Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who is Number 2 to Pope Benedict at the Holy See, ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to recant his Holocaust denial “absolutely, unequivocally and publicly” if he wants to serve as a prelate in the Roman Catholic Church. The tough statement, reported here by our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella, came after a mounting chorus of Catholic bishops denounced Williamson’s statement and more or less clearly urged the apparently reluctant Vatican to take some strong disciplinary measures. Many of those appeals included calls for Williamson’s ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) to support Second Vatican Council reforms they have until now rejected. (Photo: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 19 June 2008/stringer)
Bertone’s statement (original here in Italian) also said clearly that an indispensible condition for a rehabilitation of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunications were lifted last week was “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
This might seem like the logical next step in the Vatican’s damage control campaign. But now look at the interview with Bertone the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire published just yesterday. When asked about Williamson’s comments, he answered: “There’s no need to confuse things… The Society of Saint Pius X …has asked the pope for forgiveness for this regrettable episode. The pope spoke clearly on Wednesday. It seems to me that the question can be considered closed.” (emphasis mine).
I wonder what the last straw was that made Bertone (and Benedict) suddenly change tack. Those unusual comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel? The mounting chorus of comments from German and other bishops? Whatever it was, this does seem to bear out a fact that several readers posting comments in recent days either fail or refuse to recognise – that the Church operates in the world and adopting a stand of sublime isolation from it can have its costs. That doesn’t mean it should not have lifted Williamson’s excommunication, but it could have considered the context and explained it from the start. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)
Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican watcher, has posted a detailed and informative analysis on his website www.chiesa – Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication. He has tough words for Bertone: “With Bertone, the curia seems even more disorganized than before, perhaps in part because he has never completely dedicated himself to fixing its problems.: