Latest News

NDExpert: Theologian Cunningham speaks on Catholic Church fears of schism

Author: Arts and Letters


Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who has denied that the Holocaust took place was driven by fears of schism in the Catholic Church, according to Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Jewish religious leaders and others worldwide have expressed outrage at Pope Benedict’s revocation of the 1988 excommunication of Richard Williamson, one of four traditional Catholic bishops to be rehabilitated by the pope last week, despite incendiary remarks Williamson had made on Swedish television denying the extent of the slaughter of European Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II.

“The Vatican is terribly worried about schismatic bishops because of their sacramental power to ordain more bishops and priests,” Cunningham said. “Some of these men are conspicuously odd and strange people but they are sacramentally ordained. The Vatican wants some control over them in order to pressure them not to ordain others outside of communion with the church.”

A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1987, Cunningham teaches and writes about systematic theology and culture, Christian spirituality, and the history of Christian spirituality. He has written and edited numerous books, including, most recently, “John Henry Newman: Selected Spiritual Writings”; “Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life”; and “A Brief History of the Saints.” He also regularly reviews religious books for Commonweal magazine.

Contact: Professor Cunningham at 574-631-7137 or

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on January 29, 2009.