For someone supposedly infallible, said the London Times in an editorial, Pope Benedict XVI sure makes a lot of “lame” mistakes. The Vatican, once again, is in damage-control mode, trying to explain why His Holiness has lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist renegade bishops, one of whom, Richard Williamson, is a rabid anti-Semite who dismisses the “so-called Holocaust” as a bunch of “lies, lies, lies.” As Jewish groups denounced Benedict’s bewildering gesture, Vatican officials rushed to explain that the pope is simply trying to heal a schism in the church, and had no idea that Williamson is a Holocaust denier. No idea? The pope is an intelligent, well-educated man, but in his short tenure he’s already insulted Muslims, Anglicans, homosexuals, and now Jews. Inviting a man like Williamson back into the church’s good graces only reinforces “the suspicion of some Jews that Christianity still harbors latent anti-Semitism.”
Actually, it’s possible that the pope didn’t know about Williamson’s views on the Holocaust, said Stephen Prothero in USA Today. Unlike his predecessor, the worldly, media-savvy John Paul II, Benedict is a “man of the library,” not of the people. He’s spent his life immersed in the minutiae of Catholic doctrine and is obsessed with healing the divisions within the church. The Society of St. Pius X, Williamson’s group, broke away in 1970 in protest over Vatican II reforms, such as Masses said in local languages instead of Latin. Williamson is an “execrable individual,” said Michael Coren in the Toronto National Post, but he’s only a means to an end. Benedict’s goal in mending fences with the SSPX is to welcome hundreds of thousands of very conservative, devout Catholics back into the bosom of the church.
That’s a cop-out, said John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter. Whether or not he knew of Williamson’s anti-Semitic public statements, Benedict was surely aware that the SSPX and other traditionalist Catholic sects have a history of “open hostility toward Jews and Judaism that is anything but latent.” The SSPX’s own founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, counted Jews among the “declared enemies of the church.” Besides, said Michael Winters in Slate.com, I thought the Vatican had no use for “cafeteria Catholics”—those who accept only church teachings they agree with. If the pope can find room in the church “for the crazies on the right,” perhaps he’ll also welcome back Catholics who’ve ordained women, as well as those who teach that Jesus Christ was a leftist revolutionary.