While Jewish groups are upset over Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to reach out to a breakaway Catholic group that includes a Holocaust-denier, Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said Tuesday he would be "very surprised" if the group were readmitted to the Catholic Church.
The Vatican held talks for three hours Monday with a delegation from the Society of St. Pius X, that it said were held in a "cordial, respectful and constructive climate" and would continue frequently over the coming months.
One of the main sticking points to allowing the society back in to the church stems from former excommunicated British Bishop Richard Williamson's comments regarding the Holocaust.
Williamson was shown on Swedish state television in January saying historical evidence "is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed" during World War II.
On Monday, Williamson was fined â‚¬120,000 by a German court for the remarks. He received a penal order to pay the fine for inciting racial hatred, his Coburg, Germany-based attorney Matthias Lossmann said by phone.
Lossmann said that he and Williamson would decide whether to challenge the ruling in court.
Rosen, director of the AJC's Department for Interreligious Affairs, said that Williamson's statements on the Holocaust lead him to believe that the society will not be let back into the church.
"Now they are truly under the magnifying glass," Rosen said. "In the past they may have been able to slip under the 'door,' but after his [Williamson's] comments, it won't be so easy to slip in."
The society, founded in 1969 by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, split from Rome over the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its outreach to Jews and to non-Catholic Christians. Vatican II also allowed for the celebration of mass in the vernacular, rather than in Latin.
In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four of his bishops, including Williamson, after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.
In 2007, Benedict relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, which the traditionalists had demanded. In January, he accepted another one of their demands by approving a decree lifting the bishops' excommunication.
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants issued a statement calling on Benedict to "exhibit great caution in the Vatican discussions with Society of Saint Pius X - so as not to touch on the dignity of the Jewish people or to trivialize the memory of the victims of the Shoah.
"The crisis in Jewish-Catholic relations sparked by the Vatican's earlier overtures to the Holocaust denier Richard Williamson must not be repeated," the statement said. "But the problematic nature of Society of Saint Pius X goes beyond Bishop Williamson and centers on the tenuous state of Catholic-Jewish relations before Vatican II."
For Jews and the vast majority of Catholics, there can be no compromise on the society's acceptance, the group concluded.
The Vatican has set out conditions for Williamson to be fully brought back in, saying he must "absolutely and unequivocally" distance himself from his Holocaust remarks if he ever wants to again be a prelate in the church.
Williamson has apologized for embarrassing the pope, but hasn't publicly repudiated his views.