Papal authority depends on keeping fidelity with the teachings of Christ and the infallible pronouncements of previous Popes and Doctrinal Councils.
This fact needs to be borne in mind when considering the landmark statements made by Pope Benedict XVI in the past 48 hours. He has made several important points regarding his views on interfaith relations and Catholics whose religious practice is more traditional than his own (namely the Society of Saint Pius X).
Most noteworthy was his letter on the Society of Saint Pius X, published on 12th March 2009, where he shows apparent surprise at the protest against his lifting of an (invalid) excommunication:
… Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment.
If only it were true that the Pope was interested in revising his views on the Second Vatican Council, out of which has come the downfall of Catholicism! The avalanche of protests was most audible outside the Church in the paid media, which seems to hold the greatest sway in the Vatican these days. Quoting passages from the Council of Trent, or the Holy Bible, or Thomas Aquinas, or some other approved Catholic source of Divine Truth, just doesn’t seem to have the same “oomph!” in the Vatican as the words of some atheist editor in the London Times or the New York Post. The protests are not about fear of rejecting the Second Vatican Council, but about rejecting the heresy of Modernism, which the Pope has very nearly done, by the fact that he chose to act on what he thought was right for all time and not, as Modernists would say, what was right at the present time.
Pope Benedict regrets that Bishop Williamson’s comments on the Holocaust coincided with the revocation of excommunication:
…The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path.
Actually, it rather appears that Benedict has somehow been whacked over the head so that suddenly he cares more about how things look from the outside rather than their inner meaning. Jesus Christ spoke about this of the Pharisees, using the well known washed-exterior-dirty-interior analogy.
I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which — as in the days of Pope John Paul II — has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.
This is exactly what is wrong with the situation. The Jews, like the Muslims and anyone else, act purely in their own interest, period. Their only aim is to improve their own standing in the world, even more so in the light of the crimes that are committed daily in the Holy Land in their name. They don’t care if the Pope has recalcitrant bishops, rebellious cardinals and faithless, hedonistic parishioners. All they care about is recognition and respect for their own religion. It’s perfectly understandable. Nothing strange about it all, so why pretend that it is otherwise? Does the Pope think that somehow they are on the edge of conversion?
The Pope should not place external relations above internal family conflict. Forget everyone else’s false religions and their idols, forget the false ecumenism, forget the mass media, forget stinking diplomacy. Deal with what is killing the Catholic Church – heresy, apostasy, crimes against children, fraud, sacrilege and more, all coming from the Church’s own prelates!
Benedict does show that, deep down, he is more intelligent and commendably logical than those below him, by recognizing where the root cause of the problems between the SSPX and the broader Church lie:
… the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes …
… great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.
And this is the point. If Benedict carries this statement to its logical conclusion, he will soon find that many things contained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council contradict Sacred Tradition. Much of what has been sanctioned, even promoted, by recent Popes has been erroneous for the same reasons. The Society of Saint Pius X might come across as extreme, on the fringe, or eccentric, but they have merely been standing still whilst the drunken post-Vatican II party has raged on in the greater Church. Everybody looked like they were high on the Devil’s Great Bong and its Smoke. Who can say what a multitude of souls has damned itself since 1962 as a result of the errors which have persisted under the noses of the Popes?
It’s natural that, in a dispute, both sides are invariably to blame in some way. The SSPX and other traditionalist groups will need to make compromises insofar as they can be made in keeping with the “entire doctrinal history of the Church”. But this time the Pope has to eat some humble pie himself so that the kind of mistakes that were made in the past are not repeated. The Catholic Church lost something like a third of its faithful when it mishandled Martin Luther by rejecting everything he said instead of accepting that corruption was rife and needed purging. The Church stands to lose much more on this occasion if it fails to see its own, present-day mistakes.
The Pope must recognize that his Church has drifted from Tradition in its informal embrace of Modernism and its failure to reject numerous other errors. If he himself fails to adhere to the “entire doctrinal history of the Church”, then history may show that the Sedevacantists were right all along.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. … And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
The title “Mixed Greetings for Returned Lefebvrite Bishop” could be the understatement of the century by Zenit News in its report on Bishop Williamson’s recent return to England. Following his apology regarding his recent controversial statements made on the Holocaust, it was no surprise that, outside the Church, no forgiveness was forthcoming. To take advantage, to be unforgiving, to condemn, blame, reject, and isolate enemies, to make those below you grovel, is the natural human state, after all. These are the very things that are wrong with human beings and the very things that are put right by Christianity.
Yet the Vatican’s “Sorry-Isn’t-Good-Enough-We-Want-Blood” response is so Pharisaic that it appears that the leaders of God’s religion, after two thousand years, have come full circle. Christ’s death on the Cross occurred because people chose to ignore the fact that He showed no malice, no anger or hatred. They cornered, set up and hung an innocent man, something the people of the time openly admitted. Today, the Vatican appears as though it would have done just the same if it had the chance.
