28 January 2009

Rogue Shepherd

The New Testament describes the character and role of a bishop or overseer in a number of texts: they are watch keepers and shepherds of the church (Acts 20.28); they should be above reproach, able to teach and of good repute (1 Timothy 3.1-7); they should be blameless (Titus 1.7); and their model as shepherd and bishop is Christ himself (1 Peter 2.25).

On every count Richard Williamson is unfit to be a bishop. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict XVI seems unable to recognise this.

Since you may have no idea who Williamson is here is a little background.

While the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) introduced a series of reforms in the Roman Catholic church a number of traditionalists were not happy with the outcome. Among these was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who established the Society of Saint Pius X in 1970.

Lefebvre's relationship with the Vatican deteriorated until in 1988 Lefebvre ordained four members of the society as bishops. All were then considered schismatic and excommunicated by Pope John Paul II.

Benedict XVI has now chosen to rescind the excommunication of the four bishops and restore them to the Church. (Lefebvre himself is now dead).

Normally the internal workings of the Vatican would pass unremarked, except that only three days before the Vatican announced its decision Williamson, one of the four bishops restored to the Church, said on Swedish television that while Jews had died in Nazi concentration camps there were no gas chambers and that the number of dead was 200,00-300,000 not 6 million.

I have found videos of the interview here and here, and transcripts of his remarks are widely available online. The interview was recorded last November in Germany where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail. Indeed, Spiegel reports that the 'Regensburg public prosecutor's office...has opened an enquiry into his remarks.'

Spiegel also reports that the Vatican has been trying to claim that Williamson's beliefs are not pertinent to the revocation of his excommunication.
The Vatican has said that Williamson's comments on the Holocaust had no bearing on the excommunication issue. "This act regards the lifting of the excommunications, period," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters. "It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of one person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree."
I studied theology and the philosophy of religion for six years - admittedly in a Protestant context - but this particular piece of casuistry is beyond me. This man is not being restored to communion with the church as a lay person but as a bishop - a pastor, leader and teacher, a man who is supposed to manifest spiritual and moral discernment.

Perhaps we could expect nothing more from him, but surely we could have expected more from Benedict himself, whose childhood and youth were spent in Bavaria during the Nazi years. Surely he of all people should be able to understand that Williamson's views are very specifically pertinent. Restoring Williamson is, in the apposite words of the Jerusalem Post, an 'extraordinary sign of moral indifference' by Benedict.

I will leave the last word with the Süddeutsche Zeitung (as translated by Spiegel):
The pope's reconciliation with an offensive anti-Semite is shocking. Benedict points to the fact that the bishop's tirades had nothing to do with his ex-communication more than 20 years ago. By doing this, the pope is not recognizing the fact that, as the head of more than 1 billion Catholics, he is not operating in a vacuum of dogmas and canon law. With the rehabilitation of the bishop, Benedict XVI is sabotaging the Christian-Jewish dialogue while endorsing those who have sharply criticized his papacy.

Even without the issue of the Holocaust denial, the reconciliation with the Lefebrivists would be a mistake. Of course the pope has to be concerned with the unity of the church. However, that which Benedict XVI is winning back on the right wing of the church, he could lose in the center. Many Catholics see it as the church's duty to work toward a humane world alongside other faiths. They want their pope to build bridges with the Protestant churches and with Judaism. However, Benedict seems to lack the magnanimity here that he is now showing to the reactionaries.

Pope John Paul II, a conservative man, was particularly concerned with reconciliation with Judaism and dialogue between the religions. … Now it seems as if Benedict XVI wants to undo that work.

5 comments:

Aodh Óg said...

Hi Olli. Allow me to assuage your outrage.

These remarks are incorrect. The Pope has not "rehabilitated" Williamson but has merely lifted the excommunication that Williamson inter alia incurred lata sententiae for illicitly receiving episcopal orders without a papal mandate. The SSPX is still without canonical recognition, as it was suppressed in 1975. Bishop Williamson is still suspended a divinis. He has no jurisdiction, and never will. He is not even permitted to celebrate Mass! And bishops who received their episcopal orders illicitly are invariably forbidden from ever exercising jurisdiction, even when reconciled to the Church.

