Crises within the Roman Catholic Church
FEBRUARY 3, 2009 – Two articles, both published this week by WorldWide Religious News (WWRN) demonstrate that Pope Benedict XVI is under attack from within his own constituency.
The first article relates to the decision to lift the excommunication of the UK Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, with one theologian calling on him to step down as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
“If the pope wants to do some good for the Church, he should leave his job,” eminent liberal Catholic theologian Hermann Haering told the German daily Tageszeitung.
“That would not be a scandal, a bishop has to relinquish his position at 75 years, a cardinal loses his rights at 80 years,” he said. Pope Benedict is 81.
“A pardon that tastes of poison,” wrote Franco Garelli, an expert in religious history, in Italy’s daily La Stampa Monday.
“The trouble caused by this complicated affair is evident not only outside the Church but within it,” wrote the academic, who spoke of the “profound discomfort stirred up by the lifting of the excommunication in numerous Catholic circles.”
Back in Germany, high-ranking Catholic officials said the pope risked losing vital support.
“There is obviously a loss of confidence” in the pope and “rehabilitating a denier is always a bad idea,” the bishop of Hamburg, Werner Thissen, told the daily Hamburger Abendblatt on Monday.
The bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Gebhard Furst, meanwhile spoke of his “uncertainty, incomprehension and deception” in the national Bild.
In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim denounced Williamson’s remarks as “despicable” in an interview with Le Monde.
Williamson claimed that only between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews died before and during World War II, and none in the gas chambers.
French government spokesman Luc Chatel called Williamson’s remarks “unacceptable, abject and intolerable.”
In Austria, where Pope Benedict last week named a controversial ultra-conservative priest as auxiliary bishop in Linz, criticism also came from within the Church.
Vienna’s cardinal and archbishop, Christoph Schoenborn, on Sunday lashed out at the decision to bring Williamson back into the fold, saying that “he who denies the Holocaust cannot be rehabilitated within the Church.”
Belgian daily La Libre Belgique slammed the Vatican’s “blindness” and “deafness,” drawing links between Williamson and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Apparently no one can make the Iranian president and his henchman see reason” when they deny the “truth” of the Holocaust, and it is the same with the “bishop recently anointed by the highest authority of the Catholic Church,” it said.
For the pope, the “blunder is extraordinary, especially given that his willingness for a dialogue with Judaism is indisputable,” said French daily Liberation.
The second article relates to the Pope’s decision to appoint an ultra-conservative bishop in Austria who described Hurricane Katrina as “God’s punishment for sin and sexual excess in New Orleans.”
Father Gerhard Maria Wagner, 54, a parish priest at Windischgarsten in Austria since 1988, said in the parish newsletter four years ago that the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was “divine retribution” for excessive sexual permissiveness, including tolerance of homosexuality.
He noted that Katrina destroyed not only nightclubs and brothels in New Orleans, but also abortion clinics, adding “The conditions of immorality in this city are indescribable”. Father Wagner, who has been appointed as auxiliary Bishop of Linz in Austria, has also accused the popular Harry Potter books and films of “spreading Satanism”.
Vatican sources said despite the row over pontiff’s controversial reinstatement of a bishop who denies that the Holocaust occurred, Pope Benedict remained determined to “bring back into the fold” not only the four bishops from the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) who whose excommunications were lifted a week ago but also the 500 priests of the fraternity, founded by the late renegade French bishop Marcel Lefebvre.
* * *
The Pope is a friend of the Jews
Why do people consistently keep on saying the stupid Williamson was rehabilitated? Only the excommunication was lifted! Williamson and his brothers are not given full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. He is still suspended and in schism. For them to become accepted once again within the Church, they will have to hold to the tenets of Vatican Council II which includes the document Nostra Aetate (religious freedom, inter-religious dialogue, no antisemitism etc). It is still to be seen if this will ever happen. But the Pope at least did what a chief pastor is expected to do in the Christian religion, work for unity within his large flock, even if it is decidedly difficult for him personally. If, and I say if, this society should get full union with the RCC they will be under better control in a Church where antisemitism is named a sin and a nut like Williamson will have to count his words.
Why can’t this be grasped by everyone who now sanctimoniously bashes the Pope as though he is a villain? He has worked for improved relations with the Jews for decades and it is in Ratzinger’s writings and books that I had learnt that G*d’s Covenant with the Jewish people is not something that vanished into thin space since the coming of Christianity, because G*d never goes back on His word. This Pope is a friend of the Jews.
The question is: Did he know about the Shoah-denying interview with Williamson that, by the way, was aired in Sweden after the document of the lifting of excommunication had already been dispatched? I don’t think the Pope knew at all. He should have been informed by his Curia of this and if they knew about it, who in the Vatican watches Swedish TV? Someone slipped up badly. It was not the Pope.
–Susan (South Africa)