The SSPX Wound Festers
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 02:33:02 PM EST
The Catholic Right, Part Seventy-six.

In the part Seventy-five of this series on the Catholic Right I expressed outrage over Pope Benedict XVI impolitic decision to reinstate four schismatic bishops of the order known as the Society of St. Pius X, commonly known by its acronym, SSPX.

The group includes Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, the source of much of Catholic as well as non-Catholic condemnation.

It turns out that SSPX's anti-Semitism and racism runs far deeper than has been reported during the reinstatement flap. Meanwhile, the episode has not only reopened old wounds in Catholic-Jewish relations, which have been on the mend since the heady days of Vatican II but threatens to reignite ancient animosities between Christian and Muslims and even Northern and Southern Italians.

It turns out that SSPX's anti-Semitism and racism runs far deeper than has been reported during the reinstatement flap. Meanwhile, the episode has not only reopened old wounds in Catholic-Jewish relations, which have been on the mend since the heady days of Vatican II but threatens to reignite ancient animosities between Christian and Muslims and even Northern and Southern Italians.

Even more incredible is that the order founded by the late Archbishop Lefebvre has, at best, a caustic view of the faith of Jesus, and at worse, outright hatred that was far from esoteric. As John L. Allen Jr. observed in The National Catholic Reporter's January 26, 2009 edition:

A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as "Jews, Communists and Freemasons" in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.

As well as:

As noted above, Lefebvre himself wrote to John Paul II in 1985, three years before his decision to ordain four bishops in defiance of the pope's authority, to argue that Vatican II's "Declaration on Religious Liberty" had produced a series of poisonous consequences, including "all the reforms carried out over 20 years within the church to please heretics, schismatics, false religions and declared enemies of the church, such as the Jews, the Communists and the Freemasons."

This sense of antagonism was lifelong. In 1990, one year before his death, Lefebvre gave an interview to the journal of the National Front in France, suggesting that Catholic opposition to a residence of Carmelite nuns at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp was being instigated by Jews.

Lefebvre's followers often share this outlook. In 1997, one of the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre in 1988, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, said, "The church for its part has at all times forbidden and condemned the killing of Jews, even when `their grave defects rendered them odious to the nations among which they were established.' ... All this makes us think that the Jews are the most active artisans for the coming of Antichrist."

And finally:

Nor has their record been confined simply to making statements. In 1989, Paul Touvier, a fugitive charged with ordering the execution of seven Jews in 1944, was arrested in a priory of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in Nice, France. The fraternity stated at the time that Touvier had been granted asylum as "an act of charity to a homeless man." When Touvier died in 1996, a parish church operated by the fraternity offered a requiem Mass in his honor.

In just the past year, controversy arose in Germany when a priest of the fraternity asserted that Jews were "co-responsible" for the death of Christ. Also in 2008, an Italian priest of the fraternity celebrated a Latin Mass in honor of the 63rd anniversary of the death of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Again, in the January 29, 2009 edition, NCR's John Allen chronicled how another SSPX priest, Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, made some disturbing revisionist remarks about the Holocaust and another Nazi atrocity:

Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, a pastor and spokesperson for the Society of St. Pius X in northeastern Italy, also referred to Jews as "a people of deicide," referring to the death of Christ, and suggested that the Jewish Holocaust has been "exalted" over what he called "other genocides," such as the Allied bombing of German cities and the Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip.

On the other hand, Abrahamowicz insisted that the traditionalist movement founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is not "anti-Semitic." Among other things, Abrahamowicz said, he himself has Jewish roots on his father's side.

As well:

Abrahamowicz is himself a well-known figure in Italy. In 2006, he gave a television interview in which he said that Erich Priebke, a German SS officer convicted of war crimes for a 1944 massacre in Rome, in which 335 Italian civilians were killed in reprisal for the deaths of 33 German soldiers, should not be seen as an "executioner" but rather a soldier who acted "with regret and a heavy heart." In 2007, Abrahamowicz celebrated a Latin Mass for Italian politician Umberto Bossi, leader of the far-right Northern League party. Bossi and his party have sometimes been accused of xenophobia, particularly towards Muslim immigrants.

In 2008, after Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan had expressed support for Muslims seeking to open new mosques in Italy, Abrahamowicz said on Italian radio that Tettamanzi was an example of "infiltrators" attempting to "subvert the church from within."

In a very recent television interview, Abrahamowicz was asked what message he had to offer the Jewish community. He replied, "One message: As a Catholic Christian, adding that little Jewish blood that runs in my veins, I express the hope that the Jews will embrace Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

I have heard other Catholics say such things. My personal experience living as a person of Southern Italian and Catholic background informs me that Abrahamowicz views those different from his Northern Italian identity and über-orthodox Catholic tradition as being something lesser than himself. Instead of treating Jews as his religious equals, he wants them to embrace his faith - and nary a wish for peace or goodness for them. He finds Arab suffering in Gaza useful when it can be used to denigrate Jews. But he finds their presence in Italy disturbing. He tries to soft-peddle the slaughter of 335 Romans (the Italian Northern League is also hostile to Southern Italians, who they often view as racially inferior; for quite a few Italian Northern Leaguers a despised Rome falls within their definition of Southern Italy).

Why would the current pope seek out and reinstate a religious order reeking with arrogance, condescension, and outright bigotry and hatred?

The answer is simple: Both Pope Benedict and SSPX share an extreme dislike of modernity.

It is no accident that Lefebvre named his order after the anti-modernist Pope Pius X. Pius X like Benedict often railed against moral relativism and modernists. Lefebvre's acolyte, Bishop Williamson has been shocked by such modernist behavior as women wearing shorts and pantsuits d partaking in higher education.

