Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Williamson Affair: what rational Jews say

I decided to wait until the furore had died down a bit before commenting on the Williamson affair and the lifting of the excommunications on the SSPX bishops.

I'm glad I did. What a lot of nonsense has been spewed forth by journals such as The Times of London and The Tablet.

Read these and marvel at the sheer asininity of the commentary:

and this:

The arrogance displayed in these 2 articles, particularly that of The Times is pretty laughable. Who is the leader writer at The Times to tell the Pope what excommunication in the Catholic Church means? What is his/her authority to determine issues of Roman canon law? What is his/her authority even to comment on them, given the chasm-like lack of knowledge he/she demonstrates? It is so silly as to be no more than risible.

It is as absurd as if the Pope were to excommunicate the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem - or, for that matter, the non-Catholic Editor of The Times.

Consider how much more asinine those 2 articles appear when compared with the following much more sober and balanced commentary by 2 Jewish writers.

I will let their comments stand on their own since they speak for themselves eloquently.

This from Rabbi Irwin Kula on the Washington Post/Newsweek website:

Rabbi Irwin Kula

Jewish Reaction to Pope Disproportionate
Jan. 30, 2009
Rabbi Irwin Kula

The official Jewish response to Pope Benedict XVI's recent decision to reach out to the St Pius X Society and to revoke the excommunication (though not yet determining the status) of four bishops says a great deal about the psycho-social state of American Jewish leadership or at least the leadership that claims to speak for American Jews.

The admittedly unnerving if not hurtful Holocaust denying views of one of those bishops, British born Richard Williamson, an obscure, irrelevant, cranky old man, offered on Swedish television, evoked the wrath of no less than the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the B'nai B'rith International, the International Jewish Commission on Interreligious Consultations and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "The decision undermines the strong relationship between Catholics and Jews", they protested. "We are stunned that the Vatican has ignored our concerns", they proclaimed.

This will have "serious implications for Catholic-Jewish relations" and there will be a "political cost for the Vatican" they threatened. And from Israel, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, one of the most corrupt religious establishments in Western democracies, entered the fray calling into doubt the Pope's impending visit to Israel. All this hubbub and anxious lashing out about an internal Church matter regarding the sort of crabby, crotchety, trivial, unknown sort of jerk - the ratty uncle who embarrasses you every time he is in public -- who we all recognize exists in our communities.

As an eighth generation rabbi and someone who lost much family in the Holocaust, it could just be me, but this official Jewish response seems outrageously over the top. Do millions of American Jews sufficiently care that the Pope revoked the excommunication of this unheard-of bishop such that major Jewish organizations should devote so much energy and attention to this and turn it into a cause célèbre worthy of front page attention? And is this the way we speak to each other after decades of successful interfaith work on improving our relationship?

How is it that the view of some cranky bishop who has no power evokes calls of a crisis in Catholic - Jewish relations despite the revolutionary changes in Church teachings regarding Jews since Vatican II? Where is the "proportionality", where is the giving the benefit of the doubt - a central religious and spiritual imperative - in response to something that is admittedly upsetting but in the scheme of things is less than trivial especially given this Pope's historic visit to Auschwitz in which he unambiguously recognized the evil perpetrated upon Jews in the Holocaust and in his way "repented" for any contribution distorted Church teachings made to create the ground for such evil to erupt.

Something is off-kilter here. Is it possible that the leadership of Jewish defense agencies, people with the best of motivation who have historically done critical work in fighting anti-Semitism, have become so possessed by their roles as monitors of anti-Semitism, so haunted by unresolved fears, guilt, and even shame regarding the Holocaust, and perhaps so unconsciously driven by how these issues literally keep their institutions afloat, that they have become incapable of distinguishing between a bishop's ridiculous, loopy, discredited views about the Holocaust and a Church from the Pope down which has clearly and repeatedly recognized the evil done to Jews in the Holocaust and called for that evil to never be forgotten?

Perhaps, this called for a little understanding of what it must be like to actually run a 1.2 billion person spiritual community (one with which I disagree on many issues) and to be trying to create some sense of unity from right to left, from extreme liberalism to extreme traditionalism - sort of like the liberal Barack Obama inviting Rick Warren, despite his hurtful views on homosexuality, to give the invocation at the inauguration. How about cutting a Pope, who we know along with the previous Pope is probably amongst the most historically sensitive Popes to the issues of anti-Semitism, Holocaust, and the relationship to Judaism and Jews, a little slack given how he is trying to heal his own community. And is it possible that the Pope's desire/hope/need to reintegrate the Church (he has also reached out to Liberal theologian Hans Kung) may be of more importance both to the Church and actually to religion on this planet than whether we Jews are upset about the lifting of excommunication of one irrelevant bishop.

