How's that for timing? On the day that the Vatican begins talks with the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X, which split from Rome in 1988, a German court has fined one of the SSPX's bishops, Richard Williamson, for denying the Holocaust.
Bishop Williamson must pay 12,000 euros for asserting on Swedish television that fewer than 300,000 Jews died in Nazi death camps. Holocaust denial is classed as a hate crime in Germany. Because the interview took place in Regensburg, German prosecutors were allowed to investigate.
When, in January this year, Pope Benedict XVI revoked the 21-year excommunication of four bishops in the Swiss-based SSPX, scenes from the interview revealed Bishop Williamson to be a Holocaust denier. There was international uproar, leading to an unusual papal apology.
The talks which began today are on a huge range of topics -- tradition, Paul VI Missal, ecumenism, religious freedom and so on -- and are expected to last a long time.The SSPX denies almost everything said by the Second Vatican Council.
But the process could be cut short by Pope Benedict offering the Society a personal prelature or similar, on the lines of what he has just held out to Anglican traditionalists.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, SSPX head, confirmed that this was what the Pope was thinking in an interview (in Spanish) with the Santiago de Chile daily El Mercurio. Asked to confirm that Rome was thinking of offering the SSPX a personal prelature, Fellay tells the newspaper that there is a "lot of truth" in the speculation, and that he believes "the Vatican is moving towards that canonical solution".
Even more worrying, Fellay thinks the Williamson interview furore was "a very well planned attack ... on the person of the Pope" and at no point in the interview actually distances himself from Willliamson's remarks, recorded on tape.
Which only makes me wonder why the Pope regards Fellay and his brother bishops as dialogue partners -- let alone worth bending backwards to accommodate.