What the heaven was the Pope thinking? Such is the reaction in this post and the article it quotes and links to from Newsweek/Washington Post.

Pope Benedict's decision to undo the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, an unrepentant Holocaust denier, has been met with wall to wall condemnation. Short of the launch of a new Crusade, it is hard to imagine how the Pope could have ignited such outrage with one decision.

Yet there is an even greater crisis waiting in the wings that will soon be picked up by world media. Williamson's fellow travelers -- the entire network of the breakaway Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) -- are vocal enthusiasts of a medieval religious anti-Semitism that gives the Islamist imams in Pakistan some serious competition.

The papal move to re-embrace SSPX was carefully negotiated. And if Pope Benedict was expecting any cosmetic changes in SSPX's Jew-hatred he was dead wrong. True ideologues in their hatred, their group's website remains unchanged. Jews, it tells us, are directly responsible for the crucifixion. Jews are cursed with the "blindness to the things of G-d and eternity." As a people, they stand "in entire opposition with the Catholic Church." "Christendom and Jewry are designed inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing."

So who or what is the Society of Saint Pius X? Characterizing them simply as raving antisemites is mistaken. They are a group of Catholic dissidents who think that Vatican 2 made a serious mistake in modernizing the Roman Catholic Church. If they are "medieval" they are so in the same way pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism was, which is to say--not exactly. Here is their website.

What is their view regarding Jews? In their own words

However, in what does that curse consist. Surely it cannot be that there is a collective guilt of the Jewish race for the sin of deicide. For only those individuals are responsible for the sin who knowingly and willingly brought it about. Jews of today are manifestly not responsible for that sin. The curse is of a different nature, and corresponds to the greatness of the vocation of the Jewish people as a preparation for the Messias, to the superiority of their election, which makes them first in the order of grace. Just as the true Israelites, who accept the Messias, are the first to receive "glory, honor and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rm. 2:10), so also are the first to receive the punishment of their refusal of the Messias: "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek" (Rm. 2:9). The curse is then the punishment for the hardhearted rebelliousness of a people that has refused the time of its visitation, that has refused to convert and to live a moral, spiritual life, directed towards heaven. This curse is the punishment of blindness to the things of God and eternity, of deafness to the call of conscience and to the love of good and hatred of evil which is the basis of all moral life, of spiritual paralysis, of total preoccupation with an earthly kingdom. It is this that sets them as a people in entire opposition with the Catholic Church and its supernatural plan for the salvation of souls. Fr. Denis Fahey in The Kingship of Christ and Organized Naturalism explains this radical opposition. He describes "the Naturalism of the Jewish Nation" and the "age-long struggle of the Jewish Nation against the supernatural life of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 42) He goes on to explain that "we must distinguish accurately between opposition to the domination of Jewish Naturalism in society and hostility to the Jews as a race" which latter form of opposition "is what is designated by the term, ‘Antisemitism,’ and has been more than once condemned by the Church. The former opposition is incumbent on every Catholic and on every true lover of his native land." (ibid. p. 43)

Certainly distressing to modern ears. But, the difficulty is deeper than pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism. The New Testament itself speaks of a curse on the Jews, and of a blindness placed on those Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah. Saint Paul in Romans 9-11 gives the most sustained attention found in the New Testament to the place and role of the Jews in God's plan.

It is the influence of the late Father Fahey, an Irish priest and academic, that proves most troublesome about SSPX. Fahey wrote and taught that God intends to reestablish Order on earth through the Holy Catholic Church, bringing all of human life and society into conformity with God's will: the creation of a truly Catholic culture. I myself am sympathetic to some aspects of Fahey's thought, such as that ownership of land should be as widespread as possible, most men should be farmers, family life is sacramental, both Individualism and Collectivism are devilish, and Capitalism --the "money manipulators"--are anti-God. The chief difficulty I find in Fahey's thought is his portrayal of those who oppose the establishment of God's Order: Naturalists. For him a Naturalist is someone who, prompted by Satan, opposes the Supernatural Order of Grace. Fahey thought that two main groups of organized naturalists existed who were enemies of the Roman Catholic church, and therefore of God: Masons and Jews. He believed that the "catastrophe" of modernism with its immorality and bloody revolutions was the result of the efforts of these two groups, working secretly behind the scenes.

So, what is Pope Benedict XVI doing? Is he embracing antisemitism? No. The Pope is reaching out to a group of dissident Catholics, hoping to heal a division that resulted from the changes of Vatican 2. Are some aspects of that group problematic in the modern age? Absolutely. But, as the Shepherd of a large and varied flock, it seems to me he is doing the right thing in his outreach. The official statement regarding the Pope's actions are on the Vatican website, but are not yet translated into English.