Vatican orders Williamson recant after calling case closed

Holy flip-flop!

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.:

Speculation starts about pope’s health, possible successor

Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium in New York, 20 April 2008/Mike SegarIt’s never too early to start speculating about the next pope. The Paris daily Le Figaro seems to be the first out of the starting blocks with an article on Friday saying that Pope Benedict appeared tired during his U.S. tour and has been delegating more and more of his duties. “Three years after the election of Benedict XVI, his succession is not yet a daily issue at the Vatican but the rumours are rife, Rome correspondent Hervé Yannou wrote. “It’s true that he celebrated his 81st birthday on April 16 and everybody knows his health is fragile. The sovereign pontiff still climbs the stairs and is mentally alert, but he’s as old as his years. And it’s no secret for anyone that the pope has a weak heart.”

Perhaps to calm any concern the article might stir up, Yannou promptly says Benedict still plans to visit France on September 12-15, where he will celebrate a large outdoor mass at Les Invalides in Paris and visit the sanctuary at Lourdes. After a bit more background, he returns to the succession issue and names Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (photo below left), 74, as the front-runner. If the cardinal electors lean towards a non-European, Yannou’s pick is Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, 72, the Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires who emerged as the main alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now B16) at the 2005 conclave.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Havana’s Catholic cathedral, 22 Feb. 2008/Enrique de la OsaThe reason for this speculation may have less to do with Benedict’s health than the fact that another “papabile” (pope candidate) has all but thrown his hat into the papal succession ring. On April 14, the day before Benedict left for Washington, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 65, published a book in France entitled De la difficulté d’évoquer Dieu dans un monde qui pense ne pas en avoir besoin (The difficulty of evoquing God in a world that thinks it doesn’t need him). In it, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa (photo below right), who was considered a long-shot papabile back in 2005, wrote about the possibility of a non-European pope. This pontiff should be a “man of the 21st century” who embodies both tradition and innovation and whose knowledge of the concerns of the Third World would mean he could influence North-South relations, he wrote in what sounded very much like a self-description and job description rolled into one. French reporters covering Benedict’s U.S. visit briefly discussed the book one day in the press centre, but it didn’t sound like the start of the succession speculation season.

Have red hat, will travel

Shortly after Pope Benedict was elected in April, 2005, he made it clear that he would not be travelling as much as his globe-trotting predecessor John Paul II. He has made only seven trips outside Italy so far, most of them short, unlike some of John Paul’s marathon journeys that sometimes lasted up to two weeks. Benedict’s shortest was one day, to Spain, and the longest was five days in Brazil.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Havana’s Catholic cathedral, 22 Feb. 2008/Enrique de la OsaNow it seems that Benedict is looking increasingly to his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to be not only his deputy pope inside the Vatican walls but also his deputy traveller on the world stage. Bertone has just wound up a significant and news-making trip to Cuba, which coincided with Fidel Castro’s decision to step down as president and hand over the reins to his younger brother Raul. The Vatican treated Bertone’s visit almost as a papal visit, sending text of all of the some 20 speeches and sermons he made to reporters via e-mail and its Web site. On the final day of Bertone’s visit, they issued four speeches (speeches in Spanish and Italian here).

Bertone, who had no diplomatic experience before he was named secretary of state to succeed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is a close friend of the pope. He worked with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the future pope was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.