In 2009, Uppdrag granskning published an interview in which SSPX’s then bishop Richard Williamson denied the Holocaust and claimed that there were never any gas chambers. Inspite of this, the former Pope Benedictus announced just a few days later, that he was to lift the excommunication of SSPX. An excommunication that had lasted for 20 years.
It created huge shockwaves and has been called the biggest crisis between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in the modern era.
Williamson’s visa revoked
During the tumult, Bishop Williamson locked himself in the Society’s seminary outside Buenos Aires in Argentina, of which he was rector at the time. But the backlash was strong in Argentina as well, and the government reacted by revoking Bishop Williamson’s visa so that he had to leave the country.
“I started thinking, ‘What route did he come into the country? And how?’”, says Guillermo Oliveri, then Argentinian Secretary of Religion, to Uppdrag granskning today. “Our argument was that he lied when he entered the country.”
It turned out that SSPX itself was incorrectly registered in the country and now the future of the organisation in Argentina was at risk. In desperation, the Society turned to Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the same man who today goes by the name Pope Francis. The Superior General of the Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has previously told us about how they asked him for help and got it.
“He took contact with Rome and he wrote a nice letter to the government in our favour,” Bishop Fellay told us at a conference just over a year ago.
New information: Pope wrote letter to Vatican
Uppdrag granskning has gained access to the never-before-published letters showing exactly how Pope Francis acted in support of SSPX when they were under scrutiny by the Argentinian government. Which occurred as a direct result of Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust denial.
In the first letter, Cardinal Bergoglio confirms that SSPX is on its way to becoming a part of the Catholic Church and asks the government to “enter SSPX in the Register of the Institutes of Consecrated Life” so that they can continue their activities in the country. In a later document, he states that SSPX “was granted religious permission to establish in Buenos Aires”.
Then the Vatican Ambassador in Argentina reacted, pointing out that SSPX “is not a unit that belongs to the Roman Catholic apostolic church”. But despite this, SSPX was allowed to stay in Argentina. The letters show a unique conflict in which Cardinal Bergoglio – now Pope Francis – went against the Vatican to keep SSPX in the country.
Long history between the Pope and SSPX
Vatican expert and journalist Ines San Martin, who is from Argentina herself, says that the good relationship between SSPX and Pope Francis was established during his days in Buenos Aires.
“They are not ashamed of the fact that the Pope sees them with a good eye. And the Pope is not ashamed of having a good eye when it comes to them. There is a long history between the Pope and the Society. Not all of it is good. Not all of it is bad. And at the end of the day, the goal is reconciliation,” she says to Uppdrag ranskning.
SSPX has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church for 30 years. But Pope Francis has clearly demonstrated that he wants to welcome the ultraconservative, highly controversial society back into the flock. In 2015, the Pope wrote: “I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity.”
Now many analysts say the Pope is close to getting his way.