Why Cardinals wear red

The scapegoating of Card. Castrillon continues  

Card. Castrillon is taking the heat for the brouhaha over the SSPX/B16/Holocaust syndrome.

Watch how forces within the curia will line up to take turns pushing him under the 64 bus.

Our friends at Rorate have a blurb from a French interview in La Croix with Fr. Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See:


    Could it [the commotion caused by the Decree lifting the excommunication] have been avoided?

    Honestly, the delicate point is to know who knew the opinions of this man. When it is proposed to the Pope to lift the excommunication of four Bishops, it is not an important number, as [it would be] if they were 150. They are known, these four Bishops. Undoubtedly, the people who managed this situation were not aware of the gravity of the opinions of Mgr Williamson. It is true that the negotiations were conducted with Mgr Fellay. But the positions of the other Bishops were not taken into consideration. What is certain is that the Pope ignored it. If there was someone who should know it, it is Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.


If the positions of the other three SSPXers weren’t taken into consideration, how could those positions have then been ignored?  But let that pass.

I can hear it rising up now…

This is assuming a Watergatesque patina.

The press rises up.  The question is drawled…

"How much did the Holy Father know and when did he know it?"

In any event… here is the link to the piece in La Croix.

Meanwhile, at Reuters… we have this.

Spokesman says Vatican can’t control its message

Thu Feb 5, 2009 12:45pm EST

PARIS (Reuters) – The Vatican does not have control over its own communications and should improve the way it presents controversial statements, [Dýa think?] spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told a French Catholic newspaper on Thursday.

Lombardi spoke to the daily La Croix after almost two weeks of heated debate over Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, one of whom has denied the Holocaust.

Jewish groups, Catholic bishops and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Williamson’s comments and many urged the Vatican to ensure the four bishops respect reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

"We didn’t control the communications," said Lombardi, whose office originally announced the pope’s decision in a simple statement accompanied by the Vatican legal document that readmitted the four back into the Roman Catholic Church.

"I think we still have to create a communications culture inside the Curia, where each dicastery (ministry) communicates by itself, not necessarily thinking of going through the press room or issuing an explanatory note when the issue is complex.[Oh my!  Does this sound familiar?  I even wrote yesterday about the culture of fear in the Curia about social communications!]

The Holocaust denial by Bishop Richard Williamson, broadcast three days before the Vatican announcement, overshadowed the public discussion of the move. Under heavy criticism, the Vatican demand on Wednesday that he publicly recant.

Lombardi, whose comments were distributed by La Croix before publication on Friday, said the Vatican could have avoided several hectic days if it had issued the order for Williamson to recant along with the announcement of the bans lifting.

"Especially when it’s about hot topics, it’s better to prepare the explanations," he said.

Lombardi said the Vatican officials who dealt with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), the breakaway group the four bishops lead, focused on the views of the group’s leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and not those of Williamson or the others.

"They didn’t take the views of the other bishops enough into account," he said. "One thing that’s certain is that the pope didn’t know. If someone should have known, it was Cardinal (Dario) Castrillon Hoyos."

Castrillon Hoyos heads the Vatican department that deals with traditionalist Catholics.  [I suppose Card. Castrillon is "unavailable for comment".]

Lombardi said modern communications made it difficult for the Vatican to issue some statements.

"Certain documents are meant for specialist of canon law, others for theologians, others for all Catholics or all people," he said. "But today, whatever the type of document, it all ends up directly in the public sphere. It gets difficult to manage."

["meant for specialists"… okay.  But you know… there is a beautiful Press Office, with a big dais and lights and microphones and lots of seats for journalists.  There are smart people working in the Curia who could give a press conference.  But the press conferences held in that room are normally uninformative.  This is partly because of the penchant of some journalists to make speeches rather than ask questions.  The other part, major part, of the blame rests with the way the presentations are given: they issue printed statements to everyone in the room and then the presenters read them aloud.  Control.  Something has to give.  They need daily briefings… real briefings.  If they brief us, we will come.]

The announcement on lifting the excommunications was negotiated "up to the last minute," the spokesman said, and some points remained a bit confusing[And this never … came … up ….   That is what we are to buy?]

"The communique accompanying it left too much in doubt, giving rise to different interpretations," he said.

(Reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by Andrew Roche)



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. John Enright says:

    I think you hit it on the head, Father. Bravo!

  2. AM says:

    “ignored” is a mistranslation for “knew nothing of”.