His statements have been repudiated by the SSPX and the General Superior of the organization has imposed a ban on him from speaking on secular topics: (http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/).

And the imputation to the SSPX of Nazism is calumnious. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (the founder of the SSPX) lost his father in a concentration camp, having worked as a spy for British Intelligence and the French Resistance and was responsible for helping smuggle out ex-prisoners in concentration camps

olli said...

Dear Aodh Og, thank you for your concern. However, I remain unassuaged.

I understand that the lifting of the excommunications is intended to create the possibility of reconciliation between the SSPX and the Vatican. I am surprised that the Vatican did not see fit to make clear the limited nature of what was being done.

I'm unsure how you read an imputation of Nazism to the SSPX from my posting. Perhaps you could clarify which part of it you are referring to.

I'm am aware that Williamson has been disciplined by Fellay and forbidden from speaking on this topic - I can understand his embarrassment. But Fellay's own writings - in so far as I have been able to read them - reflect his own hostilities to Protestantism and Freemasony - standard code for the Jews. (For example: his 2004 lecture, What Catholics Need to Know at http://www.sspx.org/discussions/what_catholics_need_to_know.htm)

However, rather more concerning than Williamson's extreme views on the Holocaust is the Society's embrace of the old anti-Jewish doctrines of the medieval church.

Lefebvre, whatever his wartime activities, was an advocate of these. Writing in 1985, Lefebvre claimed that one of the consequences of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religion Liberty was 'All the reforms carried out over twenty years within the Church to please heretics, schismatics, false religions and declared enemies of the Church, such as the Jews, the Communists and the Freemasons.' (http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/letter_to_pope_john_paul_ii_lefebvre_de_castro-mayer_1985.htm)

Finally, I refer you to the document 'The Mystery of the Jews' by Frs. Michael Crowdy and Kenneth Novak, published in the magazine of the American branch of the SSPX in 1997. Here are some quotations from this lengthy article:

'What unhappy consequences visit this people if it repudiates the One Who is its salvation! Judas Iscariot, Annas, and Caiphas were Jewish. It was the Jewish chief priests who persuaded the people to call for the crucifixion of the Savior and who cried out, "His blood be upon us and our children!" (Mt. 27:25) Jews stoned St. Stephen; Jews martyred St. James and laid traps for the apostles. The greatest crime of all time —the death of the God-Man —was perpetrated by this forlorn people.'

'The Jewish people, once a mystery of goodness, is now changed into a mystery of iniquity. It is no longer Isaac, but Ishmael. No longer Jacob, but Esau. No longer Abel, but Cain.'

'Christendom and Jewry are destined inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing. It represents in history the eternal struggle of Lucifer against God, of darkness against the Light, of the flesh against the spirit.'

'History tells us (Werner Sombart) that the renowned greatness of English and American Capitalism is only a Judaic creation. While Capitalism fulfills its promises and is unquestionably of incomparable material greatness, it compromises the work of millions of Christians for the benefit of a much smaller number of the Jewish people.'

'The Jews were responsible —directly and/or indirectly —for covering the Just One with insults, throwing over His shoulders a cloak of contempt, putting on His head a crown of thorns and into His hands a reed. With striking, spitting, insults, and injury they lavished on Him every sort of humiliation. They spared Him no shame. Finally, He was sold for the slave’s price of 30 pieces of silver.

Ever since, similar insults have been visited upon the Jewish people as a chastisement and penalty for its deed.'

'1. The Jewish people persecute Christendom.
2. The Jewish people conspire against the Christian State.
3. The Jewish people win control of property by usury.
4. Jews are known to kill Christians.'

'Nevertheless, though the Jewish people must be protected, it was recognized it was dangerous enough to be isolated into its own neighborhoods. Was this an offense against its natural human rights? —No, for this people refuses to assimilate itself into the country that gives it hospitality, and lives by Talmudic laws contrary to the common good. The policy of the Catholic Church is to extend liberty to the Jewish people to develop and live within its legitimate laws while guarding Catholics, however, against its domination.'

'The Catholic Church defends the true Jewish heritage, that is, the principles of Christianity, by outlawing its infection by pharisaism. It is the prayer of the Catholic Church that true Israelites understand they cannot attain to the true greatness of their people until they themselves take sword in hand to clean out from within themselves the leaven of the Pharisees that perverts them, and adhere to Him who came to save all men.'

