The fallout from the SSPX issue continues to rain down on the Vatican. Several items over the weekend showed how messy it can get when the Vatican botches its presentation of a potentially controversial decision.
A demonstration against Williamson at the Vatican nunciature in Paris by several dozen Jewish protesters on Sunday. The Reuters photo below by Mal Langsdon shows a man holding a cartoon from the Paris daily Le Monde in which two SSPX bishops say in mock Latin “The gas chamber doesn’t exist.” Pope Benedict holds up a cloak which says “Down with Vatican II” and comments: “As long as they don’t say it in Hebrew, I’m not saying anything.” Will there be more of these elsewhere?
Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, one of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunications Pope Benedict lifted last week, told the Italian daily La Stampa (here in English) that the rebel prelates have no intention of changing their traditionalist views when they negotiate their reinstatement in the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican officials.” No, absolutely not,” he said. “We do not change our positions, but we have the intention of converting Rome, that is, to lead Rome towards our positions.” This is the man who in 2005 told the traditionalist U.S. weekly The Remnant “I will say, one day the Church should erase this Council. She will not speak of it anymore. She must forget it. The Church will be wise if she forgets this council.” Until now, most attention has focused on SSPX Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay and the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. Fellay is considered the most moderate of the group and statements from the others are likely to take a tougher stand against any concessions to the Vatican.
(Photo: Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, May 2008/SSPX)
Several news outlets such as The Times and the BBC have picked up a story from Austria that the pope had approved the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop of Linz, Gerhard Wagner, who once described Hurricane Katrina as God’s punishment for sin and sexual excess in New Orleans and denounced the Harry Potter books for “spreading Satanism.” In a new interview with the Austrian Catholic agency Kath.net, he says “Islam is really a danger.” How much would you bet this would have gone unnoticed if there hadn’t been other negative news about the Vatican?
New statements and comments are popping up all over. A few trends emerge:
Denunciations of anti-Semitism by SSPX bishops. Bishop Fellay has made several such statements, each stronger than the previous one. His latest, to the French weekly Famille Chrétienne, calls Jews “our older brothers.” Fr. Franz Schmidberger, the head of the SSPX in Germany who has been quoted as saying the Jews must be converted, has also distanced himself from Williamson’s comments. While these statements have been welcomed, they have not answered the real question of whether the SSPX will accept Vatican II documents such as Nostra Aetate that changed the traditional Church position on the Jews (see Bishop Tissier above…).
Continued criticism of Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust. Several Jewish and some Catholic leaders have said his apology to the Vatican for causing the uproar was not enough. The message is that he may have apologised and Pope Benedict may have condemned the Holocaust, but where are his full retractions, more direct criticisms of him and his denial or statements that people expressing such views have no place as office holders in the Church? The Central Council of Jews in Germany says it expects to see some “consequences” from the Vatican to prove it supports continued dialogue with and respect for Jews. One suggestion is that it suspend the procedure to beatify Pope Pius XII and later make him a saint.
Criticism of the Vatican for botching its public relations. This is going Catholic mainstream, with even Radio Vatican (German service says:“This concurrence of the lifting the excommunication and the Holocaust-denial by Bishop Williamson was fatal. Simply fatal.”) and Benedict’s close ally Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn openly complaining about it. As veteran Vatican watcher John Allen wrote: “The way this decision was communicated was a colossal blunder, and one that’s frankly difficult to either understand or excuse.” Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz openly criticised Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos — head of the office dealing with the SSPX — of not doing his homework on Williamson’s controversial views.
Concern about a pattern in Benedict’s controversial statements. As Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: “We’ve heard the pope’s speech about Muslims in Regensburg, another statement about judging the Protestant church, then about evangelising Jews, the old Latin Mass, and now the rehabilitiation of a Holocaust denier. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The pope is a highly educated man. He says what’s being thought in the Church.”
(Photo:Charlotte Knobloch, 24 Oct 2006/Arnd Wiegmann) Investigations into anti-Semitism within the SSPX, such as here on the America magazine blog In All Things or John Allen’s All Things Catholic column. Rumblings among Catholics who see Benedict as turning the clock back on many Vatican II reforms. Read this comment from Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent of the London Catholic weekly The Tablet. Petitions by concerned Catholics, run in France by the Catholic weekly La Vie (entitled No Negationists in the Church) and in Germany by the Church reform group We Are Church (entitled Full Recognition for Conclusions of Second Vatican Coouncil Demanded). There’s another French petition going around by fax.
Some recent Reuters copy on the controversy: