The Vatican has denounced comments by the leader of a traditionalist Catholic organization who told an Ontario school audience that Jews are “enemies of the Church.”
At the same time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) stated that the “outrageous” comments were not representative of the larger Roman Catholic Church.
The remarks that drew international attention were delivered by Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Piux X (SSPX), a group that was founded in 1970 in reaction to the church’s efforts to modernize.
In a Dec. 28 address to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy in New Hamburg, Ont., the Swiss-born cleric listed Jews, along with “Masons and modernists” as enemies of the church who opposed Vatican recognition of the SSPX. He also said support by Jewish leaders for the Second Vatican Council “shows that Vatican II is their thing, not the church’s.”
A recording of his nearly two-hour address, which largely focused on relations with the Vatican, was posted on YouTube.
The church quickly rejected the bishop’s assertions. According to a report by the Catholic News Service, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “It is absolutely unacceptable, impossible, to define the Jews as enemies of the church.” The church, he added, remains committed to deepening relations with the Jewish People.
In the United States, the SSPX’s U.S. district published a news release attempting to explain the bishop’s anti-Jewish comments.
“The word ‘enemies’ used here by Bishop Fellay is of course a religious concept and refers to any group or religious sect which opposed the mission of the Catholic Church and her efforts to fulfil it: salvation of souls,” it said. “By referring to the Jews, Bishop Fellay’s comment was aimed at the leaders of Jewish organizations, and not the Jewish People, as is being implied by journalists.
“Accordingly, the Society of St. Pius X denounces the repeated false accusations of antisemitism or hate speech made in an attempt to silence its message.”
In Toronto, CIJA chair David Koschitzky downplayed the significance of the bishop’s statements.
“As outrageous as they are, Bishop Fellay’s antisemitic comments reflect no more than a very small group within the church that has been pushed to the margins by the vast majority of Catholics. In fact, recent decades have seen unprecedented Jewish-Catholic co-operation and understanding, particularly as Catholic leaders have increasingly appreciated the Jewish roots of Christianity. That Bishop Fellay’s disgusting remarks come at a time of such goodwill between our communities is a slap in the face to Jews and Catholics alike.”
Father Raymond de Souza, a member of CIJA’s board, pointed to the “very good relations between Catholics and Jews” as exemplified by the two visits to Israel by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict.
“These comments come from a splinter group that is not in full communion with the Holy See and reflect one of the reasons why there is tension between them and the Holy See. While the speech was given in Canada, the SSPX is very marginal in the life of the Catholic community in Canada. Neither Catholics nor Jews should be concerned that their views will have any resonance.”
Bishop Fellay’s remarks were not the first by SSPX spokespeople that have stirred controversy. The group’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, wrote to Pope John Paul II in 1985 saying, “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” were the church’s contemporary enemies, while Bishop Richard Williamson has denied the Nazis used gas chambers and claimed no more than 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
Late last week, CIJA sent a letter to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, asking the group to repudiate Bishop Fellay’s remarks. The conference had not responded by The CJN’s deadline.