February 6, 2009
Question 120 – Question on the Vatican's Dealing with Bishop Williamson and the Matter of the Holocaust
What is your opinion about the issue between Bishop Williamson and the Pope? Does the pope have the authority to excommunicate Williamson if he doesn’t accept the holocaust as it is believed to have happened? I’m really confused about this.
R. Sungenis: Michael, actually, the pope is not insisting on Williamson recanting his “holocaust denial” as a requirement to being readmitted to the Church or as a basis for being excommunicated from it, but only as a requirement for having his canonical function as a bishop restored, or what the Vatican said is his being “reinstated to episcopal service.” According to the Zenit report:
“The statement went on to reiterate the Pope's firm rejection of Bishop Williamson's opinion on the Shoah, stating that the prelate would have to "distance himself in an absolutely unmistakable and public way from his position" in order to be reinstated to episcopal service.”
Canonically, the pope does have the authority to bind Williamson in this way, since according to Vatican I, the pope’s disciplinary power over his clerics is unlimited and no one can question him.
But, of course, this just begs the question. The ethical validity of the pope’s insistence that Williamson recant his opinion becomes a practical matter. Since Williamson is essentially being accused of anti-semitism for denying a purported fact of history about the semites, and since anti-semitism is a mortal sin in the Catholic Church, then a canonical trial is really the only recourse for determining if, indeed, Williamson is guilty, since anti-semitism could be the only justifiable grounds upon which the pope’s discipline of Williamson could be administered.
In order to have the matter adjudicated, Williamson would need to be charged with “anti-semitism,” and prior to that, an inquiry would need to determine the legal definition of anti-semitism. Once that is established, the trial would need to bring in expert testimony from historians, both pro and con, to determine whether there were, indeed, six million Jews killed in gas chambers by the Nazis.
If it comes about that it is an undeniable fact of history that the Nazis killed six million Jews by gassing them, and Williamson continues to deny it, then the Church would most likely determine Williamson guilty of anti-semitism and bar him from his canonical functions.
Of course, if it comes about that Williamson’s claims are true, then he cannot be charged with anti-semitism, and his views on the Jews cannot be used against him in determining whether to restore his canonical duties.
Handling it in a canonical court instead of the court of public opinion requires the Vatican to prove its moves against Williamson by an unbiased examination of the facts. If the Vatican doesn’t do so, then they are committing an injustice against Williamson. The Vatican is old enough and mature enough to realize that it should not condemn someone based on majority opinion. A canonical trial is really the only way this matter can be solved in order to satisfy all parties involved.
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