- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

From combined dispatches

A Catholic traditionalist bishop who recently had his excommunication lifted by Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret Friday to the pontiff for the “distress and problems” he caused by denying the Holocaust.

In a letter to the Vatican, Bishop Richard Williamson, who recently denied in a TV interview that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, called his remarks “imprudent.”

“Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems,” Bishop Williamson wrote.

The letter capped a whirlwind week of developments between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X, which was founded in 1969 over opposition to changes in the Mass as a result of the Second Vatican Council, some of the council’s teachings on ecumenism and other liberalizing trends.

Benedict lifted the excommunications Jan. 24, just days after the airing of Bishop Williamson’s comments, which the Vatican quickly repudiated while pointing out that church law specifically lists excommunicable offenses and that offensive or ignorant ideas about history are not among them.

On Wednesday, Benedict expressed “full and unquestioned solidarity” with Jews and issued a stern warning against any denial of the full horrors of the Nazi genocide. The current SSPX head Bishop Bernard Fellay, who also had his excommunication lifted, apologized to Benedict for Bishop Williamson and ordered the British bishop to remain silent on historical and political matters.

In a major breakthrough, the Vatican cardinal overseeing the SSPX issue told an Italian newspaper Thursday that the society had accepted the Second Vatican Council.

“Full communion will come. In our discussions, Bishop Fellay recognized the Second Vatican Council, he recognized it theologically. Only a few difficulties remain,” said Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

When pressed by the Milan daily Corriere Della Sera, the cardinal elaborated that the church’s teaching on Judaism was not the problem, but “aspects such as ecumenism, liberty of conscience.” Cardinal Castrillon has said the SSPX issues were not the documents of Vatican II itself, but how they had been elaborated and put in practice.

The traditionalist Catholic newspaper the Remnant reported Thursday that an end to the SSPX breach with the church could be imminent.

“Vatican sources have indicated that the full regularization may occur as early as February 2” and that only the practical details were being worked out, the paper reported on its Web site.

Bishop Fellay said in an interview with the French Catholic magazine Monde et Vie that the society could re-enter full communion with the church even while some doctrinal issues remain unsettled.

“Our road map has been to clarify first the doctrinal problems - even if it does not mean settling everything, but obtaining a sufficient clarification,” the bishop said.

Bishop Williamson posted his letter on his personal blog and addressed to Cardinal Castrillon.

The Holocaust denial had outraged Jewish groups and many others, and it was not immediately clear whether Bishop Williamson’s letter, which contained no apology for the content of his remarks, would ease that anger.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said he had “nothing to say about this letter. Everyone can evaluate it as they see fit.” Father Lombardi said he didn’t know whether the pope or the cardinal had seen it.

The bishop in the letter also offered the pope his “sincere personal thanks” for lifting the excommunications, which were imposed 20 years ago because the four men had been elevated to bishop’s rank by SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without the Vatican’s approval.

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