The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

If the Pope Wants to Walk His Talk…

This is probably one of those times when I should keep my mouth shut. But why start now?

Suffice it to say, I’m not a huge fan of the Pope. (See a few of my previous posts for confirmation or more backstory than you probably want to know.) No awful thing he says ca surprise me at this point.

On the other hand, the pontiff still has the potential to leave me Pope Rehabilitates Holocaust Denier – NYTimes.com“>utterly mystified.

Pope Benedict rehabilitated on 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.

The Vatican said the pope issued a decree lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops who were thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without Vatican permission.

The four bishops lead the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which has about 600,000 members and rejected modernizations of Roman Catholic worship and doctrine.

…One of the four bishops, the British-born Richard Williamson, has made a number of statements denying the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians.

In comments to Swedish television broadcast on Wednesday, he said “I believe there were no gas chambers” and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.

Williamson said: “I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”

I don’t get it. Probably for the same reason I don’t get Democrats moving immediately to “bipartisanship” upon winning an election. (And, yes, there is a connection between the political and religious phenomena, which I hope to address in some detail later.) But what is it about religion that causes people to make common ground with people whose view are among the most reprehensible? I mean, you’ve got the Episcopal Churches in the U.S. breaking with the American church over gay marriage and reorganizing themselves under the leadership of anti-gay African bishops. Now you’ve got the Pope wanting to rehabilitate holocaust deniers?

Was there no one in the Vatican who could or would tell this pope that, given his history, this might not be the wisest move? Or that it would not exactly endear him to Jewish people? Especially after reintroducing the “Prayer for conversion of the Jews,” last year, and the defending the move?

Naturally, many Jews were offended (and justifiably so) by this latest move. And the pope’s recent statement of “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jewish people, at the same time, suggests a certain kind of daftness or just not getting it going on here.

The leaders of the Catholic Church seem genuinely baffled whenever they ignore or excuse anti-Semitism and someone objects. Why, they wonder, were people so upset that the pope met with Kurt Waldheim? There was that Wehrmacht business, but didn’t the former United Nations secretary general lead an otherwise exemplary life? What’s wrong with Carmelite nuns erecting a huge cross at Auschwitz? Can’t we just live and let live? Can’t we stop harping on these unpleasant secular matters that have no significance theologically?

The latest case in point is Richard Williamson, a priest in the ultraconservative movement known as the Society of Saint Pius X. The society is a traditionalist Catholic group that rejects the reforms of Vatican II and still uses the Tridentine Latin Mass. Williamson and three other members of the society were excommunicated in 1988 when movement founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, now deceased, consecrated them as bishops in spite of specific orders from Pope John Paul II not to do so. While not obeying the pope is a really big no-no and Lefebvre and his “bishops” have also gone so far as to call recent popes, including John Paul II, “heretical,” the current pope has apparently decided it’s time to make peace. Benedict has just rescinded the excommunication of Williamson and his three comrades. The announcement of the pope’s decision came not long after Swedish television aired an interview in which Williamson denied the existence of gas chambers and said no more than 300,000 Jews had died in Nazi custody.

But, hey, Hillary made up with Obama, so why can’t Benedict do it with these guys? It’s not like he’s trying to build a big church where everyone is welcome. Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has been quite clear that on any issue that concerns greater democracy or diversity in the church, or women and homosexuality generally, no détente is likely. He seems to want a small, obedient church, and the ultraconservative Lefebvrists, if brought back into the fold, are likely to be formidable allies in that effort. First, they are men; second, they are clerics; third, they were validly (if illicitly) consecrated bishops. They also have money and the support of some powerful lay Catholics, a bit like Opus Dei.

…And some still wonder why the Catholic Church gets criticized. The last acceptable prejudice, they claim, is anti-Catholicism. Are these people serious? The Vatican has been getting away with anti-Semitism for centuries. Isn’t it time we all said, “Enough”?

Perhaps.

But clearly Mr. Ratzinger had said enough. More than enough. There is, however, a possibility for him to put a bit of the church’s money where his mouth is. He’s said that he’s been to Auschwitz many, many times. I’d like to suggest he pay the camp another visit, and definitely bring a checkbook along.

Because Auschwitz is crumbling.

It is a bitterly cold winter’s day at one of the most notorious and harrowing places on Earth. Patches of ice crunch underfoot with every step, punctuating the silence which has long pervaded this former killing field.

This is Birkenau, the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex, where most of its 1.1 million victims – 90% of them Jews – were murdered.

But after nearly seven decades exposed to the elements, few of what were originally hundreds of structures remain standing, and those which have survived are gradually rotting away.

Unlike the smaller Auschwitz I – sturdy brick-built former Polish cavalry barracks expropriated by the Nazis – Birkenau (or Auschwitz II) – was erected in 1941 solely as a death camp, and was not built to last.

With every passing year the urgency to preserve what is left of the site grows, and while steps are being taken to do so, crucial conservation work is hampered by a shortage of funds.

“Auschwitz Museum is in a financial crisis, that’s for sure,” says site spokesman Pawel Sawicki.

It the pope wants, or cares, to rehabilitate the church even a little he’d do well to put his money where his recently-rehabbed bishop’s mouth is, and dedicate a share of the church’s resources making sure Auschwitz remains standing for more people to visit. And, if the church is already contributing, it’s time to increase the size of its donation.

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Otherwise, Williamson’s words may eventually ring true, and there will be no evidence of the holocaust and its gas chambers, ovens, or victims.

It will have crumbled to dust.

2 Comments

  1. Not a huge fan of the pope? Who is? The Catholics? That gets me thinking, how about a few pope jokes…he, he, he

  2. T, there are quite a few inaccuracies in your post here, and they might explain the disconnect you see.

    First, it is a bit misleading to say Pope Benedict “rehabilitated a Holocaust denier”. He did not legitimize Williamson’s ministry as a bishop. All he did was remove an excommunication that was incurred automatically in the 1980s and which stood in the way of reconciliation between this group (the SSPX) and the Roman Catholic Church. Benedict has come out publicly to deplore Holocaust deniers on many occasions, and the Holy See just released a clarification pointing out to media outlets that misunderstood this that he deplores Williamson’s comments.

    Essentially, what this does is say that Williamson and his group are black sheep of a sort, but they are now part of the family again. It does not endorse Williamson’s comments.

    Second, Pope Benedict did not “reintroduce the Prayer for Conversion of the Jews”. That prayer has been in the traditional Mass for centuries and centuries and did not need to be “reintroduced” — it was never removed. (I agree that is a problem, but the problem here is centuries of Roman Catholic anti-Semitism, not Benedict.) What Benedict DID do, in recognition of the fact that this prayer would be prayed more frequently because of his liberalization of the traditional Mass, was to tone it down. So he gets attacked by people for actually moving this prayer and the Roman liturgy overall AWAY from anti-Semitism and supersessionism. I don’t understand that.

    I make no mistake about the fact that Benedict is anti-gay, anti-women, and has a problematic record on a number of other counts. He is also a deeply prayerful man who is far less ideological than John Paul II ever was, and he has taken many steps to move the Roman Catholic Church forward. He’s a complicated guy, and I don’t think it does anyone any good to paint him in a villain role and make inaccurate charges against him.

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