Vatican says talks to reconcile with anti-Semitic group ‘dead’

Chief of church doctrine says he is unable to bring Society of St. Pius X into the fold

Bishop Richard Williamson at a confirmation ceremony in 1991. (photo credit: CC BY, Jim, the Photographer, Flickr)
Bishop Richard Williamson at a confirmation ceremony in 1991. (photo credit: CC BY, Jim, the Photographer, Flickr)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s new doctrine czar says negotiations to bring back a breakaway group of traditionalist Catholics are dead and that no new talks are planned.

Reconciling with the Society of St. Pius X — thus ending the only formal schism created since the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council — had been a priority of Pope Benedict XVI since his tenure heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Society has come under fire for views seen as anti-Semitic and for one bishop who has publicly denied that Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Monsignor Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, who now leads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told Germany’s Norddeutscher Rundfunk broadcaster, however, that “the talks are closed and I don’t believe there are new ones.”

“We couldn’t of course expose the Catholic faith to negotiation,” he said. “There are no compromises.’

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society in 1969, opposed to Vatican II’s introduction of Mass in the vernacular and outreach to Jews. In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four bishops after he consecrated them without papal consent.

Benedict has spent nearly his entire seven-year pontificate seeking to accommodate the society, restoring the use of the old Latin Mass favored by the society’s members, removing the bishops’ excommunications and allowing them two years of theological dialogue with the Vatican.

Aside from being sympathetic to the society’s point of view, Benedict fears the growth of a parallel church that is even more conservative than his own.

But the society, which boasts 550 priests and 200-plus seminarians, refused to sign off on a core set of doctrinal points required by the Vatican to come back into the fold.

“The brotherhood for us is not a negotiating partner, because they don’t believe in negotiations,” Mueller said.

Mueller is no newcomer to the issue: In 2009, he told the Catholic news agency Zenit that he wanted the society’s seminary in his diocese shut down and the four bishops to resign to live as simple priests “as part of the reparation for the damage that the schism has caused.”

Given Mueller’s negative view and after the talks broke down earlier this year, the pope named a trusted adviser, Monsignor Augustine Di Noia, to take charge of negotiations with the society. From Mueller’s comments, however, it appears there’s not much to negotiate.

The society’s most notorious member is Bishop Richard Williamson, who made headlines in 2009 when he denied that any Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust. His comments were a major scandal for Benedict since they were broadcast on the same day the decree lifting Williamson’s excommunication was signed.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Saturday welcomed the suggestion that talks with the society had broken down and said it hoped the society’s members “will eventually give up their theology of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”

The society has distanced itself from Williamson.

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