Fr. R. Sirico responds to Freep about Pope Benedict

Fr. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute, responded properly in the Detroit News to a slimy editorial in the Detroit Free Press.

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

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  1. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    “Pope Benedict XVI has certainly earned his sal -ary- vation these past few days.”

  2. David says:

    The one thing that I have to take issue with in this article (some others Fr Z has posted) is that the necessary “discussions” before SSPX is fully integrated are being demanded by SSPX – theimplication of articles like this is that they are demanded by Rome.

    The SSPX insists that the Church clarify some of the ambiguous statements of the Council. The Pope is already well aware of the doctrines that SSPX has been preaching for 40 years, so no clarification is required on their part.

  3. Corleone says:

    I’m still trying to figure out which “error” Fr Sirico is titularly referring to.

  4. John Enright says:

    Andrew, why would you ever want to go to Canada? It is a singularly anti-Catholic nation.

  5. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    John: I was born and raised there and am in the UK for a number of years (PhD studies). Canada can be anti-Catholic but seems to be more passive about it. You’re allowed, occassionally, to be proud of your Christianity, similar to the USA and Benedict has made some good episcopal appointments. Britain, however, seems to be virulently and actively anti-Catholic and I have no great hope for +Cormac’s successor.

    But not alot to choose between the two.

  6. Paul Haley says:

    I dunno but it seems like the more we catholics bring up this Williamson thing, the more we catholics shoot ourselves in the foot and give more ammunition to those who would see the reconciliation process fail. Just my take on it for what it’s worth. I do wish Bishop Williamson would announce that he recants his views of the holocaust based on new evidence that he didn’t have 20 years ago. But, I doubt even that would not silence his critics.

  7. ssoldie says:

    opinions,opinions,opinions, I myself believe in the great knowledge,and prudence,of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI,remember he has called a commission together to look into the pastoral council of Vatican II. I will be silent and pray for him and the SSPX.

  8. Glen says:

    It’s very sad how much play the media is giving this story. I’m expecting tomorrow’s headlines to read something along the lines of “Holocaust Denying Catholic Bishop Puts Left Sock On First!” England’s Prince Harry made the news today by uttering a racial slur. It’s his second on record. Add to that his Nazi halloween costume of a few years ago. However, the media will surely let this story die quickly unlike their scorn for the Church.

  9. Glen says:

    What’s anti-Catholic about Canada?

  10. Roland de Chanson says:

    All this SSPX skiamachy raises a couple of points.

    One, if Levebvre and company were excommunicated lata sententia for a schismatic act, does it not follow that the revoking of the excommunication, which is reserved to the papacy, acknowledges that there is ipso facto no schism? Where does that leave the SSPX? I’d say “in limbo” but that was revoked also by the erstwhile Patriarch of the West.

    Two, the focus on Williamson is merely politically correct showboating. That Williamson should have kept his mouth shut goes without saying. Sutor ne supra crepidam iudicaret. But far more disturbing is the professed opinion of Fellay that the United States was founded on masonic principles in rebellion against God. Though Fellay may be even more harebrained than Williamson, his holding and enunciating of such an opinion is not only antithetical to the decrees of V2 but symptomatic of an intellectual and spiritual bigotry that the Church has thankfully outgrown. Eppur si muove. Fellay should recant his ancien régime will-o’-the-wisp and aver his commitment to human rights, religious liberty and separation of Church and State.

  11. Allan says:

    Just received the below and I share it for your edification. As a quid pro quo, would someone mind translating the Latin into English for me? Please and thank you.

    To the members of the Confraternity of Saint Peter
    Reading, England, February 12th, 2009: Novena for Pope

    Dear Members of the Confraternity of Saint Peter (CSP),
    You are all well aware of the opposition which the Holy Father has faced in his efforts to reconcile the Society of Pius X. The current pressure from the media and others seems to not only threaten Pope Benedict’s work with SSPX. It also seems as though some would like to see it work as a means to undermine his very teaching and governing authority for his pontificate.
    Given these oppositions which the Holy Father faces; given the particular role of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter in working as a bridge for those who have grown apart from the Church in the last forty years; finally, given that we hold St. Peter as our patron and have a particular attachment to his successor, as also requested by our Superior General Very Rev Fr John Berg, FSSP, I would ask all of the members of the Confraternity of St. Peter to offer increased prayers at this time for strength for Pope Benedict XVI.
    I suggest that each of our members may offer the following novena, which will be prayed as well by all our seminarians and priests, beginning on February 14th and concluding on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22nd.
    Please remember that as a CSP member you can earn a plenary indulgence on that day, February 22nd, the second anniversary of the foundation of the CSP. On the same day the CSP chaplains will hold a meeting at the General House and will pray at all your intentions.
    Sincerely in Christ,
    Fr. Armand de Malleray, FSSP, General Chaplain CSP

    Novena (February 14 to 22)
    Pater Noster, 3 Ave Maria, Gloria Patri
    V. Orémus pro Pontífice nostro Benedícto.
    R. Dóminus consérvet eum, et vivíficet eum, et beátum fáciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in ánimam inimicórum eius.
    V. Tu es Petrus.
    R. Et super hanc petram ædificábo Ecclésiam meam.
    Orémus. Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, miserére fámulo tuo Pontífici nostro Benedícto : et dírige eum secúndum tuam cleméntiam in viam salútis ætérnæ : ut, te donánte, tibi plácita cúpiat, et tota virtúte perfíciat. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
    R. Amen. Mater Ecclésiæ, ora pro nobis. Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis.

    Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP
    Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in England
    179 Elgar Rd, RG2 0DH, Reading, Berkshire, UK

  12. Roland de Chanson says:


    Our Father, 3 Hail Mary’s, Glory Be.
    V. Let us pray for our Pope, Benedict.
    R. May the Lord preserve him and give him life and make him blessed (happy) on earth and not betray him to the wiles of his enemies.
    V. Thou art Peter.
    R. And on this rock I will build my Church.
    Let us pray. Almighty eternal God, have mercy on your servant, our Pontiff, Benedict: and lead him by your clemency into the vay of eternal salvation:
    that, by your gifts he may desire what is pleasing to you and accomplish all things in virtue. Through Christ our Lord.
    R. Amen. Mother Church, pray for us. St. Peter, pray for us.

  13. Roland de Chanson says:

    Oy vey! That should be “the way of eternal salvation”.

  14. Allan says:

    Thanks Roland. I am one of those people who usually attends a NO mass, but occasionally makes the trek for an EF mass, even though I neither speak nor understand Latin.

    I go for an encounter with the mystery, and you don’t need to understand a word of Latin for that!

  15. Amadan says:


    You’ve got to be kidding?
    And you’re still free to believe in Limbo since a better theory has yet to be advanced.


  16. FL Catholic says:

    Roland, thank you for the translation. One minor quibble: shouldn’t Mater Ecclésiæ be translated as “Mother of the Church” (addressed to Mary) rather than “Mother Church”?

  17. Roland de Chanson says:

    Allan, you’re welcome.

    FL Catholic, Yes you’re right. Sorry. I read it too fast.

    Amadan, I am kidding. Only slightly though. I didn’t believe in limbo when it was a going concern. ;-)

  18. Michael J says:


    I am quite certain that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, founded by Jesus Christ Himself and that all other churches are false and that no other church offers a path to salvation. Is this an example of the “spiritual bigotry” you are so thankful that the Church has outgrown?

  19. Roland de Chanson says:

    Michael J: Is this an example of the “spiritual bigotry” you are so thankful that the Church has outgrown?

    No, not at all. Your oleaginous prelude I would cite rather as an example of priggish sanctimony.

    Two apposite examples: Giordano Bruno. And the guy who languished under house arrest thankful he didn’t wind up like his compatriot. Hint: same guy who uttered the Italian words I quoted. I pass over the matter of the perfidious Jews.

  20. Zoe Keller says:

    How sad and ironic that our besieged Holy Father
    has this guy coming to his defence. I guess you
    take what you get

  21. James Noel says:

    Father Sirico is one of my priests here at St. Mary’s in Kalamazoo. He offers the TLM reverently and is extremely kind. He is also orthodox in his preaching and in the advice he offers in confession. He and Father Grondz are even introducing traditional devotions to us this year, with the most recent being the traditional blessing of the throats in honor of St. Blaise’s feast day. It is a joy for me to attend Mass each Sunday because of the generosity of both my priests.

    I pray for him and Father Grondz each night during Rosary.

  22. TJM says:

    I guess Zoe Keller would reject St. Paul and St. Augustine and Jesus Christ Himself who was able to embrace sinners who repented. Nice going, Zoe. I guess Catholicism is only for living Saints. Tom

  23. Ted Krasnicki says:

    Canada once prided itself in being a multicultural society. That meant that all cultures and their religion were treated as equals at least in theory by the state. You can immagine what the SSPX thought about that one.
    But like many nations whose weltanschauung is derived from the thinking of the “liberated” baby-boomer generation, the state now regards itself as superior to any religion, and often hostile to it, particularly the moral teachings of the Catholic Church on the dignity of every human being and the family. Even multiculturalsm is slowly being eroded as the state insists on its having the true weltanschuung. Religion is increasingly marginalised in the public sphere while a Godless secular state is increasingly being promoted. Its human rights commissions sniff out what they think to be “hate” speech and Christians have been targets.
    The Catholic Church in Canada had been for many years after the council one of the most progressivists in the world and was often complicit in supporting such liberated thinking. But as the Canadian Church is finally starting to come to its senses thanks to wonderful Catholics like Cardinal Ouillet, there is more confrontation in the horizon.

  24. Daniel says:

    “They remain suspended priests, [and bishops] forbidden from practicing their ministry.”

    Then why are they permitted to offer Mass with Rome’s permission at Roman Basilicas? Why do bishops allow the SSPX to offer Mass at various churches?

  25. Cathguy says:

    Fr. Z continues to impress with his commentary and the articles he posts. Thank you Father!!

    “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.”

    Father, would you PLEASE consider addressing the religious liberty question on the blog soon?! I desperately want to learn more about this question. I am reading Lefebvre’s “Religious Liberty Questioned” and I am aghast. I, for one, need context and guidance.

  26. Brian says:

    “Heresies usually rise up from an effort to protect something good. In doing so, they stray from something else.” Nicely put.

  27. Nancy Dunn says:


    Different strokes for different folks.

    If Sirico had been a ruthless CEO who failed to pay his workers, would
    you be this harsh on him now?

    There is more than ONE sin that cries out to heaven

  28. Michael J says:


    Impressive vocabulary. I had to look up “oleaginous”. I take it then, that you deny that the Catholic Church infallibly teaches that it alone is the on true Church , the “offensively ingratiating” qualities of this teaching notwithstanding?

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