  3. chironomo says:

    I think we (Catholics) should be suddenly outraged by the absolutely ludicrous claims by some breakaway groups that Christ is, in fact, not the Son of God. After all, we do, as Catholics believe this to be a historic fact, do we not? Wouldn’t somebody who then denies such an historic fact be a sort of “Messiah Deniah..”? I am truly outraged and demand that all such “opinions” be immediately recanted and apologized for…

  4. pelerin says:

    Interesting to see also from today’s ‘La Croix’ that the Polish Bishops have praised Pope Benedict for his decision and they say that he has shown great courage.

  5. Loren Z says:

    When the news first came out with the lifting of the excommunications I was elated with joy. Finally this order of mostly good and holy priests will be back within the church and in a position to serve it faithfully and help influence the interpretation of the Vatican II documents. Myself and some friends thought the season of silliness was over and the influence of the 60s radicals gone. When the news of Williamson broke out last week I was dissappointed but thought it would blow over. However, I am troubled that this is turning out to be something much bigger then I expected and I dismay over the possible outcome. This appears to have grown into an international issue with the mainstream media very actively involved in slandering the pope and Catholic tradition. There is a 5th column of leftists and liberals within the church who seek to break with tradition and create a new church in their own mold. Tradition is a big threat to them and that is why they fear the SSPX.

    A possible outcome is that the SSPX bishops will be ordered to grovel and recant some of their valid criticisms on the spirit of Vatican II. They may break off all negotiations and the opportunity will be lost and the schism will be permanent. At worst a major persecution may happen of not only the SSPX but all Catholic Traditionalists.

    The holocaust was real and should not be played down. Bishop Williamson’s views are wrong. But let us not forget the hypocritical actions of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her endorsement of Turkey being a member of the EU. Turkey committed the first modern holocaust killing over 2 million Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century. To this day Turkey denies it happened. Or the nearly 50 pro-abortion congressmen who sent a letter to the pope.

    I fear that this attack against the pope is demonic in origin. Let’s always pray for him.

  6. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Like the John Allen article this shows why the Vatican needs to engage with modern communications. Some say that the business of the Church is to save souls, which it is, but the Church can do this more effectively if it isn’t been torn to bits in the media.

    Engaging with effective communications doesn’t dilute the Church’s message, but willfully ignoring effective communication can bring great harm. The Vatican can only benefit from better communications.

    Let us continue to pray for the Pope and the Defence of the Church against those who attack her.

  7. Gravitas says:

    I think a Holy Inquisition is needed inside the Vatican and it should start with the firing of Fr. Lombardi.

    How dare he call out a superior like that in public? It’s insubordination.

    Someone, I pray, will take the wheel and steer this ship soon. And the pope can only do so much of that himself.

  8. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    Is bad PR really to blame? All of the information is out now, but the press, the Jewish groups, and the Catholic enemies of the Holy Father are still making their scandalous public statements. Would things really have been different if the Vatican Press Office had hired a first-class PR firm? I doubt it. In fact, I’m sure that they would not have been. None of the Holy Father’s critics honestly think that he’s trying to legitimize Bp Williamson’s views on the Holocaust and 911. (Haven’t heard much about the latter, have we?) They’re deliberately distorting the facts, and PR can’t stop that.

  9. Origen Adamantius says:

    Yes the PR is to blame , in part. While there will always be those who deliberately distort the truth, there are many who are simply lazy and take the easiest path or most sensationalist path. The more info and explanation available the harder it is to distort. This is particularly true opf the average Catholic who is not an avid blogger and gets blindsided by public spin.

  10. Matt says:

    All topics outside the dogma of the faith are up for individual criticism and review. The number of Jews killed is controversial topic, but not one that the Vatican should be issuing dictates of what faithful must believe.

    I thought traditionally that we value every soul and there is no difference between one being killed and 6 million. The ultimate number is not improtant. Those stating that 6 million MUST be the recognized number denegrate the value of the individual human person. Is it somehow less of a tragedy if 100, 1000, 100,000, etc. people are murdered or how? What number is acceptable? This type of thought is relativism and cheapens the value of life.

    Bishop Williamson’s remarks NEVER denied the holocost as so many in the media are falsely associating with him. He questions the ultimate number and by what method. *Again the numbers game.*

    How about the Vatican demand an apology from the United States and Germany for the holocost of the millions of the unborn innocent? Just in my state of Wisconsin 500,000 unborn children have been murdered since 1973. Half a MILLION PEOPLE. I wonder if all those attacking Bishop Williamson for his unwise public comments would be willing to own their complicity in those deaths the way Bishop Williamson has apologized for his comments.