Many on the Catholic Right embrace the myth that a combination of liberalism, modernity and paganism led to the rise of the Nazi regime (Archbishop Lefebvre's father died in a concentration camp for his work with the French Underground; however, the elder Lefebvre was no advocate of democracy, but a monarchist).

Both James P. Carroll and Chris Hedges have effectively refuted that notion. Hedges points out that while faith itself does not stoke the fires of religious bigotry, strident orthodoxy often does. Carroll takes this proposition one step further. He astutely observed that while Vatican reactionaries love to blame pagan beliefs for nightmares such as the Third Reich (a theme constantly echoed by philosopher Leo Strauss), in fact Hitler's horrors were made possible because they were fueled by almost two thousand years of anti-Semitic and racist pronouncements rendered by many in the Church, men with views such as Williamson and Abrahamowicz.

Perhaps Pope Benedict believes that he can moderate the SSPX's anti-Semitism while buttressing traditionalist, anti-modernist factions in the Vatican. Or perhaps this pontiff is just not too concerned about what our Jewish brethren or anyone else thinks of him. In either case, he has made a serious mistake.




Display:
...is Bill Donohue's take on this incident.

Awful nice of him to use this debacle as way of lashing out at Jews, isn't it?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 02:34:41 PM EST


I would expect Bill to weigh in with his two cents. Probably his only complaint about the SSPX is that they were insufficiently deferential to the Pope and Curia, as it was Lefebvre's defiance of the Vatican that led to his excommunication and that of Williamson and the other bishops. All this tells me is that a noxious version of 19th century Ultramontanism lives. Like radicals everywhere, they resort to conspiracy theories about Jews, Communists and Masons to explain why the world has changed in ways they don't like. That they have the gall to do this after the Holocaust amazes me.

Pope Benedict runs the risk of causing an even greater schism if he brings the SSPX back into the fold. Abrahamowicz's opinions are very common in the SSPX as we've seen. I remember an incident that took place back in the late 1980s in the Detroit area when I was attending law school. A priest from one of the ultraconservative breakaway groups (SSPX or SSPV) had a history of reckless driving, caused an accident in which a young girl died. The priest then baptized the girl (who happened to be Jewish) at the accident scene, to the outrage of her mother. If I remember correctly, the priest pled guilty to vehicular homicide and did time in prison.

by khughes1963 on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 05:43:34 PM EST

The more I read of these  SSPX folks the more I realize how they use their religiosity to cloak ancient prejudices. Beyond that, they have no concept of religious pluralism, let alone respect for the conscience of others.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 06:08:53 PM EST
Parent
The SSPX operates on the pre-Vatican II Church Militant concept that "error has no rights,"  and they do indeed use their religious beliefs to disguise their prejudices. The concept of conscience or pluralism is lost on them. They definitely agree with Pius IX's condemnation of democratic governance in the "Syllabus of Errors." Lefebvre's support of Vichy France and Jean-Marie Le Pen's French National Party is all part & parcel of this. Before Vichy, it was all about support for restoration of the ancien regime monarchy deposed in 1789.

This in turn plays into all the prejudices that Protestants had about Roman Catholicism being anti-liberty and pro-authoritarian monarchism, which were to a certain extent based upon examples from British history, including the attempt of James II to ditch Parliamentary governance.

I think deep down, Benedict XVI agrees with the concept that the fullness of religious truth is contained in the institutional Roman Catholic Church, and he wants allies in his crusade. Unfortunately, despite his concern that the SSPX would create a parallel church, Benedict runs the risk of alienating many more Catholics who want no part of the SSPX.

What's interesting is that the SSPX has had its schisms as well. Some priests in the SSPX broke off from the SSPX and formed the Society of St. Pius V, whose chief characteristic is sedevacantism-they believe the last valid pope was Pius XII and all other popes have been illicit. The SSPV runs a church near Cincinnati and has associated itself with the Congregation of Mary Immaculate, a breakaway congregation in Idaho.

BTW-on a side note, some of my least favorite Popes were named Pius. I am particularly thinking of Pius V (a raging anti-Semite,) Pius IX (anti-Semitic and the last pope to be an absolute monarch,) Pius X, and Pius XII.

by khughes1963 on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 07:46:11 PM EST
Parent




the dutch theologian Jean-Pierre Wils has left the catholic church:

from: http://www.radionetherlands.nl/news/zijlijn/6158318/Dutch-ethicis t-leaves-RC-Church-in-protest

"A professor and Christian ethicist from the Dutch city of Nijmegen, Jean Pierre Wils, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church in protest against the rehabilitation of four reactionary bishops by Pope Benedict XVI last week. Mr Wils says he no longer wants to be a part of what he called an anti-modern, anti-plural and totalitarian church."

and the pope has appointed another weirdo as assistant bishop:

from: http://www.radionetherlands.nl/currentaffairs/090202-pope-antisem ites

"In a further decision that is likely to please traditionalists within the Roman Catholic church, Pope Benedict has appointed Father Gerhard Maria Wagner assistant bishop of Linz in Austria. Wagner gained notoriety because of his vehement opposition to the Harry Potter novels, which he called "Satanic", issuing a warning against the magic formulae in the books.

Earlier, Wagner had said it was no coincidence that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed all abortion clinics and nightclubs in New Orleans. The conservative bishop says that climate change and its attendant disasters are a consequence of the "spiritual pollution" of the world."

by Entdinglichung on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 06:42:07 AM EST



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