From controversy often comes clarity. Such is the case concerning the recent lifting of excommunication for four Catholic bishops who had separated themselves from the Church because of their illicit ordinations in 1988.
As has been reported in many news media, including this newspaper, Jewish groups worldwide have expressed dismay with one of the bishops, Richard Williamson of the breakaway Society of St. Pius X, who denied that the Holocaust occurred.
Pope Benedict XVI’s intention in lifting the sentence of excommunication for the bishops was to seek to reconcile them with the Church. The unity among Catholics that is the hope of the Holy Father may yet be achieved. The ball, as it were, is in the court of Bishop Williamson, who now must recant his denial as part of his return to full communion with the Church.
Most people find it astonishing that anyone seriously questions whether the Holocaust occurred. Germans still grapple with how such monstrous evil took root in their homeland, but not whether it did. The Vatican reaffirmed the significance of the Holocaust, calling it in a Feb. 8 statement, “a perpetually valid warning for humanity.”
The evidence for what is known also as the Shoah has been passed down to our own time by survivors of the camps and their liberators, many of the latter American GIs. Those eyewitnesses told of the horrors they discovered as they rolled back the Nazi tide across Europe. There can be no mistake: the Holocaust with its millions of human victims was real.
This current controversy has also revealed the great value of ongoing interreligious dialogue. The groundwork of mutual understanding and even friendship between Catholic and Jewish groups and leaders has been built with patient hard work, especially over the past 40 years.
A framework of mutual respect allows one party or another to express displeasure if necessary, as a means to dispel misunderstandings. A forum for exchanging views and seeking solutions is present. Without such a framework, mistrust and resentment can fester, making resolution to events much more difficult.
Jewish leaders have accepted the Pope’s announcement of the lifting of the excommunications as an internal Church matter while acknowledging their displeasure about Bishop Williamson. The Church for its part, led by the Holy Father, took the opportunity to enter more deeply into dialogue not only with world Jewish leaders but also with the German people through Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Relations between the Catholic and Jewish faiths have not so much been damaged by recent events as they have been tested – and found to be strong enough to serve the interests of fuller understanding and increased commitment to dialogue.