Reese piece

The WaPo’s On Faith has a note from Fr. Thomas J Reese, side-lined former editor of America.  For some reason he still in everyone’s Rolodex.  Reese has a comment on Pope Benedict.

I am sure you were waiting for it.

Benedict Undermining His Own Legacy

The lifting of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson by Pope Benedict XVI caused a firestorm [ah… a fresh image] of protest from Jews and liberal Catholics. Jewish leaders expressed shock and hurt because Bishop Williamson had denied the reality of the Shoah (Holocaust) that exterminated millions of Jews. Catholic liberals complained that Williamson and the three other bishops of the St. Pius X Society have still not accepted the Second Vatican Council.

The complaints against Bishop Williamson are on target. He is a Shoah [he prefers the chic term] denier and does not accept Vatican II. [Watch this…] His views on women are also anachronistic. He disapproves of women in pants and says women should not go to universities. This is a man who would be happier living in the 19th century, like many members of the Lefebvre movement who have not recovered from the French revolution[Has Europe?] Oh yes, he also believes that the World Trade Center was destroyed by explosions, not by airplanes.

[Now that he has set you up…]

Three aspects of this debacle need to be separately examined: the decision to lift the excommunication, how it was made and how it was communicated to the world.

The Decision

The media has described the decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Williamson as the pope "rehabilitating" him, "returning him to the fold," and "embracing" him. None of this is true.

The four bishops, along with Archbishop Marel Lefebvre, were excommunicated because Lefebvre ordained them as bishops without the approval of the pope. They were not excommunicated because of their beliefs about the Shoah or Vatican II. They were excommunicated because they were ordained bishops.

Lifting the excommunication says nothing about their beliefs. It is the ecclesia [sic] equivalent of a "cease fire" not a peace treaty. The bishops are still suspended from ministry, they are forbidden to act as bishops or even as priests. Long and difficult negotiations will be needed to bring about any reconciliation between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X. There is a very good chance that these negotiations will fail[Depend on him always to take to negative view… even the cowardly view, as he did in regard to the difficulties in introducing a new translation of the liturgy.]

As one who believes that the Catholic Church should be a big tent with room for different views, I do not criticize the pope’s attempt to reach out to the Lefebvrites. In my view, lifting the excommunications was a judgment call, and I would defend the pope’s right to make that decision. [This from a Jesuit.  How gracious.]  My disappointment is that while the Vatican is enthusiastic in wooing the right, it has no patience with the left. Only the right side of the cafeteria is open.  [This is simply silly.  Who is he trying to kid?  The Holy See has been nothing but patient with the left for decades!  This Pope, when he was Prefect of CDF, was notoriously patient with theologians with the screwiest ideas.  It has been over 20 years since those consecrations at Econe.  That is a rush to reconcile?  When someone goes this far to the left, even the center appears to be the extreme right.]

Why is the Vatican putting so much effort into reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X? The real reason is because these men are bishops. If they were simple priests, the Vatican would not give them the time of day. [This is simply false.  Look at the acceptance of the FSSP, the recent reconciliation of the Institute of the Good Shepherd and the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer… no bishops there.]  The Vatican is caught by it own theology that sees these men as validly if not licitly ordained. As a result, these bishops can ordain more bishops and the schism can go on forever.  [He didn’t get the memo on this term.]

If the bishops ordain more bishops, they will again suffer excommunication. If the bishops refrain from ordaining new bishops, the schism ends when these four bishops die [?] even if they are not reconciled with the pope. If lifting the excommunication is the price for keeping the bishops from ordaining more bishops, then in the view of the Vatican it is a cheap price to pay.  [I see.   So, the Holy Father didn’t tell us the real reason why he did this.  This couldn’t really have been actually to help heal a rift in the Church.]

The Decision-Making Process

This latest controversy and others that preceded it (like his Regensburg address) point to a fatal systemic flaw in the Benedict papacy that is destroying his effectiveness as pope: He does not consult experts who might challenge his views and inclinations.  [This is the second time Reese has gone in this direction.  He was quoted to this effect elsewhere.  The obvious question is, how does he know the consulting habits of this Pope?  Was he in the room?  Just because some people groused that they weren’t consulted, that doesn’t mean a) that they had to have been consulted or b) that Benedict therefore didn’t consult anyone.  The problem is that he doesn’t like the decision the Pope made and therefore the Pope didn’t consult.  Reese is shooting from the hip.]

