Denier in line for Papal blessing
Pope Benedict is close to healing a schism with the Society of St Pius X, of which denier Williamson is a member
Close observers of Vatican tea leaves suggest that the Holy See is close to an agreement with the ultra-conservative Society of St Pius X, after three years of negotiations. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI caused controversy by lifting the excommunications of four of the Society's bishops, one of whom, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust-denier.
The Pope has long wanted to heal the schism with the Society, which was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1969 in response to the reforms of Vatican II, when the Church stated that the Jewish people "remain most dear to God" and committed the Church to fighting "the sin of antisemitism". The Lefebvrites question the teaching of the Council, especially on fostering closer relations with Jews and religious freedom.
Some argue that the return of the Society of St Pius X threatens to undermine Vatican II, which was a turning point in the history of Jewish-Christian relations. Rev Prof John Pawlikowski, from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, has called for the Pope to declare unequivocally, like his predecessor, that the teachings of Vatican II are not optional; that they represent the true spirit of the Church.
Since 1969, the Society has been on the outside of the Catholic Church. Now, the group has written a letter that could pave the way for an agreement. Not everyone in the Church is likely to be pleased by a rapprochement. Liberal Catholics, as well as the French Bishops, are likely to protest.
Under Pope Benedict XVI, there have been controversies over the canonisation of wartime Pope Pius XII; the revised Tridentine Rite Good Friday prayer, which calls explicitly for conversion of Jews; and tensions between the Vatican and Israel. If the Society of St Pius X is readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church and continues to reject Vatican II, it is unclear to observers whether the Pope's decision is another bump in the road of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation or indicative of a more fundamental concern.
In favour? Williamson
Dr Ed Kessler MBE is founder and director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge