Lev 13:1-46; Mk 1:40-45
I want to say few words about what has been a major media attack on the Pope these last few weeks, about that bishop who made comments denying the Jewish Holocaust.
I want to first explain the purpose of excommunication. In our first reading, from Leviticus, we heard about how it was the ancient practice for lepers to be expelled from the community for the health of the community -to prevent everyone catching leprosy. The leper could only return when he was healed.
Excommunication has a similar purpose: someone is excommunicated from the Church in order to prevent the Church being damaged: in serious matters, the cancers of heresy and disobedience need to be cut out from the Church by excommunication. Heresy opposes truth and it is truth that holds the Church to Christ; and, disobedience likewise opposes common unity. Thus excommunication is for the health of the whole Church. The person can only returned when ‘healed’ of his error.
But there is a second purpose in excommunication: in order to call someone to change and repentance, i.e. the health of their own soul, not just the health of the rest of the Church.
So, what about the particular excommunication that led to this media event?
In 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre argued that the Mass should be said according to the old pre-Vatican II rite in Latin. Disobeying the Pope he illicitly ordained four bishops, and for this act of disobedience they were all automatically excommunicated.
Now, these renegade bishops have a large following. In fact, these bishops have such a large following that in France there are more Catholics who attend these illicit Old Rite Masses in Latin than attend the New Rite Masses in French.
So, despite having excommunicated them, Pope John Paul II was keen that these bishops should be persuaded to return to full communion with the Catholic Church –healed of their separation.
The leader of these four bishops applied to Pope Benedict for them all to have the excommunication lifted. The group was investigated by the Vatican, and it seemed that the healing purpose of excommunication was in the process of being achieved. Pope Benedict thus decided to lift the excommunication incurred by the 1988 disobedience of their ordination. These renegade bishops are thus now in communion with the Church, but their canonical situation is still irregular and they have not been given appointments like diocese etc -they are still irregular bishops, in the process of being regularised.
In the midst of this situation, one of these 4 bishops made some bizarre comments about the Holocaust. Bishop Williamson claimed that only 300,000 not 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Second World War. His statement to this effect only became public very recently, and the Pope was unaware of it when it was decided to lift the excommunication. The Pope has called on him to retract this opinion; in fact, the other three of the four bishops have also asked him to retract, he was forced to resign from the seminary position he held in the Society of St Pius X, and he has been silenced by his own Society.
What then should we make of this statement that ‘only’ 300,000 Jews were exterminated? Such a statement seems odd, crazy, and probably racist. The Church does not encourage us to be odd or crazy and strongly condemns the sin of racism -the Church herself is made of many races and favours none of them. Yet, excommunication is a very serious penalty, and this racist anti-Semitic statement is not in itself grounds to be excommunicated, though it is grounds to be condemned, and the Pope has strongly condemned this statement.
I would make one final comment: I said that the Church favours no individual race. However, this is not quite true, there is in fact one race that the Pope favours: both before and after being elected Pope, he has repeatedly taught that there is a race favoured by God, and the race our German Pope refers to is not the uber-race of the Germans but is in fact the Jews, the original chosen People of God. As St Paul says in Scripture (Romans 11:28-29), that the original promise that God made to the race of Abraham and his descendants holds true even if they do not recognise Christ the Messiah –God does not withdraw His promises.
So, for the media to implicitly or explicitly accuse Pope Benedict of anti-Semitism is to manifest their ignorance of what he has taught does teach and will continue to teach.
(1) The Pope was unaware of Bishop Williamson's comments when he lifted teh excommunication: http://www.zenit.org/article-24998?l=english
(2) The Pope has called on him to retract this opinion:http://www.zenit.org/article-24998?l=english
(3) The other three of the four bishops have also asked him to retract:http://www.zenit.org/article-24929?l=english
(4) He was forced to resign from the seminary position he held in the Society of St Pius X,and he has been silenced by his own Society: http://www.zenit.org/article-25063?l=english
(5)Pope Benedict reiterates that anti-Semitism has no place in the Church: http://zenit.org/article-25083?l=english