No one disputes the fact that Benedict is a brilliant theologian, but he is surrounded by people who are not as smart as he is and who would never think of questioning him. [Reese is shooting from the hip.  He has no idea what happens in the Apostolic Palace.]  How do you challenge someone who you think is the smartest man in the world?  [Easy.  You just do it.  Respectfully.  Anyone who knows or has known Papa Ratzinger, knows that you can challenge and question, civilly and with a real desire to find the best conclusion.]

A smart person surrounded by less than smart people will always get in more trouble than an average person who consults smart people who are experts in their fields. The fact that Walter Kasper was not consulted on lifting the excommunication is just another in a long line of examples.  [See? The Pope didn’t consultm because he didn’t consult the people I think he should have consulted.  But there is a bit of misdirection here.  He juxtaposed Card. Kasper with those merely "average" people.  And what would Card. Kasper have said?  The Jews will be angry?  And that would be a reason not to lift the excommunications?]

The firestorm [there is it again] that followed the decision should have been foreseen and prepared for. Unnamed sources in the Vatican are saying that they did not know that Williamson was a Shoah denier. Haven’t they heard of Google?  [Well… they know, and we know they knew.]

In any other organization, heads would roll after so many disasters, but in the Vatican, loyalty still trumps competence.  [And the Church isn’t any other organziation.  Though I admit they have a lot to learn.] The pope needs a good chief of staff who would make sure this kind of thing does not happen.  [Now THIS I can agree with.  And we are getting closer to the solution.]

Communicating the Decision

Finally, the way in which this decision was communicated to the world was a disaster. Benedict still acts like a German professor who can demand the undivided attention of his students. [I don’t know about that.  I think this is unfair.] He has little PR sense. He needs people to protect him from himself.  [Yah… we’ve heard that from others too.  Nothing new.]

Special efforts should have been made to communicate the decision to Jewish leaders. For example, after explaining to them that the decision did not represent an endorsement of the bishops’ views, the Vatican could have argued that during its dialogue with the Society, it would try to change the Lefebvrites’ views on Jews. It could argue that it is better for the Jews if the church acts as a check on the Lefebvrites than if they are simply left to fester by themselves. [There’s charity for you.] This argument and other arguments might not have worked, but Jewish leaders would have known that the Vatican takes their feelings seriously.

The Vatican still believes that all it has to do is announce a decision by the pope and everyone will greet it with enthusiasm. One-page press releases will not do it. Most large American universities have more sophisticated media offices than does the Vatican, which is the headquarters for a 1.1-billion member organization. Simply setting up a YouTube channel will not do it either. The Vatican needs a sophisticated and modern communications strategy.  [yep]

The sad thing is that Pope Benedict is saying and doing many great things, but these media disasters are undermining his papacy. His words about peace, justice, refugees and the economic crisis are not being heard. Benedict wants to be a pastor and teacher, but he needs people who know how to run an organization and communicate in the 21st century, and he does not have them. The Vatican’s model for the papacy is still the absolute monarchies and royal courts of the past. That model simply will not work today.  [He could have gotten this point out more directly and far easier.  It seems he wanted also to blacken the Pope’s eye and bash the SSPX.]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Aelric says:

    New first sentence, last paragraph.

    “The sad thing is that Pope Benedict Tom Reese is saying anything” .

  2. Cole M says:

    Fr. Reese’s comment that “[The Holy Father] does not consult experts who might challenge his views and inclinations” reminds me of the council of experts who recommended altering the Church’s teaching on contraceptives. Their recommendations were ultimately rejected by Paul VI when he wrote Humanae Vitae. I suspect that Fr. Reese would prefer that a council of experts with views like his (which would probably include alterations to the teaching on contraception) be given greater heed in the Vatican.

  3. RANCHER says:

    Not that a former Editor of a liberal publication would ever admit it, but isn’t there just the slightest possibility that the problem rests not with what the Pope has said or done or even how the Vatican has or has not managed the media but is, instead, the result of a concerted agenda on the media’s part to destroy the Church? Oh, of course not. The evil one would never use such a technique to destroy the church of Christ on earth.

