Pope Benedict met the Devil in Düsseldorf on Monday. To be more precise, a large papier-mâché figure of the German-born pontiff shook hands with another figure depicting the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The mock encounter was part of the annual carnival parade on Monday, known as Rose Monday in Germany, where the parade floats traditionally poke fun at public figures.
Benedict’s decision to readmit four excommunicated bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) last month sparked off loud protests among Catholics and Jews, especially in the German-speaking countries because Williamson appeared in a Swedish television interview only days before and denied the Nazis used gas chambers or killed six million Jews. The wing on the Williamson figure says “Anti-Semitism” and the brush at the end of his tail says Piusbrüder (Pius Brothers, the German term for the SSPX priests).
Just so there’s no confusion, the Williamson figure sports an armband clearly identifying who Benedict is shaking hands with. Thanks to Ina Fassbender for these shots.
UPDATE: Cardinal Joachim Meisner in nearby Cologne has criticised this float as “not only wrong but hurtful … When mirth becomes malice, a joke becomes a jab and a fantasy becomes a fraud, then the carival suffers.” By contrast, most readers commenting on the website of the local daily Rheinische Post liked it.
Whether such a handshake will ever happen in real life is highly doubtful. Although their 1988 excommunications have been lifted and they have been readmitted into the Roman fold, the four SSPX bishops still have to negotiate their future roles in the Catholic Church. SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay will probably lead the talks and there is no need for Williamson — who has been ordered to leave Argentina — to be present. After the public relations disaster over the interview, the last thing Benedict will want to do is receive the man at the Vatican.