Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Flogging The Pope
Pope Benedict has come under considerable fire lately over a Papal 'rehabilitation' by welcoming back four excommunicated bishops, among them Richard Williamson (needless to say, a Brit) who are part of the St. Pius X Society(SSPX), a group that essentially disregards all of the Vatican II ecumenical reforms. Among other things, Vatican II renounced the Catholic Church's traditional stance that all Jews, including living Jews, were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Williamson is a known and very public Holocaust denier. In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, he stated that historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
He cited what he called the "most serious" revisionists that "between 200,000 and 300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber."
Bishop Williamson has also been very vocal about his beliefs that the forgery "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is authentic, that the United States was behind the 9/11 attacks, that women should not be allowed to attend universities, and that everything about Vatican II reforms, including support of religious liberty, was heretical. Leadership of his Pius X Society also calls Jews "the artisans for the coming of the Antichrist" and argues that Jews' "grave defects rendered them odious to all nations among which they were established."
In other words, a bunch of garden variety conspiracy theorists and Jew haters, dignified by Church office.
Williamson was consecrated as a Bishop by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, reportedly without papal consent. But they're still bishops, although the Vatican also said that removing the excommunication on Williamson and the others should not be taken to mean that the Vatican shared their views.
I personally find that a bit much to swallow, even though I accept at face value the Pope's assurance that the Church doesn't agree with their ideas.
After all, a Bishop is an officer and official representative of the Catholic Church. If I hire, say, a vice president for my company who hates blacks and is unapologetic about it,am I not making a statement about the values of my company? Or am I simply allowed to skirt the issue by chuckling and saying, "Oh, that's just Jack and you know how he feels about the blacks. I don't agree with him, but he's a heckuva executive VP and really livens up those dull board meetings with those jokes of his!"
Ultimately, any organization is judged by its members and what kind of behavior they're prepared to tolerate.
The feedback to the Pope's decision has been immediate, both from Jews and Catholics, especially in the Pope's homeland, Germany.
The German Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected Williamson's statement. Gerhard Ludwig Müller - the bishop of Regensburg, which is also the pope's home city - said Williamson would not be allowed inside his city's cathedral or any other church property.
And last Saturday, in mounting opposition to the pope's decision, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, in southern Germany, issued a statement saying the Benedict's rehabilitation of the bishops was "totally unacceptable...‘a betrayal of trust, especially among Jewish sisters and brothers in their relationship to the church.’
And a number of other church figures have spoken out as well.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, saying that she does not believe there has been what she termed adequate clarification of the Vatican's position on the Holocaust. The spectacle of a woman who is at heart a decent German hausfrau challenging the Pope's authority and scolding him on this matter must have brought back memories of his younger days for the one time Cardinal Ratzinger.
The Jews, as expected, are livid over this. German Jews have announced a break with the Pope, and in Israel the Rabbinical Association suspended all ties with the Vatican.
In short, this has become a huge firestorm.
My personal conviction is that Pope Benedict is essentially a decent man. But I also think that his main goal as Pope is what he sees as the preservation of the Church as a united entity whatever the cost, and as such, he's not immune to what he sees as the tide of thought within the Vatican. During his time as Pope, there has been the movement to beatify Pope Pius XII , the head of the Church during the Holocaust and later make him a saint. There have been the Church's issues with Israel, such as the ridiculous statements from Papal officials likening Gaza to a concentration camp and the constant shilling for the Palestinians in an effort to preserve Church property even as Arab Christians are driven by the Muslims from the Holy Land , the abrupt closure of the Vatican's Holocaust archives and the refusal to cooperate with both Catholic and Jewish scholars researching the Church's actions during the Holocaust, the re instituting of the old Pre-Vatican II Latin mass calling for the conversion of the Jews and now the rehabilitation and restoral to the Church's bosom of a bunch of Jew haters and Holocaust deniers.
There's an obvious pattern here. And it seems the Pope is going to continue to bend in the direction he feels the Vatican is going, even if it offends a great many Catholics of conscience.
During the Holocaust, while many individual Catholics behaved with incredible decency and bravery, the Church as an institution did not. The Church never made the simple statement that what was happening to the Jews was unholy and that anyone who participated in was excommunicated. In fact, not one Nazi leader was ever excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and it's a matter of historical record that virtually every one of the death camps was situated in Catholic Europe, in the countries where the Nazis found their most willing accomplices...because of the pre-Vatican II de facto anti-Semitism expressed in much of Church doctrine like the old mass . That helped prepare the ground for the Holocaust in places where the population was already predisposed towards it.
Vatican II was supposed to end that unhappy part of church history and it took immense courage for Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI to face up to that history and move the Church forward. They were willing to take the risk of disturbing the Church's unity in order to put the Church on firmer moral ground.
Pope Benedict apparently feels that unity can be achieved by returning to the pre-Vatican II Church regardless of those moral grounds...and regardless of how many Catholics may feel about the matter.
The odd thing is, the Pope appears to contradict himself out of his own mouth.
I remember - was it only two and half years ago?- when Pope Benedict walked in the rain through the gates of Auschwitz....like an ordinary penitent seeking absolution through the gate with its mocking inscription `Arbeit Macht Frei' (`labor liberates').
I remember how this German Pope who lived the nightmare first hand spoke about the Jews and Israel, saying that the destruction of the people of Israel is essentially the will to destroy G-d,and that "Ultimately, the destruction of Israel was intended as an unearthing of the foundation upon which Christian faith rests, and as its replacement by a new, artificial faith in the rule of man, the rule of the strong."
As I wrote then, by linking the fate of the Church to the fate of the Jews, Pope Benedict made a statement not only about the embrace of `anti-Zionism' by some Europeans as a way of dealing with the continent's guilt over the Holocaust,but the threats of a new Holocaust by people like Iran's Ahmadinejad.
He was acknowledging a common danger and a common destiny for Christianity and the Jewish people.
Much has happened since then,and apparently things have changed for this Pope.
While I see no point in flogging the Pope over it, I must admit I'm sorry to see it.