With regard to Fellay's views, this article also claims Freemsonry to be nothing more than a Jewish weapon against Christendom.

(http://www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/mystery_of_the_jews.htm)

I could quote much more for this vile document but I think that should suffice and you can read the rest for yourself. Let me remind you that this document was published in the official journal of the the Society in the US.

The authors are at great pains to point out that theirs is a theological critique and not mere anti-semitism. Take that as you will, but theological positions propagated by the pastors of the church take a variety of social forms and the church's mediaeval teaching on Judaism, faithfully reproduced in this article, regularly took form in anti-semitism beliefs, words and actions.

While Nazi anti-semitism was of a different order, the anti-semitism of the wider population shaped by centuries of Christian teaching, created the permissive environment in which Nazi's were able to gain power and attempt to put into effect their racial anti-semitism.

This is the organisation that Benedict wishes to be reconciled with the Church. How much of this teaching will the Society be required to refute to be considered fully 'rehabilitated'?

Aodh Óg said...

Please understand I was not accusing you of imputing Nazism to the SSPX. I was just targeting an argument advanced by some in the media and their parrots in certain sections of the blogosphere. Nevertheless, I should have been clearer.

I share your concern about Williamson's idiotic views on the Holocaust. The statements on Judaism you cite are wholly deplorable and have been repudiated by the Catholic Church. However it is unfair to tarnish all priests within the SSPX with them. The SSPX is a deeply divided institution encompassing the crypto-sedevacantist to the papalist untramontane. From my experience with them (simply attending their Masses in Dún Laoghaire) I know how internally divided they are over issues like this. There is no official party line on Judaism; as a sacredotal entity capable of incardinating secular priests (which they profess themselves capable of doing) they have no mechanism at their disposal to impose views like this on their members. As a result it is not infrequently the case that their priests are in open disagreement. While all SSPX priests would certainly disapprove of Judaism as a religion, they generally take a very low view of all non-Catholic religions. The reason for this is theological, not racial; the conviction that Christ is the prophecized Messiah and the Jewish people have rejected their only hope of salvation is a universal belief among their adherants. It is a belief shared by many non-Catholic Christians and it is reciprocated by haredi Jews who hold the view that Christianity is instrinsically idolatrous.

When (/If) the SSPX reconcile with the Church, it will presumably be offered (as it was previously) the status of a personal prelature. Essentially the individual priests operating in dioceses will be immediately subject their General Superior and to Rome. Bishop Williamson will have no authority. He probably will have his suspension from priestly duties revoked but he will never be allowed to exercise jurisdiction. No priests will be required to repudiate Williamson's statement on the Holocaust (a subject which he is now forbidden from pronouncing judgement on), but the General Superior may well (indeed probably will) extend his ban on speaking on secular issues to other priests of the Society.

olli said...

I take your point on the divided nature of this organisation. I grew up in a similarly conservative Protestant tradition and they too had the capacity to argue over almost anything.

Still, the fact that this particular opinion was advanced in an official publication and published on an official website might suggest to the uninformed - i.e. me - that it is, if not an official viewpoint, a broadly held viewpoint or, at the very least, a respectable viewpoint.

I also take you point about the difference between a theological and a racial anti-semitism, but I think that, while it is defensible on paper, the social outworking of theological anti-semitism, has regularly taken malign forms.

Growing up in a conservative Protestant tradition in Northern Ireland I heard many sermons and read many papers and essays that were anti-Catholic. In the same manner as the authors of the paper I mentioned in my earlier response, these Protestant speakers and authors were at great pains to point out that theirs was a theological critique.

Yet growing up in Northern Ireland in the Protestant community and subsequently working with an NGO in the area of conflict resolution and community relations it was perfectly clear to me that the great majority of Protestants - observant or not - had transformed that theological position into something more dangerous - and something unchristian.

I don't believe that the members or followers of the SSPX are any better able to resist the temptation to turn a theological argument into a socially exclusionary and triumphalist ideology.

This point becomes particularly pertinent when the power relationship between the two groups is unbalanced - as it was historically between Protestants and Catholics in (Northern) Ireland and between Christians/Catholics and Jews.

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