Recent news reports indicate that the reconciliation talks between the Vatican and the radical traditionalist Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), have accelerated and are nearing their climax. The group, whose members include the notorious Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, was originally put into schism in 1988 and since then has operated independent of Vatican authority.

Recently Pope Benedict XVI has made a strong effort to heal the schism and bring the group back into the Church.

As one French Vatican analyst has noted, “Pope Benedict has staked a lot on his attempt to heal this breach; it will be one of the things that will mark his pontificate.”

Despite the conciliatory efforts made by the Vatican toward the group, the Society has remained committed to its belief that it is correct, and that the established Church is the heretical institution.

As one of its leading figures, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais put it, “we do not change our positions, but we have the intention of converting Rome, that is, to lead Rome towards our positions.”

While it is not usual for Jews to intervene in the internal struggles of other religions, in this case the Jewish community will be watching the result of these talks with intense interest. When the Society comes up for mention, it is usually linked to Bishop Williamson and his overt Holocaust denial; and the bishop’s remarks were cited by the Vatican as the major roadblock for reconciliation.

However, this focus on the odious Holocaust denial statements uttered by Williamson has tended to obscure the heart of the issue, and that is the hard-core traditional anti-Semitism that permeates the theology of the Society.

Williamson himself has gone far beyond Holocaust denial, as his own writings evidence. In a letter written in 1991 he quoted the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion approvingly; a decade later (May 1, 2009), he did so again, writing in another letter that “God puts in men’s hands the ‘Protocols of the Sages of Sion’ ... if men want to know the truth, but few do.”

And Williamson is far from the only leader of the SSPX to be infected with anti-Semitism. Bishop de Mallerais has called Jews “the most active artisans for the coming of Antichrist” and described how “their grave defects rendered them odious to the nations among which they were established.”

De Mallerais is no fringe figure in the SSPX; he is a member of the inner circle of SSPX leaders as well as the official biographer of the movement’s founder, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose own record on Jews and Judaism was equally questionable. In a 1985 letter to pope John Paul II Lefebvre summarized the SSPX’s staunch opposition to “all the reforms carried out over 20 years within the church to please... declared enemies of the church, such as the Jews.”

Finally, two essays that were posted on the SSPX’s US website (and were removed when the public controversy initially erupted in 2009) illustrate that anti-Semitism very clearly. In one essay, the Vatican II teaching that “the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture” is described as “outrageous.”

The other essay claims that “Judaism is inimical to all nations in general, and in a special manner to Christian nations” and that “the unrepentant Jewish people are disposed by God to be a theological enemy, the status of this opposition must be universal, inevitable, and terrible.”

There are claims that “the Talmud, which governs Jews, orders enmity with Christians” and that the “Jewish people persecute Christendom” “conspire against the Christian State,” commit “usury” and even “are known to kill Christians”! As a result, Jews should not be “given equality of rights” but rather should be forced into ghettos (“isolated into its own neighborhoods”).

Before one can say that the sanitization of those websites is a theological statement showing the repudiation of those beliefs by the Society, the SSPX’s Asia website still contains the testimony of a Philippine bishop who was converted to the SSPX’s brand of Catholicism by reading a book that taught him that “Judaism is the visible chief enemy of the Catholic Church”! Pope Benedict has clearly invested a great deal of effort and even passion in the attempt at reconciliation with the SSPX. But sometimes, the best of intentions aren’t enough. In this case, what happens with the Society will send a clear indication of the future of Jewish- Catholic relations to the Jewish community.

Anything less than requiring a vigorous and transparent effort to remove the foundation of theological anti-Semitism that underlies the teachings of the SSPX will mark a visible retreat for the Church from the reworking of its relationship with the Jewish people that began in the Second Vatican Council almost 50 years ago.

Long ago the Prophet Elijah framed the question clearly to the people of Israel at Mount Carmel: “How long will you halt between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Today the choice is the pope’s; the answer was clear then – it should be equally clear now.

The writer is the director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. As a longtime participant in Jewish-Catholic relations, he was one of the Jewish leaders who met with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the US in 2008.

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