  4. Sam Schmitt says:

    How about publishing someone who actually *knows* the Holy Father? Like Fr. Fessio . . .

  5. “The Vatican’s model for the papacy is still the absolute monarchies and royal courts of the past. That model simply will not work today.”

    Wait, wait, wait. Isn’t the Pope an absolute monarch? The Church never had, don’t has and will never have a democratic organization. Perhaps I’m reading too much on this, and the guy who wrote this was only taking about PR, but I don’t think so. That last paragraph seems like “New Church” apologetics for me.

  6. dcs says:

    I don’t like women in pants either.

  7. Prof. Basto says:

    Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ is in material terms a heretic.

    He also defies legitimate Church authority for more then a decade. He unreasonably protests against papal acts of jurisdiction, and therefore deserves the just penalty of which Canon Law speaks.

    He should be excommunicated and dismissed from the clerical state, for the good especially of other souls.

    Only then he will cease to be presented as a “Catholic theologian” that writes hit-jobs against the Supreme Pontiff.

  8. Anne-France says:

    Dito to Hugo Pinto Abreu. Jesus did not go around asking everyone their opinions and choosing the most pleasing answer. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. The “congregation” does not have to approve what the Holy Father judges to be good for us.

  9. Prof. Basto says:

    So this guy is supports the French Revolution instead of the Church’s magisterium? That’s his faith?

  10. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Consulting experts? Reminds me of a great line from the film “The Mission”.

    Jeremy Irons’ character (Father Superior) says to his novice, played by Robert de Niro: “Father, we are not members of a democracy. We are members of an Order.”

  11. Tominellay says:

    …thinking Reese is intellectually dishonest…

  12. I posted something about Reese bashing the Pope over at my blog.

    It seems to me that Reese is a bit bitter over his disciplining from
    a few years ago.

  13. Dan says:

    “Oh yes, he also believes that the World Trade Center was destroyed by explosions, not by airplanes.”

    Oh, yes, he also believes that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Bishop Williamson believes in miracles. Those beliefs, among a great many “elite” folks, are considered laughable and pathetic.

    You know…a number of posters to this blog have labeled certain beliefs that Bishop Williamson holds — beliefs that he said he’s open to disregarding — as the beliefs of a cranky lunatic.

    Let us not forget that millions of people throughout the world, particularly among Protestants, Jews and Moslems and “intellectuals,” insist that anybody who believes that Jesus Christ arose from the dead is a cranky lunatic.

    The Pope, for example, is considered by many to be an evil man, a fraud, lunatic, even “dangerous” as he insists that he’s the Vicar of Christ.

    Pro-lifers are considered by many to be maniacs simply for their (the pro-lifers) desire to protect unborn babies.

    For those Catholics who have set themselves up as superior to Bishop Williamson…you know, that “cranky, irrelevant and obscure” lunatic who believes that hundreds of thousands of Jews died at the hands of Nazis and said that he’s open to changing his opinion regarding gas chambers…

    …you’d do well to recall that according to millions of non-Catholics, you are a sick, cranky, dangerous lunatic for believing in Jesus Christ and His True Church.

  14. jim says:

    Does anyone know when the talks for regularization are going to take place?
    Are they alredy taking place?

  15. chironomo says:

    “The complaints against Bishop Williamson are on target. He is a Shoah denier and does not accept Vatican II. His views on women are also anachronistic. He disapproves of women in pants and says women should not go to universities.”

    Hey!! Just yesterday I posted a comment on this very site, noting that if Williamson had never said the things he did, then (insert favorite Progressive group name) would be “outraged” over their views on female altar servers, women in the clergy, etc…

    This exposes their indignation for exactly what it is: Using the Jewish people as a prop to criticize the Church and advance their agenda. It is shameful.

    We, including the Vatican, need to just ignore this NOW!

  16. rosie says:

    When I saw “Reese piece” I thought this was another food poll. It wasn’t Reese’s Pieces. Just another sour ball.

  17. NY seminarian says:

    In fact not a terrible article from Reese, by his own standards. At least SOME of it isnt a vile rant at the papacy!

