“If anti-Semitism is truly the oldest hatred, the hallmark of this noxious ideology is the enduring nature of its bigoted beliefs.”

That’s Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson, in response to the now notorious Age column published by Michael Backman.

Ronaldson’s remarks have now been spectacularly confirmed by a much more overt manifestation of anti-Semitism.

Meet Richard Williamson:

Williamson argues that women should not wear trousers and that “almost no girl should go to any university” because doing so contributes to the “the unwomaning of woman”. He blames modernism for causing the Rwandan massacre, he describes pluralism as the major threat to the Faith and salvation of Catholics today, and he decries religious liberty as a substitute religion.

He has even criticised the movie The Sound of Music because of how it portrays those “nasty Nazis” and elevates “self-centered” romantic love. His views on gay people, engaging in a sin “crying to Heaven for vengeance,” are all too predictable.

Williamson’s an admirer of former Klan leader David Duke, he’s a 9/11 Truther who thinks that the Unabomber might have been onto something — and he’s a virulent, Protocols-of-Zion-quoting anti-Semite who thinks that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

He’s also just been welcomed by Pope Benedict back into the Catholic fold.

Bishop Williamson belongs, you see, to the Society of St Pius X, the biggest organisation of the Catholic Traditionalist movement, the milieu which Mel Gibson’s mad (and anti-Semitic) dad also emerged. The SSPX follows the teachings of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — rejecting the Second Vatican Council’s abolition of the traditional Latin mass, as well as more or less any social or political manifestations of modernity.

Benedict’s reversal of the Vatican’s 1988 ex-communication of four Lefebvrian bishops has mostly been spun as a generous gesture of reconciliation, albeit ruined by the buffoonish, loose-cannon Williamson. Time magazine explains that the Pope wants to make the SSPX into “a personal prelature of the papacy, the same special status that conservative lay group Opus Dei was granted by John Paul II”.

But there’s an obvious question, isn’t there! Given Williamson’s long history of anti-Semitism, what kind of organisation would maintain him as a bishop? What’s the SSPX attitude to bigotry?

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, an organisation monitoring American hate groups, puts it bluntly: “The Society of St. Pius X, which has chapels and schools across the United States, remains a font of anti-Semitic propaganda.”

It’s not difficult to find examples.

The Angelus Press, the SSPX’s publishing house, distributes, for instance, Hilaire Beloc’s anti-Semitic text The Jews (“If this isn’t pertinent reading for today, then we don’t know what is!”), alongside a tract entitled Mystery Of Freemasonry Unveiled which “covers all aspects of Masonry, Satanic societies [and] the use of Masonry as an Instrument of Judaism.” The press also advertises Neo-Conned by one J. Forrest Sharpe, a notorious anti-Semite whose news bulleting, according to the SPLC, brims with anti-Semitic materials from the likes of Ernst Zundel, the neo-Nazi author of The Hitler We Loved and Why”.

But the SSPX goes beyond disseminating the anti-Semitism of others. You’ll recall that Michael Backman’s Age piece contained the line: The historical persecutors of the Jews have been Christians — their punishment for the death of Jesus”. In that case, the phrasing left the question ambiguous as to whether Backman himself endorsed that ancient canard.

The SSPX is more straightforward. On its website, its ‘Catholic FAQ’ section explains:

The Jews were consequently directly responsible for the crucifixion. Deicide is the name given to the crime of killing the person who is God, namely the Son of God in His human nature. It is those persons who brought about the crucifixion who are guilty of deicide, namely the Jews.

That’s about as clearcut as hate speech gets – and yet it’s presented as a FAQ on the SSPX’s core tenets.

But wait — there’s more. The SSPX home site also features this document, a piece by Rev. Frs. Michael Crowdy & Kenneth Novak entitled “The Mystery of the Jews”. The long article — again, freely available to anyone with Google — methodically repeats every slur of medieval anti-Semitism:

Judaism is inimical to all nations in general, and in a special manner to Christian nations. […]

[T]he adversarial relationship of the Jewish people is not a local enmity, or one based on blood, or on conflicting interests. It is an enmity disposed by God. […] Christendom and Jewry are destined inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing.

It goes on to explain that “the Jewish people win control of property by usury”, that ‘Jews are known to kill Christians”, that “Jews get into posts of influence, and submit society to a high degree of corruption in ways of thinking and acting, which leads to a reaction of public opinion against them” and that “Communism was financed by Jewish money”.

This is straightforward, old school anti-Semitism.

Why, then, is the Pope palling around with such people?

The removal of the sentence of excommunication does not, in itself, mean that the SSPX crew are suddenly in good standing with Rome. The Catholic blogger Rationabile Obsequium argues:

The division between the SSPX and Rome has not been healed, and it is still a very serious matter for a Catholic to receive the sacraments from a member of the SSPX in all but emergency situations. SSPX clergy do not have the necessary permission from Rome or from local bishops to carry out their work anywhere in the world. The Pope lifting the excommunications does not mean that the separation between the SSPX and Rome has ended. However, it is a move which seems to promise a sincere effort on Rome’s behalf to bring the SSPX back into the tent of the Church.

Fair enough. But the question still remains. Why does Benedict want to bring vile racists in his tent?

After all, AFP reports: “Since assuming office in April 2005, Benedict has made great efforts to heal the schism with the more traditionalist Catholic movement, granting a private audience to [SSPX leader] Fellay in mid-2005.”

It’s one thing to try to break the rank-and-file of the SSPX from their doctrines. It’s another to have a friendly chat with someone whose group openly and unabashedly distributes the foulest anti-Semitic slanders.

Which brings us back to Michael Backman. One would like to think that the response to his piece reflected a genuine concern that his questionable phraseology opened the door to racism, rather than an attempt to shut down critics of Israel’s attack on Gaza (although this editorial does rather make you wonder).

Certainly, it’s true that the murderous history of the 20th century leaves no room for ambiguity about racism.

But, as a figure on the world stage, the Pope matters rather more than an obscure business columnist. That’s why his apparent toleration of an anti-Semitic hate group deserves the strongest possible condemnation, even if there’s no political mileage to be made from it.

Peter Fray

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