

The whole world looks overwhelmed at the experience of the Holocaust, an experience that --without ever attributing more value to the death of one human being over that of another -- had such special characteristics ….

Let us recall, for example, that it was about a systematic, cold and bureaucratic death and a persecution that had no possibility of redemption. Even if a Jew was tall and blond, even if he was a Christian, even if he was affiliated to the Nazi party, he was equally destined to extermination.

The Holocaust should make us all more cautious, more profound in our political analyses. Today when there is so much superficial talk in the political world, the Holocaust is a constant knock on our consciences and an inescapable ethical warning.

Q: Do you think the Holocaust has influenced the dialogue between Jews and Christians? In general, what stage have these relations reached?

Father Millán: It is a very delicate question. Let's not forget that the Holocaust took place in Christian countries, though carried out by a strongly anti-Christian ideology. On the other hand, Jewish thought is not unitary. There is no unique or official Jewish thought.

In this connection, I think that Christians and Jews of good-will look at the Holocaust with the same astonishment and horror. And we also look toward the future. John Paul II was a very positive Pope in this regard and Benedict XVI follows the same line.

If Christianity shows itself to be respectful and willing to dialogue with all religions -- without implying that all is accepted uncritically, especially in certain cases -- in the case of Judaism this is even clearer and easier.

Our relationship with Judaism is not simply the respectful relationship between two religions that are parallel. It is much more: Christianity loses its meaning if it forgets Judaism. Much repeated in this connection is John Paul II's phrase "the Jews are our elder brothers in the faith," and it really sums up well what we are saying.


The Next Generation of Jewish-Catholic Relati

Even as Pope Benedict XVI atones for the sins of the Holocaust, Jews and Catholics are finding new common ground.     By Ami Eden

When Pope Benedict XVI delivers a speech at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex in Poland on May 28, his words will be scrutinized by those who want the Vatican to acknowledge that centuries of church teachings paved the way for the Holocaust. In the same vein, stepped up efforts by some Catholic activists to have Pope Pius XII declared a saint are sure to be met with resistance by critics who believe that the late pontiff did not do enough to confront the Nazis or save Jews during the war.

It would be a mistake for the Jewish community to fall back on old habits by turning either matter into a major point of contention with the church. Instead, following a long process of reform and reconciliation, the time has come for a new approach to Jewish-Catholic relations, one focused more on finding ways to work together to improve the world's future than hashing out the injustices of the past.

During the past four decades, the Roman Catholic church took several revolutionary steps to cleanse itself of anti-Semitic teachings and attitudes. In the process, a much more profound transformation occurred: As the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi has put it, in just one generation Catholic doctrine went from viewing the Jews as a cursed people who rejected Jesus to a blessed people who remain God's chosen people.
The first major shift came in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council adopted "Nostra Aetate," the revolutionary document that renounced the charge that the Jewish people are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.

In subsequent years, during the quarter-century pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the church took several groundbreaking steps, including the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. John Paul II became the first pontiff to pray in a synagogue and the first to visit Israel, and affirmed that Judaism represented an ongoing covenant with God. He declared anti-Semitism a sin, acknowledged the failure of many Catholics to fight the Holocaust, and apologized for the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

Many of these steps could not have been taken without the support of the current pope, who was then Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body responsible for safeguarding Catholic beliefs. Since being elected pope last year, he has signaled his commitment to ensuring that the reforms of recent decades regarding Judaism and the Jews become permanent features of the church. Last year, during a trip to his native Germany, Benedict XVI paid a visit to a synagogue, this one in Cologne, where he prayed for victims of the Holocaust. In addition to his visit to Auschwitz-Berkenau, he is said to be considering an Israel trip next year.

Such gestures and reforms cannot erase centuries of crusades, inquisitions, and pogroms, or absolve earlier generations of church leaders for their misdeeds. But they do demand that Jews take a new, forward-looking approach to the Vatican.