    One thing i noticed is that right at the end of the article he states that the Pope’s message on peace, justice, refugees and the economic crisis are not being heard. I would suggest that that is because this is not an area where the Church differs from many Christian leaders and the western liberal society as a whole.

    People always say ‘grumble grumble the Pope is only focusing on Liturgy or Homosexuality or Abortion or the Jews. Why doesnt he focus on peace and justice in the Middle East?’ The fact is, he does! But another voice saying ‘Hey guys, you should get along and make peace’ isnt newsworthy.

    People like Reese, because they reject huge chunks of difficult moral teaching, and dont think a huge part of Church dogma is important, all they have left is a vague sense of peace and justice (not for the unborn or elderly of course!) but you dont need to be a Catholic to want to stop the Israel-Palestinian conflict. You dont need the Pope to tell you that refugees should be housed. The Pope does make some news when he blasts materialistic society because thats a little bit out of the ordinary, but Reese is wrong if he thinks that peace and justice are key messages at this point in time. And the fact is the Pope IS heard, and has made a lot of news in the last year.

    While i agree that the Vatican made an error in its communication, i cant be that upset, as i dont really think the fall out would have been any different. There still would have been Jewish leaders getting into an uproar, the Press would still use terms like ‘Lefebvrite’ ‘German Pope’ ‘Ultraconservative’ ‘Latin-only liturgy’ ‘Rejecting reforms of Vatican II’ and ‘Hitler Youth.’ You might get some Jewish leaders feeling better, but some would be upset that they hadnt been consulted, and then what happens if the Jewish leaders, having been consulted, STILL ask for the excommuncations not to be revoked??

    What headlines then? “German Pope revokes excommunication of Holocaust denier, despite Jewish pleas.” “Rabbi X said, ‘We were consulted on the issue, but the Pope just went and ignored us anyway, it was a total breakdown in dialogue. He has insulted the entire Jewish community by ignoring our concerns that he asked for in the first place.'”

  18. JP Borberg says:

    Has anyone else noticed Fr Reese has ripped, more or less verbatim, that ‘the pope only consults dumb people’ (my paraphrase) bit from the Card. Kasper ‘vent’ that Fr Z posted yesterday?

    He even goes on and points to Kasper as being one of the people the pope neglected to consult.

    So hmmm… I wonder where he got that idea from.

    So much for being an original thinker.

  19. NY seminarian says:

    I forgot my second part to the above post. I meant to say that even when the Pope has communicated properly, its resulted in a mess.

    He said nothing controversial at his Curial address, his speech was clear, and easily available. Yet media ran with it, and it became ‘Save us from Gays says Pope’ So i cant help but think that these headlines would have happened anyway, because certain areas of the media will look for the dirty story, and ignore anything to the contrary.

    I mean, i would be interested to see how many times Reese has been interviewed or asked to write an article in the last year, and how many times other priests have been interviewed, eg Fr Fessio? We have a well known Jesuit here, Fr Koterski, who would love to give an interview. What about Fr Schall who wrote the book on the Regensburg lecture?

    But no, they go to Reese. They will always look for the controversy.

  20. Brian in Wisconsin says:

    Why is he still on Rolodexes? Read this piece, that’s why. He’s a reliable subtle basher of the Pope and orthodoxy. He can couch his bashing in such a way that what he’s doing is clear but that also leaves him plenty of room for plausible deniability. That makes for a Catholicism hating journalist’s dream come true, source wise.

  21. Martin J. says:

    “The complaints against Bishop Williamson are on target. He is a Shoah [he prefers the chic term] denier”
    Fr.Z: Since Pope Benedict always uses the term “Shoah” in referring to the Holocaust, would you make the same snide little comment about him too?

  22. Thomas says:

    “Benedict created a firestorm.” Firestorm; that’s another word for holocaust. Hmmm, maybe Reese is trying to be clever. Naw, I am giving the horse’s patoot too much credit.

    Thomas from MD

  23. Nick says:

    “The Vatican’s model for the papacy is still the absolute monarchies and royal courts of the past.”
    As it should be.

  24. nw says:

    “The fact that Walter Kasper was not consulted on lifting the excommunication is just another in a long line of examples.

    The firestorm that followed the decision should have been foreseen and prepared for. Unnamed sources in the Vatican are saying that they did not know that Williamson was a Shoah denier. Haven’t they heard of Google?”