    I find it outstanding that the Vatican wants him to go any further on an issue that is not a Dogma of the faith. What is next? Will the Vatican again dictate the eath is flat and anyone who refuses is not allowed to teach in the Church? This whole drama only attacks the Church.

    Liberals are worried. Rightly so. The pope sees the desire of Catholics for traditional catholic teaching among the faithful. The SSPX numbers are not shrinking. The Vatican itself now estimates there are between 500,000 and 1.5 million people who call themselves members of the SSPX. By a numbers view alone the SSPX is one of THE largest societies in the Church. They further adhere to what the Church taught to virtually all her saints.

    In France over 1/3 of all Catholics attend SSPX parishes. With the current attrition rate of the NO parishs, France’s “legitimate” bishops will have no faithful in their parishes in 15-20 years while the SSPX continues to grow. The 60’s liberals who want to have “thier” church will slowly die out over the next 15-20 years. The younger more traditional Catholics will then be able to rid the church of many of the current problems. The liberals know this and so does the Pope. That is the reason for his appointments of young, traditional clerics to replace those aging hippie clerics.

    In 200 years the church will look back on this time and wonder how this ever happened.

  11. Origen Adamantius says:

    “All topics outside the dogma of the faith are up for individual criticism and review”

    Perhaps, but the Church can demand some form of intelligence or healthy View of Judaism from those under consideration for juridicial episcopal ministry . After all there is a reluctance tor remove someone once they have been called to episcopal ministry by the Church and in the Church, because the unde3rlying theological implications.

  12. Michael says:

    As long as the business of the Church is to save souls, it will be torn apart in the media at every opportunity. I think what you are saying is that we should not be giving it the opportunity. The Church will never be able to drive the media cycle.

  13. John Penta says:

    Ivo: Yes, yes it can. Nine-tenths of the work of a PR firm is not just communicating the message, but *getting the opportunities to communicate*.

    The Church, in Rome and in America, still communicates as if it is guaranteed a spot at the table, as if the major papers will automatically give inches to covering the day 2 or day 3 of a Church story. No, it’s not – not when religion is a beat more and more being cut by the media, and when foreign correspondents are frequently an unaffordable luxury.

    A good PR firm (and let’s be honest, the Vatican could get good PR firms by the dozen if they looked, honestly – it’d be a prestige assignment, “God’s PR firm” has a heck of a ring to it) would have told the Vatican that the internal symbolism of the timing (of the week of Christian Unity) would be missed by virtually every major player. It would have a 24/7/365 media monitoring unit that would have caught Williamson’s statement and shot it up to the Apostolic Palace directly, so the Pope could see it with his breakfast. Higher-level Curia members would have a press-clippings service like the Department of Defense’s “Early Bird”, focused on Church news as reported by the secular media.

    Most importantly, a professional PR firm would have been able to write *much better media statements*, *in English*. Not just in Italian, but in every major language.

    It’s what they do for a living, communicate. Funnily enough, it used to be what *the Church* did for a living – or does anyone think St. Paul was not a one-man PR firm for his times?

  14. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    “the Church can demand some form of intelligence or healthy View of Judaism from those under consideration for juridicial episcopal ministry”

    Does a “healthy view of Judaism” include a view about the exact number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, and the number killed? What if the priest is in Africa, China, or India, and hasn’t really thought much about the Holocaust: does he need special lessons to instill in him a “healthy view” about this historical event?

    Williamson isn’t being asked to adopt a particular viewpoint about the Holocaust; he merely needs to recognize, publicly, that it was inappropriate for him, as a Bishop of the Catholic Church, to engage in historical polemics about this painful historical event. That would suffice, given what was asked of him.

    We cannot turn a historical account of the Holocaust into a Catholic superdogma, no matter how important or well-documented that historical event might be. That would be a profound distortion of the Catholic faith.

    Williamson’s main mistake was to compromise the SSPX and the Church by doing things that are not appropriate to a Catholic Bishop.

    I mean, think about it. He must have known that the people to whom he gave the interview held him, the SSPX, and the Catholic CHurch in contempt; he must have known that he was giving them ammunition against the Holy Father, the SSPX, and the Church; yet he agreed to do the interview anyway. If he wasn’t aware of the implications of what he was doing, then he is not of sound mind. Either way, his actions have disqualified him from the episcopacy; but that has nothing to do with the requirement that a priest or bishop have “healthy views” about this or that historical event.

  15. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    “…the exact number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, and the number killed” should end “…and the manner in which they were killed”.

