Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.
Vatican’s error doesn’t shift Catholic church’s rejection of anti-Semitism
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Fr. Robert Sirico: Faith and policy
Pope Benedict XVI has certainly earned his salary these past few days. In his attempt to heal a schism, he inadvertently set off a fire storm.
The pontiff lifted the excommunication of four bishops illicitly ordained in 1988 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre, whose dissent from the Second Vatican Council drew a small but fervent following. One of these bishops, Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier.
To understand the saga, it is necessary to peel back its layers. [Good phrase.]
Lefevbre’s followers supported him because of a devotion to the traditional form of what is known as the Latin mass. [though WDTPRSers know that term is insufficient...] A smaller number rejected the efforts of Vatican II to account for the modern world by engaging in ecumenical relations and a deepened appreciation for religious tolerance and human liberty.
Part of their complaint, correctly in my estimation, was that an excessively optimistic outlook that saw everything new as automatically good was wrong and weakened Catholic identity. [This is without doubt correct. I add that, in addition to the euphoria of the moment (both the composition of the texts and their subsequent distortion) there was deemphasis of the centrality of Christ and over stressing of man in the prime documents concerned with how the Church works in and with the modern world.] This would result in a spiritual malaise and moral mediocrity that would ultimately become unattractive and deadening.
History bears out their insight. But as G.K. Chesterton once observed, "Heresy is truth gone mad." [Indeed. Heresies usually rise up from an effort to protect something good. In doing so, they stray from something else.]
Bishop Williamson, for sometime evidently, has been a marginal character, a fact that the Vatican and the pope admittedly should have known but did not. Some preliminary effort should have gone into uncovering Williamson’s conspiratorialist propensities. An assessment of the communications failure by the Vatican is appropriate.
The bishop now has a choice to make: Paddle farther out into the swamp (the Lefevbrites having already silenced him), or pull back and recant. [Third option: pull back and then do nothing.] The Vatican has demanded that Bishop Williamson "absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his views concerning the Shoah, which were unknown to the Holy Father at the moment he lifted the excommunication."
Unless the bishop comes to see the historical absurdity and moral obtuseness of his assertions, he will have no ministry in the church. [Which is fine.]
As it is, the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops did not re-establish full communion between these men and the Roman Catholic Church. They remain suspended priests, [and bishops] forbidden from practicing their ministry. They will remain so until some resolution is achieved about their full adherence to the authority of the pope, which would include the authority of Vatican II. The lifting of the excommunication begins the discussion, but does not settle it.
Among the documents that Vatican II published is "The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions" that emphatically decries all forms of anti-Semitism. Whether the bishops follow the teaching of this document will be followed carefully.
Certainly the pope, Joseph Ratzinger, knows full well the evil of denying the very evil he witnessed at close range. Ratzinger grew up in a family that resisted the fascists. As a child in his native Germany, he refused to attend the mandatory Hitler Youth meetings. And a cousin with Down syndrome was euthanized by the Nazis as part of their war against the disabled. Ratzinger has spoken out repeatedly and consistently against anti-Semitism as a priest, bishop, cardinal and now pope.
It’s possible that when people are offered the opportunity to come in from the cold, they may learn the lesson of reciprocal responsibility, [good!] which is what civilized life is mostly about. But sometimes they don’t. Some of the reaction to the lifting of the excommunications is justified.
But some of the reaction smacks of opportunism by politicians, theologians and even some bishops who have other axes to grind with Pope Benedict.
For those of us inspired by Pope Benedict’s efforts at the renewal of the church’s liturgy and life, [therefore our identity] it is sad that what might have been an occasion for a spiritual deepening — both for Catholics and with those outside the Church — has instead turned into a political imbroglio.
Father Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids. Send letters to The News at 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226 or (313) 496-5253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.