Or rather, ex-bishop: It’s Richard Williamson, who was excommunicated 20 years ago when he broke away to be ordained in a traditionalist Catholic sect, the Society of St. Pius X. Now the Pope’s un-excommunicated him and three others as a goodwill gesture aimed at returning the Society’s 150,000 members to the flock. The only problem? Williamson’s a hardcore whackjob. This isn’t the first traditionalist gesture Benedict’s made that’s touched a nerve among Jews, either. Evidently Israel’s chief rabbinate has finally had enough:

The chief rabbinate announced it was severing ties indefinitely, sending a letter to the Holy See expressing “sorrow and pain” at the decision…

The letter from the chief rabbinate said: “It will be very difficult for the chief rabbinate of Israel to continue its dialogue with the Vatican as before,” unless Bishop Williamson recanted his “deplorable statements.”

Underlining its anger, the Jewish body also cancelled a meeting with the Vatican scheduled for March.

In his first public comments on the issue, Pope Benedict attempted to soothe relations with Jews by calling the Shoah, or Holocaust, “a warning to everyone against oblivion, denials or reductionism.”

Addressing thousands of pilgrims at his weekly audience at the Vatican, he said: “As I renew my full and indisputable solidarity with our brothers, I wish that the memory of the Shoah will prompt humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the hearts of men.”

Elie Wiesel lowered the boom on him, too. As much as it pains me to defend, even obliquely, a Holocaust denier, what’s the rabbinate’s problem with the Vatican here, exactly? Benedict’s been clear enough that neither he nor the Church endorse Williamson’s views, and so far as I know, being a crackpot isn’t itself independent grounds for excommunication. Nor should it be, practically speaking: Once you start bouncing people from the congregation for their politics (or stupidity), you’re on a slippery slope. The Pope’s reluctant to do that even with legislators who support abortion. Exit question: Why not demand that he excommunicate the whole Gibson family while they’re at it?