Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

A Pope, a Nazi, and a Chancellor Walk Into a Bar…

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 9, 2009

This whole thing sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but sadly it’s not. Pope Benedict XVI, in a stunning display of either obliviousness or, well, God knows what else, has readmitted to the church a former Bishop excommunicated by John Paul II as a member of a wildly conservative group despite the fact that as recently as days before the readmission the former Bishop told a TV audience that the Holocaust had not happened, that there were no gas chambers and that there were no Jews killed as a result of the deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.

It’s mindboggling on so many levels.

Is it possible that Benedict, as he has stated, didn’t realize that the man in question, Bishop Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier? That’s impossible to believe– Williamson made his latest statements on Swedish TV in an appearance widely distributed on the ‘net. To believe that Benedict had no knowledge is to believe that the Vatican as a whole had no knowledge despite their careful monitoring of the media for news stories that cast them in a pejorative light. This is not something they would’ve missed if it was just some run of the mill bishop in the Philippines or Paraguay; there’s no way they weren’t watching Williamson in the days before Benedict overturned the ruling of the much more popular and respected John Paul II given Williamson’s history.

When Benedict rose to the Throne of St. Peter, there was a smattering of talk about his childhood membership in the Hitler Youth. It is true that was de rigeur for boys of his age growing up in wartime Germany to become members of the organization, but that didn’t make as good copy as the fact that he, himself, had been a member. It is dangerous and unfair to even consider drawing any evidence of Nazi sympathies from his membership alone.

Yet here we are, with a Pope lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust denier with full knowledge that he’s goign to set off a firestorm.

The Israelis, predictably and justifiably, are livid. The American Conference of Bishops seems almost paralyzed with shock, and the Chancellor of Germany rang up the Vatican to convey her horror and demand that the Vatican explicitly state that Holocaust deniers are totally without credibility; that call ended with a joint statement about a “constructive” conversation. In Diplomatese, that means that the Vatican told the German Chancellor to go to the place that the Vatican is supposed to be charged with keeping people from going to.

What could Benedict’s motivation here possibly be? I, like so many others, am at a loss. The Vatican has slowly been taking the issue on– Williamson has been relieved of his duties at the head of an Argnetinian seminary and has been prohibited from performing priestly duties until he recants his remarks on the Holocaust– but still Benedict is stubbornly refusing to admit his mistake here.

While I was born and baptized Catholic, I am not a fan of organized religion; that being said, even though I disagreed with John Paul II on many social issues I respected the man. Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, is a stubbornly doctrinaire prelate who seems to care very little for public opinion or the opinions of the body Catholic. To have taken this road in this instance is astoundingly bellicose, even for him


12 Responses to “A Pope, a Nazi, and a Chancellor Walk Into a Bar…”

  1. Chancellor said

    …and I said, “Hit me again, and put it Fancy Hat’s tab!”

  2. B-Fly said

    Even if we accept the Pope’s statement that he was unaware of the Bishop’s Holocaust denials, I’ve got a real problem here. He clearly knew that these folks being welcomed back into the fold were objectors to Vatican II – the Council in which Pope John XXIII eliminated the charge of deicide against the Jewish people. Prior to Vatican II, the Church held the Jewish people collectively guilty in perpetuity for the crucifixion of Christ, and that stand was used throughout the Church’s history to justify all manner of anti-Semitism and, even when the Church wasn’t actively harming Jews, as in the Holocaust, the charge of deicide made it a heck of a lot easier for the Church to look the other way or to presume that the Holocaust against the Jews was some measure of divine justice. By bringing these arch-conservatives back into the Church, Pope Benedict does more than welcome back a Holocaust denier. He welcomes back those who never accepted Pope John XXIII’s effective pronouncement that modern Jews should not be hated or punished as Christ-killers. And it raises for me deep concerns about Pope Bendict’s own commitment to the advances of Vatican II with respect to the Church and its attitudes toward the Jewish people.

  3. Bob Kohm said

    This is what I get when I write blog posts after eleven on Sunday night… I become Chancellor’s straight man πŸ˜‰

  4. Bob Kohm said

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Fly. Even as the lapsed Catholic that I am I can’t stand to see Rome go down in flames like this under the horrible leadership of Benedict, and burning the bridge to brother and sister religions seem quite indicative of the inferno that this guy is courting.

    The Curia wanted a caretaker Pope who would slowly and slightly walk back what they saw as some of JPII’s excesses as they regrouped and tried to figure out what they wanted in a Pope longterm. What they got is a perfect example of why you don;t appoint caretakers to positions of importance from which they cannot be recalled.

  5. Chancellor said

    Bob – I couldn’t resist. Reminded me of the punch line from one of my fav Bloom County comics of all time.

    I agree it’s mindboggling. Even if we assume a best case scenario, missing something this patently obvious is stupid in the extreme, though I’ll admit that’s less than surprising given that the present Pope has senior staff primarily made up from those that worked with him or other close associates on the Curia. A normal case scenario is bad enough – I have to agree with B-Fly and see this as a clear indication that Benedict wants to move back on some or all of Vatican II. A worst case scenario…heck, I don’t even want to go there.

    Even if we set politics and stupid, racist statements aside, I have no idea why Williamson would merit lifting of his excommunication. Fundamentally, he was excommunicated for accepting a bishopric consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre back in the late 80s; Lefebvre did not, and still does not, have authority granted to him to make those consecrations. This is pretty cut and dried Catholic theology – you simply can not defy the Pope on matters of consecration of any level of priest, much less a bishop. Now, it’s been well over 20 years since I was a practicing Catholic, but I’m quite sure lifting of excommunication requires repentance for the act that caused the excommunication and a “return to obedience” – at a minimum. It’s pretty clear that Williamson isn’t repentant for his act, nor accepts present Papal leadership. So, even from a purely theological standpoint, this person simply doesn’t merit lifting of excommunication.

    I had really thought the issue was going to tie into theological hairsplitting – Williamson had repented of the excommunacable act; therefore, his excommunication should be lifted, assuming he would accept his former office and station. Holocaust denial and Vatican II opposition, horrifying as they are, aren’t technically acts warranting excommunication. It’s really the type of argument I’d expect out of a legalistic Curia. But even this much isn’t true, so there’s absolutely no leg for Benedict to stand on here.

  6. chalkman said

    Dave Emory would argue that Benedict is “in on it”, one of the players in the Underground Reich….

  7. SeaDogStat said

    Seems to me that we have GWB, papal version, in the big house πŸ˜‰

  8. Bob Kohm said

    SeaDog, that’s exactly the uncomfortable thought I had earlier today. The similarities in attitude and execution are uncanny.

  9. Bob Kohm said

    Chancellor, again, I feel like a broken record, but I agree. There’s just no justification on any level for this, aside from the dogmatic insistence on a return to an extremely conservative and orthodox outlook for the Church. It’s almost a blueprint for alienating an already alienated church.

  10. chalkman said

    If you ask Dave Emory, Benedict is part of the Underground Reich, with ties to IG Farben, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Boorman Organization….

  11. Akira said

    Why do you people have so much respect for Mr Williamson that you keep referring to him as “Bishop Williams”?

  12. Bob Kohm said

    Not following, Akira… He’s referred to throughout the story as Bishop Williamson, the title he claims. Are you saying I’m showing him too much respect by using it?

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