Monday, February 09, 2009

The Vatican And Bishop Williamson: What Actually Happened

According to this article, the lifting of the excommunication of Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson was an accident reflecting a problem within the curia, the officials who assist in the governance of the Church and had nothing to do with any policy decision.
Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication
This is the upshot of the lifting of the excommunication for four Lefebvrist bishops. The isolation of Pope Benedict, the ineptitude of the curia, and the misfires of the secretariat of state

by Sandro Magister

...Then, to make the misunderstanding worse, there came the uproar over an interview with one of the four bishops granted clemency, Richard Williamson of England, in which he supported ideas denying the Holocaust.

The interview was recorded by a Swedish television station on November 1, 2008, but it was broadcast on January 21 – the same day on which, at the Vatican, the decree was signed revoking the excommunication of Williamson, and of the three other Lefebvrist bishops.

In the media all over the world, the news read as follows: the pope clears a Holocaust denier bishop from excommunication, and welcomes him into the Church.

The tempest that erupted was tremendous. The protests from the Jewish world – but not only from this – were too many to be counted. The Vatican went scrambling for cover, with statements and articles in "L'Osservatore Romano." The controversy calmed down only after Benedict XVI intervened in person, with two clarifications read at the end of the general audience on Wednesday, January 28: one about the Lefebvrists and their duty of "recognition of the magisterium and authority of the pope and of Vatican Council II," and the other about the Holocaust.

The question comes naturally: was all of this really inevitable, once the pope had decided to lift the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops? Or was the disaster produced by the errors and omissions of the men who are supposed to implement the pope's decisions? The facts point to the second hypothesis.

The decree revoking the excommunication bears the signature of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the congregation for bishops. Another cardinal, Darío Castrillón Hoyos, is the president of the pontifical commission "Ecclesia Dei," which, ever since its creation in 1988, has dealt with the followers of Lefebvre. Both of these cardinals have said that they were taken by surprise, after the fact, by the interview with Bishop Williamson, and that they were never aware that he was a Holocaust denier.

But wasn't it the primary responsibility of these two cardinals to carry out an in-depth examination of Williamson's personal profile, and of the three other bishops? The fact that they did not do so seems inexcusable. Such an examination wasn't even difficult. Williamson has never concealed his distaste for Judaism. He has publicly defended the authenticity of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In 1989, in Canada, he risked being taken to court for praising the books written by Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. After September 11, 2001, he supported conspiracy theories to explain the collapse of the Twin Towers. Just a click on Google would have turned up all of this background material.

Another serious lapse concerned the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity. Reversing the schism with the Lefebvrists is logically part of its competencies, which also include relations between the Church and Judaism. But the cardinal who heads the council, Walter Kasper, says that he was kept out of the deliberations: this is all the more surprising in that the issuing of the decree lifting the excommunication took place during the annual week of prayer for Christian unity, and a few days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

That's not all.The media release of the decision also seems to have been entirely negligent. The Vatican press office limited itself, on Saturday, January 24, to distributing the text of the decree, in spite of the fact that the news had already leaked out a few days earlier, and a fiery controversy was already growing around the statements denying the Holocaust made by Williamson.

There is an illuminating comparison to be made. The previous day, on January 23, the same press office had organized, with great pomp, the launching of the Vatican channel on YouTube. And a few days later, on January 29, it announced, again with a great deployment of persons and resources, an international conference on Galileo Galilei, scheduled for the end of May. In each case, the objective was to transmit the authentic meaning of the initiative to the media.

But nothing of the sort was done for the decree concerning the Lefebvrist bishops. And yet all of the elements necessary for an appropriate announcement were there. Even the timing was right. The week of prayer for Christian unity was underway; Holocaust remembrance day was just around the corner; in Italy just a few days earlier, on January 17, there had been the day for dialogue between Catholics and Jews. Cardinal Kasper, the leading curia official in both areas, would have been the ideal person to present the decree, situate it within the persistent situation of schism, explain the purpose of lifting the excommunication, and summarize the points on which the Lefebvrists were being asked to reconsider their positions, from full acceptance of Vatican Council II to the overcoming of their anti-Judaism. As for Williamson, it would not have been difficult to clearly delineate his situation: if he were to remain firm on his aberrant ideas denying the Holocaust, he would exclude himself from the pope's gesture of "mercy."

And yet, if nothing of this was done, it was not the fault of the Vatican press office and its director, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, but of the offices of the curia from which they receive their orders.

These offices of the curia converge in the secretariat of state.

* * *

Since Paul VI on, the secretariat of state has been the apex and the engine of the curia machine. It has direct access to the pope, and governs the implementation of every one of his decisions. It entrusts this to the competent offices, and coordinates their work.

So then, throughout the entire affair of the lifting of the excommunications for the Lefebvrist bishops, the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, despite his highly active and outspoken nature, distinguished himself by his absence.

His first public comment on the question came on January 28, during a conference in Rome at which he was speaking.

But more than words, what were lacking from him were actions equal to the gravity of the situation. Before, during, and after the issuing of the decree.

Benedict XVI was left practically alone, and the curia was abandoned to disorder.

The fact that Benedict XVI has given up on reforming the curia is now before the eyes of all. But it is conjectured that he compensated for this non-decision by entrusting the leadership of the offices to a tough, dynamic secretary of state, Bertone.

Now this conjecture has also been shown to be lacking. With Bertone, the curia seems even more disorganized than before, perhaps in part because he has never completely dedicated himself to fixing its problems. Bertone does most of his work not inside the walls of the Vatican, but on the outside, in an endless round of conferences, celebrations, inaugurations. His visits abroad are as frequents and as packed with meetings and speeches as those of a John Paul II in vigorous health: he was in Mexico from January 15-19, and is now visiting Spain. As a result, all of the work that the offices of the secretariat of state dedicate to his external activities leaves that much less work available for the pope. Or sometimes, it is a wasted double effort: for example, when Bertone gives a speech on the same topic and to the same audience to which the pope will speak a short time later, with journalists on the lookout for differences between the two.

Bertone's personal devotion to Benedict XVI is beyond all doubt. Not so that of the other curia officials, who continue to have free rein. It is possible that some of them deliberately oppose this pontificate. It is certain that most of them simply do not understand it, do not measure up to it.

And you thought the Obama Administration had problems.

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Anonymous said...

Daled, Your post helps me to understand some of what is going on. I am RC, and I don't get it. Lifting the excommunication from the Church as I first understood it, meant only that these men, as individuals, were received back into the Church, not that they were re-instated as bishops, with the positions of bishops. But that doesn't seem clear, anywhere I read.
I'd like to defend my Church, but they're making it difficult.

Daled Amos said...

I am not familiar with the site where this article is found, but the person who forwarded the article to me has no animus towards the church and does not want to see Jewish relations with the Vatican strained over this.

Anonymous said...

You guys can also read the insightful piece at Asia Online by "Spengler" on the tragedy of a Jewish friendly Pope and Israel.

Ratzinger holds that the Covenant between Israel and G*d is still intact. I have read many of his books. He is a great friend of the Jewish religion and of the Jewish people. He has really been made a scapegoat ( totally unfair) in this badly handled (by his Curia) affair. I knew it all along because I have read so many of his books and heard his many speeches on the Holocaust. Wish I could go and sock one or two of those Curia people in the eye.