“Independent” is not necessarily “Intelligent”
The Independent ran an article a few days ago on the Pope, suggesting he made a mistake by “unexcommunicating” four living bishops who, it can well be argued, were never excommunicated. I’m picking on this article because it goes some way to show what passes as opinion these days.
Pope Benedict must have thought he knew exactly what he was doing when, on 21 January, he lifted the excommunication of four bishops, among them a Holocaust-denying Englishman, Richard Williamson. It turned out to be an enormous misjudgement as the unprecedented rebuke earlier this week by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, shows.
Firstly, if we separate Church and State here, we are left with a small amount of Church and a whole lot of State. Holocaust-denial, as deplorable as many see it, is not a Catholic issue, and is not a sin except that it breaks various state and social laws and, possibly, is a cause of scandal. Angela Merkel, lets be clear, is historically a socialist and was a member of the East German state youth movement. She is also not a Catholic. As such, her standing on the issue cannot be taken seriously except to say that she represents what is currently considered as political correctness in Germany.
A French Archbishop, Marcel-François Lefebvre, led the rebels, who included among their number, Mr Williamson. He had been illegally ordained as a priest by the Archbishop in 1976.
An archbishop does not need papal approval to ordain priests. Nothing illegal happened in 1976 in this regard. But of course the lay readers of the Independent will believe anything. An archbishop also cannot be prevented from appointing bishops, even if it is an act against Papal will. The Orthodox churches continue to exist and, by and large, continue to be valid precisely because of this fact.
Here, then, are the main characters. “Father” Williamson…
Again, he is a bishop, and the author clearly has no idea what he is on about.
Joseph Ratzinger, born in Bavaria, unwilling member of the Hitler Youth..
Many priests and laity refused to join the Hitler Youth and lived to tell the tale. I am not saying that membership of an organization means that one is guilty of anything (although many would), but here we have Angela Merkel, ex-member of the equivalent of the Communist Youth and Joseph Ratzinger, ex-member of the Hitler Youth. Pots and kettles.
In any case, the article, as you may have read by now, continues to misrepresent facts to such a degree that one is left with a very skewed version of the truth. The author shows a depth of understanding approximately as deep as one would have obtained from a lay parishioner in the tearoom of a Uniting Church hall, perhaps. Very basic at best, and not worthy of publication. He shows his utter lack of insight at the end:
Suppose the Pope had known. His first instinct, surely, would have been to say that it was irrelevant. Lifting the excommunication was about doctrinal matters not about historical events. And then, in the next breath, he would have seen the absurdity of holding to that line. He would have been in a quandary. So his advisers must have thought it better to keep him in a state of ignorance. The Pope didn’t after all know what he was doing. Naturally enough, disaster followed.
Excommunication is normally about doctrinal matters. There were no doctrinal matters on which the original excommunication was based, nor was proper process followed, which is what was so wrong with it in the first place. The Pope did not see the absurdity of anything he did at any time, because there was nothing absurd about his actions. He clearly understood matters better than Andreas Wittham Smith, “Commentator”, who has come to the subject with nothing but bias.
Let’s make no mistake. The Society of Saint Pius X is an organization that has clearly been pushed to the fringe over the years and has a pretty conservative membership by contemporary standards. On the other hand, if we wound the clock back half a century then the Society would have not appeared at all conspicuous. It’s the world that has changed, so much so, that what was once standard up-and-down, orthodox Catholicism is now considered to be “ultra-conservatism”. If you find that hard to believe, then just go and read some statements of pre-Vatican II popes and bishops.
What has occurred is that the actions of a Pope, which appear to have been aimed at aiding dialogue with the Society of Saint Pius X, have been undermined by the world media, the diplomatic community and many of his own bishops and cardinals. The Pope may have been embarrassed, but the future of the Society in the Western World has been placed in considerable danger. If we were to assume that the Pope really knew what he was doing, then we could toy with the possibility that he intended to damage the Society by drawing it closer to himself and then cutting its legs off.