Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pope Benedict Works First Miracle

And it's not a nice one.  He has led the well-known neocon Papist George Weigel to say something with which Father Anonymous is in complete agreement.  We only wish the circumstances were less grim.

Here's the sitrep.  In 1970, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded his infamous Society of Saint Piux X, dedicated to the proposition that the Second Vatican Council had strayed from the Catholic faith.  It has been, and remains, a favorite of the far-far-right.  In 1988, operating against the direct instructions of John Paul II, he ordained four SSPX priests as bishops.  By doing so, he incurred automatic excommunication for himself, another bishop, and the four "bishops" they "ordained."  Although there are technical arguments about the terminology, by any reasonable standard, the SSPX had created a schism.

To Rome's credit, it has continued in conversation with these guys.  Everybody deserves a chance to repent.  To his shame, however, Pope Benedict has this week lifted the excommunication upon those who remain.  They are a vile bunch.

The Times article linked above concentrates upon one of the supposed bishops, Richard Williamson, and his Holocaust denial.  Williamson is indeed a despicable piece of work, and for evidence, watch this recent interview:
No wonder the guy now runs a seminary in Argentina.  You know, where, ahem, those guys went after the War.

Now, let's be clear:  What Williamson is saying seems, especially toward the end, to be intrinsically linked to the sort of pre-Vatican II Catholicism that the SSPX exists to sustain.  Unless we miss our guess, he is on the verge of saying that "anti-Semitism" is a lot of nonsense because after all, Truth compels us to hate those who killed the Savior.  Maybe we're wrong, but it sounds like he's winding up for that particular spitball.

This is bad, and we understand why the Times led with it.  But this focus risks obscuring some of the other wretchedness in play.  Theologically, the Lefrebvrists continue to make themselves arbiters of Catholic tradition, above and beyond a council.  And their rhetoric is bespeaks an utter contempt for the actual Roman Catholic Church.  Here is Williamson in 2006:  

One thing above all should always be remembered ... for as long as this post-Conciliar crisis will last, namely that it consists in a war to the death between two directly opposed religions: the Catholic religion centered on God, and the Conciliar religion centered on man and the modern world. The Conciliar religion is a diabolically skilful counterfeit of the true religion. Between these two religions, as such, there can be no peace until one of them is dead.

Hey, Benedict -- he just said he was going to destroy your church.  We're sorry, but what Pope in his right mind would un-excommunicate that guy?  (Although, actually, come to think of it, who do the SSPX sound like?  Rebellious leader believes the Church has fallen into error; rejects teachings of Council; gets excommunicated -- swap out "Vatican II" for "Lateran IV" and it's the story of Luther.  Of course, there are about a thousand SSPX members and 60 million Lutherans.  Does that mean Benedict will welcome us back without asking us to give up any of our distinctive teachings?  Because we're listening.)

Rome is engaged in tense negotiations with the SSPX, exemplified by some recent letters. (Reuters lays this out in some detail).  The language(s) are all open interpretation, but -- bottom line --  the excommunication has been lifted even though the SSPX has given no clear signal that it will accept the validity of Vatican II.  In other words, Rome caved on a major point, while the SSPX has not.  

The Pope blinked.  Needless to say, John Paul -- who was no less dedicated to dialogue with the SSPX, and to the "conservative" interpretation of Vatican II -- would not have.  He had plenty of chances, and he didn't.  He may have turned a wilfully blind eye to lots and lots of child molestation, but blinking in a negotiation wasn't his thing.

Benedict has damaged his own standing, both outside the Church (where he will be associated with the anti-semites) and within, where he will simply look weak in the face of an especially unpleasant and supercilious adversary.

And that supercilious thing is where we stunned ourselves by agreeing with Weigel.  Here's the Times again:

[Weigel] said he was troubled by [SSPX leader] Bishop Fellay’s implication in his letter that the schismatic group represented the tradition, while “the rest of us are, somehow, the true schismatics.”

We've seen this in our own camp, too.  The further right they get, the more routinely they claim to be exclusive mouthpieces for Tradition.  But upon close examination, this claim is often difficult to sustain -- the problem is that nobody tries it.  Conservatives don't examine tradition because they assume they're it; liberals just assume they've moved past it.  Both sides might be surprised by some solid historical research.  Weigel adds, with a forgiveable snark:

It is not easy to see how the unity of the Church will be enhanced unless the Lefebvrists accept Vatican II’s teaching on the nature of the Church, on religious freedom, and on the evil of anti-Semitism, explicitly and without qualification; otherwise, you get cafeteria Catholicism on the far right, as we already have on the left.”

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