    Hadn’t Walter Kasper? Why was *he* silent…in 2001? :-)

  25. Clara says:

    Fr. Z,

    You’ve made it pretty clear by now that, without questioning the Vatican’s decision to lift the excommunications, you do think it was handled badly from a public relations perspective. I’m not at all sure I agree, but I would certainly be interested to hear: what do *you* think they should have done differently? I’m thinking in terms of specific measures taken.

    You’ve already posted John Allen’s suggestions on this point, but you didn’t make clear the extent to which you agreed with him. Now, I for one think his proposed way of handling the matter would have been rather unfortunate. In effect, it seems he wanted them to unveil the news of the lifting of the excommunications at a press conference expressly designed to emphasize the continued disgrace of the SSPX, and to celebrate those positions that are more troubling to them. He’s right that that would play much better with the mainstream press (the primary focus of his attention), but it would hardly have been well received by the SSPX themselves, who were rightly the focus of the Holy Father’s attention in this case. So, considered as a generous pastoral gesture, I think Allen’s proposed method has some real deficiencies. However, I would be very interested to hear your take. Stop teasing us with hints! If you think the Vatican has blundered, tell us what, in your evaluation, they might have done better.

  26. ssoldie says:

    I don’t know who Fr.Reese is and really don’t care to know after reading this article he wrote. I am old, and have the opinion he is “weird”. I would like to know why are so many against, the lifting of the excommunications of the Bishops of the SSPX, by the Holy Father? What are they afraid of? I think it is wonderful,and hopefully much truth will come of this,like the truth that the Traditional Latin Mass was never abrocated or forbidden, but surpressed, and to what purpose? I ask myself what have been the fruits of this surpression?

  27. Btw, as some reader said it, I will repeat it, this time on a positve fashion: women wearing skirts is one of the most beautiful exterior signs of the imense dignity and beauty of females. They look like roses when they wear skirts!

    Rosa Mystica, ora pro nobis!

  28. Legisperitus says:

    I much prefer the term “Shoah.” For me, there is only one event in history that merits to be called “THE Holocaust,” and it happened twenty centuries ago.

  29. Reese the heretic makes me want to vomit. His last paragraph however was spot on up until he started talking about the “Vatican’s model for the papacy.” Then he lost me. But mostly this was a dreadful article by a dreadful heretic of a theologian who occasionally said a thing or two which was close to true. Oh well.

  30. GOR says:

    I think too much ink and too many pixels have been expended on the Holy Father’s gesture as being a “PR Disaster”. One imagines that if those who think so were around in Our Lord’s time, they would also conclude that the timing of much of His teachings were “PR Disasters” also – ‘insensitive’ to the Scribes and Pharisees, not respecting the High Priest, oblivious to Roman sensibilities, being too open to Samaritans and sinners, etc. etc.
    But Christ didn’t trim His sails to the circumstances of His time. When people walked away because of His “hard sayings”, His response was not: “Well, let me rephrase that…” It was “Will you also go away?”

    The Holy Father’s eyes are on eternity, not temporal conditions. He is not concerned about his ‘legacy’ in human terms or how his actions will be viewed by the crowd. He knows that there is only one judgment that counts – God’s – and that’s where his priority lies.

    And that should be our priority also!

  31. TerryC says:

    Of course the real question here isn’t why the Holy Father lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops, but why Fr. Reese has not been placed in a state of excommunication for his public support of the ordination of women.

  32. irishgirl says:

    Andrew-I like your quote from ‘The Mission’ [Robert DiNiro playing a Jesuit novice-hmmmm].

    rosie-‘Sour ball’…that’s a good one, too.

  33. Maureen says:

    “[Women] look like roses when they wear skirts!”

    That’s a lovely thought, but… Not really. Nope. Can’t see it. Unless you were wearing about five zillion crinolines and pantaloons, and were standing on your head while wearing a dress with green sleeves. But even then, you’d have to hide or fold your legs somehow…. Maybe in a synchronized swimming routine, I guess.

    Or I suppose if the skirts were long, and you were visualizing the roses as being mashed into the floor.

    Sorry. I have these overly literal moments. Literary imagery does it to me. You should see the trouble I have with romance novel prose. ;)

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