Zenit quotes Peter Vere, a canon lawyer:
“Bishop Williamson is not a Catholic bishop in that his episcopal consecration was carried out without papal mandate. […] However, the episcopal consecration was valid — that is, effective. So he is in fact a bishop with episcopal powers, meaning he can validly — but unlawfully — ordain, confirm, celebrate Mass, and validly — but unlawfully — perform any other episcopal function.”
How true it is that to a hammer every problem is a nail. And when you miss, you hit your finger. Bishop Williamson, like all the other bishops, priests, religious and laity of the Society of Saint Pius X, are Catholics as much as anyone else, insofar as they are baptized, have the sacraments and have beliefs are in keeping with Sacred Tradition. Everything else is politics.
Bishop Williamson is a Catholic Bishop. He has never been accused of heresy and was never validly excommunicated. In Christianity, the law is null if it is exercised without charity.
Those within the Catholic Church, whose job it is to love their enemies, forgive those who persecute them, and so forth, are showing how little of this they understand or follow.
Perhaps during this period of Lent, these people might take a moment to think about the Christian meaning of the Season and what happened at the Passover Festival. But they probably won’t, because no hypocrite likes to look in the mirror. Instead, it looks like we will be seeing an Easter play of sorts as plans are made to arrest and ultimately imprison a man who has already repented and shown his innocence, even to such an unjust law as is being used against him.
Modernism reigns supreme outside the Papal Chapel, throughout the Vatican and all the way down to the Religious Education teacher at St. Mary’s Primary School down the road. But does it reign supreme in the Pope’s heart?
A critical article appeared in the Times Online describing Pope Benedict XVI as being:
… like a monarch cut off from the world outside his palace windows, helped only by loyal but inept advisers.
It’s true that he is perhaps the most intelligent yet introspective Pope we have had for half a century. The fact that he spends time daily reading theological works is a promising sign to traditional Catholics. The previous few popes had but a feeble grasp of the subject, such that discussions on the problems of Vatican II left many with brick-wall imprints on the foreheads of those who care about unity and correctness of belief.
On the other hand, John Paul II was a charismatic man who loved to be adored by the masses. His comparatively liberal approach was hailed by the media. Yet in his senility, his advisors pretty much took over affairs and did things in his name. It could be argued that some particularly grave “mistakes” were made because of this laxity, such as the excommunication of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops, various financial scandals and the total failure of John Paul II and his cardinals to act decisively against the sexual abuse that has been running rife within the Church, particularly in the United States. John Paul II’s era coincides with one of the worst periods in the Catholic Church’s history in terms of apostasy and disintegration.
Back to Benedict:
“The Pope believes he doesn’t need to take account of public opinion. He studies the files that are brought to him and decides very much on his own. The atmosphere around him is that he mustn’t be disturbed by criticism or visitors.”
If the Pope truly believes this, then he is right on the money. Public opinion doesn’t count an iota, as could not have been exemplified more clearly by Christianity’s Founder. What is right is what counts. It sounds as though the Pope is taking his job seriously and not allowing worm-tongues to skew his thinking. That deserves a clap.
The reader comments at the end of the article generally defend Benedict. Most people, it seems, do respect that the leader of a two-thousand-year-old religion of over 1 billion people should probably make fewer, but better decisions. Knee-jerk reactions have rarely proven to be correct.
Yet the real problems with Benedict lie not in his style, nor his intelligence, but in doubts about the orthodoxy of his beliefs. He is still a staunch defender of Vatican II, in the name of which several serious dogmatic errors have become prevalent. He is blamed for the “unexcommunication” of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops, but this was a cynical move initiated by Cardinal Hoyos who has shown that, all this time, nobody really believed in the excommunications in the first place. He and the Pope know that removing the excommunication makes no real difference, except to bring attention to and make life even more difficult for the Society, which some say is now on a path of self destruction in the name of damage control. It is an apparent victory for the modernists.
Through all of this it is important to remember that very little of what a Pope does is infallible. An excommunication is not infallible, can be rescinded at any time by a subsequent Pope. It is first and foremost a managerial act with political and spiritual ramifications. The Pope, like any other leader, only has authority when it is exercised correctly and complies with the basic tenets of the religion. In Heaven, the defense of “following orders” to justify an act or omission over a grave matter is not likely to be accepted. Thus, Archbishop Lefebvre was right in ordaining his bishops, despite the immediate consequences which he faced. With this in mind, one would hope that the Society of Saint Pius X takes its time in negotiations with the Vatican and remembers that being right is more important than being friendly.
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.