LOS ANGELES – Catholic-Jewish relations in Southern California remain strong despite the controversy over traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the extent of the Holocaust, said Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and two prominent Jewish leaders.
The cardinal, Gary Greenebaum, U.S. director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, and Seth Brysk, the Los Angeles executive director of the American Jewish Committee, made the comments in a joint opinion piece.
It was published in the March 5 issue of The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the March 3 issue of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
The commentary said that in the Los Angeles Archdiocese Bishop Williamson is “banned from entering any Catholic church, school or other facility, until he and his group comply fully and unequivocally with the Vatican’s directives regarding the Holocaust.”
Bishop Williamson is one of four bishops of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X whose excommunication was lifted in January by Pope Benedict XVI. The four were ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the society.
The day the excommunications were lifted remarks by Bishop Williamson aired on Swedish television saying the Holocaust was exaggerated and no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.
The Vatican later said the pope had not known about the bishop’s views on the Holocaust and certainly did not share them. It also published a statement saying that Bishop Williamson would not be welcomed into full communion with the church unless he disavowed his remarks about the Holocaust and publicly apologized.
So far, the bishop has twice said he regretted his remarks, but the Vatican said that is not enough.
“Admittedly, the past two months have been difficult for Jews and Catholics,” said the Los Angeles religious leaders in their commentary. But the commitment both faiths in Southern California have to one another, they said, “is exemplified in the many initiatives that bring us together.”
They pointed to events such as an annual retreat for seminarians from various denominations; model Seders that teach Catholic school students about this important Jewish ritual; and a Catholic-Jewish educational enrichment program, “which educates our children and future leaders in each other’s traditions.”
“For our part, as Catholic and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles, we recognize that only by working together with renewed vigilance will we be able to keep anti-Semitism at bay and prevent its reassertion as a legitimate expression,” they said.
Bishop Williamson’s “outrageous comments set off alarm bells among Jews and Catholics alike,” the leaders said. “Jews wondered whether the lifting of (Bishop) Williamson’s excommunication suggested that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial would be seen as acceptable positions for those within the Catholic Church.
“Both Jews and Catholics questioned why the Vatican apparently had not thoroughly investigated (Bishop) Williamson, an unrepentant Holocaust denier and open anti-Semite, prior to the lifting of his excommunication,” they added.
Subsequent statements by the Vatican and the pope reiterating the Catholic Church’s “respect and esteem for the Jewish people” and rebuking the bishop and other Holocaust deniers were reassuring, they said.
“Also reassuring to Catholics and Jews was the Vatican’s declaration that the Society of St. Pius X … must fully recognize the Second Vatican Council and the legitimacy of all the popes from Pope John XXIII to (Pope) Benedict XVI before it can rejoin the Catholic Church,” they said.