Here’s a posting from the Telegraph in the UK. It’s very interesting:
Posted By: Damian Thompson at Jan 24, 2009
The media backlash has begun. “Pope rehabilitates Holocaust denier” is the headline on the Reuters story by veteran Rome correspondent Philip Pullella. “Pope Benedict rehabilitated Saturday a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust, despite warnings from Jewish leaders that it would seriously harm Catholic-Jewish relations and foment anti-Semitism.”
And this, from Andrew Sullivan: “This vile anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier has just been allowed back into the Catholic Church … I am truly, deeply ashamed of my church for this action and hope this provokes such an outcry it is reversed.”
Well, Benedict can hardly be surprised. I think those would have been my reactions until about 24 hours ago, when – after reading several careful analyses of the situation – I finally understood why the Pope has lifted these excommunications despite the fact that Williamson is a poisonous fruitcake. Williamson will, I suspect, soon disappear into a sect of his own making (perhaps one where he occupies his own “See of Peter”); it would be a shame if one man derailed the process of reconciliation between the SSPX and the Church – a process that, as Fr Z points out, has a long way to go. The SSPX has not been legitimised, he reminds us:
The bishops of the SSPX are validly consecrated bishops, but the fact remains that they were illicitly consecrated. That hasn’t changed. They are still not reconciled with the Bishop of Rome. They are still suspended a divinis. They still have no permission to exercise ministry in the Church. They may not licitly ordain. They have no authority to establish parishes, etc.
But will the public understand these niceties? And, even if it did, would it make any difference?
Three thoughts. First, the release of the Williamson interview on the internet in the week before the excommunications were lifted is not coincidental. There was a plot, if you like – though the plotters were probably motivated by genuine horror that this man was about to be rehabilitated by the Pope, however reluctantly.
Second, the failure of the SSPX to condemn Williamson for his views is scandalous. The Catholic Herald ran a front-page story about his Holocaust denialism last year, yet Bishop Bernard Fellay and the Society’s British representatives said nothing. Why?
Third, the Pope should have said more to explain his thinking. He could have pointed out, in plain language, that since Williamson was not excommunicated for his opinions – Holocaust denial is not an excommunicable offence – they were not technically a barrier to the lifting of the decree. And he could also have expressed his repugnance at those views.
Should the excommunications have been lifted? Yes. I don’t think Williamson should be allowed to block the eventual reconciliation of the SSPX with the Holy See, something he does not want to happen. (He’s an ex-Protestant and still manifests a distinctly Protestant attitude towards the Petrine office.)
Is the SSPX ready to rejoin the Catholic Church? No. It still manifests the most appalling arrogance and immaturity. Fellay’s hauty manner really gets up my nose: you’d think he was the Pope. Has Rome handled this matter skilfully? Not really. Some of those media headlines were preventible. And the media verdict does matter: apart from anything else, it plays a huge role in moulding the reception of papal initiatives within the Church.
So, despite supporting the lifting of the excommunications, I can understand why many Catholics feel outraged. Just so long as they have some outrage left to spare for someone else in the headlines this week: a man who yesterday signed a law preparing the ground for the killing of countless unborn babies.