    I apologize for the error. Three comments, like three drinks, are more than plenty; I’ll cut myself off now…

  16. Brian Day says:

    Fr. Z,
    Can we have a moratorium on these kinds of posts? [On your blog, you can post what you want to post.] Media articles/reports are getting tiresome as more and more people are grandstanding with “me too” statements, each trying to out do the others in trying to get in the spotlight.

    I think the cycle has run its course and now it is time to let it die.

  17. Paul M says:

    “We didn’t control the communications,” said Lombardi, whose office originally announced the pope’s decision in a simple statement accompanied by the Vatican legal document that readmitted the four back into the Roman Catholic Church.

    Excuse me Fr. Lombardi, but haven’t you been the director of the press office for the past 2.5 years? If there are problems, look in the mirror. Man up, take responsibility and make the necessary changes. If you can’t do it, then resign.

  18. Brian Walden says:

    I still don\’t see what Bishop Williamson\’s comments have to do with the excommunications. The problem here isn\’t whether or not Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos or Pope Benedict knew about the comments ahead of time, it\’s that the Vatican still hasn\’t been able to distinguish the lifting of the excommunications from Williamson\’s comments in the minds of the media and the public in general. It wasn\’t Castrillion Hoyos fault that the press uses the term \”rehabilitate\” in every article written about this topic without any correction from the Vatican. It wasn\’t Castrillion Hoyos\’s fault the media doesn\’t know what excommunication is and what the remittance of the excommunications actually entail. It wasn\’t Castrillion Hoyos\’s fault that the public hasn\’t been informed that Williamson\’s comments aren\’t an excommunicatable offense. Fr. Lombardi is the Vatican\’s Spokesman and he failed to explain these simple points; he should be pointing the finger at himself.

  19. Josephus muris saliensis says:

    Be fair, Father we know you read Italian, and French has similar linguistic “false friends”.

    the original article from “La Croix” has “c’est que le pape l’ignorait.” This does NOT mean he “ignored it”, but that he “was ignorant of it” – ie he did not know.”

    Quite different. So many of these problems of misunderstanding are made but such innocent errors, and we who try to be “men of goodwill” must be always vigilant not to make things worse.

  20. Brian Day says:

    Fr. Z,
    [On your blog, you can post what you want to post.]
    I’ll take that as a “No”. :p

  21. I agree with those above who suggest that better PR would have made little if any difference. I live in Toronto. On the CBC’s flaqship TV Newscast “The National”, the story was covered two nights in sucesseion and on both occasions the impression was given that this issue involved only Bishop Williamson. No mention was made of the other bishops or the SSPX or the schism.

    On the CBC radio program, “The Current” there was a half hour segment with a panel consisting of Thomas Reese, James McCarroll and the editor of a local liberal Catholic newspaper which has folded. The last of these three kept steering the discussion over to the Pope’s refusal to allow women to be priests.

    There may indeed have been a liberal plot, perhaps within the Vatican itself and no doubt there are some bishops licking their chops but the bigger problem is a press which knows little or nothng about religion and a public whose thought and value systems have departed from those of the Church to an amazing degree over the past fifty years.

  22. Jerry says:

    Have everyone forgotten that God is in control?

    We are witnessing the beginning of the liberals being hoisted on their own petard. And it will be very costly to Bishop Williamson who will have been the catalyst.

    He recently said he thought it will be a series of martyrs and martyr-Popes who will save the Church. He will probably lead the way. An English paper today made a veiled provocation for his death today.

    Everyone who has acted hysterically and called him names will be partially culpable for what happens to him. And God will have His vengeance on you in His own time.

    The last time the Church was in this much of a media storm was just prior to the release of “the Passion of the Christ.” And it was once again, God choosing the most unexpected of instruments to do his will.

    It is so obvious the media hates Catholicism because they are so enamored of sin and evil. The moment of choice is fast approaching the populace. Perhaps someone is coming like a thief in the night?

    Pope Benedict will not be able to split the difference on this one. It is not diplomatically going to go away and our gentle Pope may have to bear the burden of becoming a warrior in his last years.

    As. G.K. Chesterton said, In the end, there is only the Catholic Church and Her enemies.

  23. Origen Adamantius says:

    “Does a “healthy view of Judaism” include a view about the exact number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, and the number killed? What if the priest is in Africa, China, or India, and hasn’t really thought much about the Holocaust: does he need special lessons to instill in him a “healthy view” about this historical event?”

    My exact phrasing was either that the Bishop display some intelligence OR a healthy virewe3 of Judaism. If his comments were accidental then he lacks intelligence, if they were purposeful then he seems to be deliberately picking at another’s wound–thus an unhealthy view of our Christian brothers

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