John-Henry Westen

February 10, 2009 ( – A prominent Jewish Rabbi who represents over 1000 Rabbis in North America spoke to last week regarding the recent controversy around Pope Benedict XVI and his lifting the excommunication of the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).  Rabbi Yehuda Levin says he sees the media attack on Pope Benedict as being more about the influx of morally conservative Catholics into the mainstream of the Catholic Church, rather than anything else, including the holocaust denial of one of the SSPX bishops, which has received widespread media coverage.

The SSPX faithful, in addition to offering the Mass in its ancient Latin form, are also known for their orthodoxy on moral matters. The mainstreaming of such Catholics into the Church would boost the numbers of pro-life and pro-family Catholics significantly, especially in Europe.

Rabbi Levin said that he believed that the Vatican has dealt appropriately with the controversial comments by SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson. However, he said that while this will put to rest the “ridiculous” suggestions that the Pope is anti-Semitic, it will not end the controversy.

“At this point there has been a wonderfully strong renunciation of Bishop Williamson by the Vatican and therefore the Jewish community from their statements seems to be satisfied that things are going in the right way,” he said.  “This is just going to increase the frenzy of left wing Catholics, whether outside the Church or inside, because they now have to carry the ball in terms of keeping the attack on the Pope going.”

German dissident priest-theologian Hans Kung is one such left-wing Catholic, who recently suggested in an article that Barack Obama would make a better Pope than Benedict. Writing in the German publication Sueddeutsche, Kung expressed his wish that Obama were the Pope.  “The mood in the church is oppressive, reforms are paralyzed, and the church in crisis,” he said. “Benedict is unteachable in matters of birth control and abortion, arrogant and without transparency and restrictive of freedom and human rights.” 

Immediately after the media brought to light the comments by Bishop Williamson on the holocaust, the Pope – who was not previously aware of Williamson’s position – denounced his statements; the head of the SSPX did the same.  The Vatican insisted that the Bishop would have to, in order to be a Bishop in good standing within the Church, “distance himself, in an absolutely unequivocal and public manner, from his positions” regarding the Jewish holocaust.  Moreover, the SSPX removed Williamson from his post as head of their seminary in Argentina.

The mainstream media was slow to report on all these latter details and so, for a time, Jewish groups continued to express outrage at the decision to lift the excommunications of the bishops.  Last week, as news of the Pope’s reaction got out, those same Jewish groups let up on their pressure, pressure which was used by liberal Catholics within the Church to criticize the Pope. 

Two liberal German theologians called on the Pope to resign over the affair. Several bishops also criticized the Pope, notably Cardinal Karl Lehmann, a former chairman of the German bishops’ conference.  In contrast, several faithful Bishops thanked the Pope for his action to reach out to the SSPX to foster unity, and also criticized Bishop Williamson for his remarks.

Rabbi Levin suggests that there is a “silver lining” within the crisis.  “It has now become very clear, for all to see, the extreme danger that having some who hold high positions in the church seeking to destroy their own church and attack their own pope.”  He added: “The silver lining is that its now that the battle lines have been drawn.”

“The remedy, I believe,” said the Rabbi, “is that church hierarchy should take strong action in dealing with this type of insurrection.”  He added: “This should be a significant signal to the Pope, that it is absolutely essential that the right people be appointed in every place all over the world.   And church faithful need to have unambiguous leadership that’s totally in line with traditional church teaching.”