Would we Jews like to be judged by the crankiest, most outlandish, hurtful, and stupid thing any rabbi in the world said about Catholics or Christians? We Jews are no longer organized to excommunicate and a rabbi can't be defrocked the way the Church does with its clergy but surely there are individual rabbis who say things so abhorrent about the "other" that though we still call the person rabbi we would not want to be taken to task for doing so.

And isn't it possible that bringing Richard Williamson back inside the Church may actually influence him to see how wrong he is on this issue given how clear the Church is regarding the Holocaust and its commitment to Catholic -Jewish relations? After all the Pope himself said, "I hope my gesture is followed by the hoped-for commitment on their part to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the Church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council."

There is no way to read this other than to conclude that to be fully reinstated in the Catholic Church, all those who have passed the first test must now clear the big hurdle: either accept what the Catholic Church teaches or remain on the sidelines. And what the Church teaches, among other things, is the necessity of respecting Jews.

Moreover, shouldn't the Jewish defense agency leadership, which to its credit is probably the most effective at its work of any ethnic and religious group in this country, try to understand the inner categories of the other, especially after decades of inter-faith and inter-group work? In this case, that there is a difference between heresy - an accusation from which the Pope is trying to heal part of his community- and stupidity. And what is the cost of not seeing the difference between heresy and stupidity?

Finally, when the Pope as well as key Vatican officials said within a day that Williamson's views are "absolutely indefensible" and that in the Pope's own words, the Church feels "full and indispensable solidarity with Jews against any Holocaust denial" where was a little humility in response? Wouldn't it have been interesting, yet alone ethically compelling, for those who initially lashed out to have acknowledged that perhaps they did overreact and that they do know that the Church and specifically this Pope are very sensitive to these issues. But that we ask the Pope and church hierarchy to please understand that, whether fully justified or not, we are still very very raw and very vulnerable regarding the Holocaust and so we are sorry if we did over react and we are deeply grateful for the Pope's unambiguous reiteration of that which we do know is his view and is contemporary Catholic teachings.

And this from the Jerusalem Post:

David Klinghoffer

The wages of whining
The Jerusalem Post
Jan. 29, 2009
David Klinghoffer

A point I try to impress on my children is one that the Jewish community would do well to consider. If you spend a day continually whining about trivia, by the end of the day, even if you've got something legitimate to complain about, mommy and daddy aren't going to be in a frame of mind to listen to you very seriously. This lesson can be difficult for a little kid to grasp.

The Anti-Defamation League has a hard time with it, too, otherwise the group wouldn't profess to be "stunned" that the Vatican had "ignored our concerns" and reversed the excommunication of four previously outlawed rebel bishops, leaders of the reactionary Society of St. Pius X. The Pius X organization opposes the reforms of Vatican II, including its olive branch to the Jews and Judaism. One of the bishops is a flagrant anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and conspiracy theorist.
Bishop Richard Williamson remains in hot water with the Catholic Church for having accepted ordination in 1988 in the first place, against the wishes of Pope John Paul II. Williamson still cannot minister officially as a bishop. Yet the title and at least some of the influence that goes with it are now his, unsullied by the sinister status associated with excommunication. The combination of malignant views and lofty office are why this case matters.

A priest friend in Rome whom I trust assures me there are sound technical reasons for Pope Benedict's act of mercy to Williamson and the other SSPX bishops: "Being a nut, even a pernicious one, is simply not a justification for maintaining an excommunication, which, from the Church's point of view, is the ultimate punishment. The guy could have been an unrepentant murderer and the excommunication - for the specific offense of illicit ordination - would have still been lifted. It is a technical thing, not a sign of personal approval or rehabilitation."

But as Jews know well from our own religious tradition, well acquainted with legal arcana, such technicalities usually carry the day only when unopposed by urgent real-world considerations.
Before Williamson's forgiveness was announced but after it was known to be a likely prospect, the ADL sought to dissuade Benedict from extending public mercy to a man who argues that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are a gift that "God put into men's hands." Yet the Pope went ahead anyway, leaving ADL national director Abraham Foxman "stunned." When the news came out, my wife and I watched Williamson's video on YouTube in which he allows that maybe 200,000 or 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, but not one in a gas chamber.

I was disturbed but not stunned.

No one should minimize the good that the ADL and other Jewish anti-defamation groups have accomplished in publicizing Muslim anti-Semitism. But they have also done great damage to Jewish-Christian relations by making a habit of attacking Catholics and Protestants, sometimes in hysterical terms, on matters about which Jews have no business complaining.

Thus for example the ADL and its allies remain publicly unapologetic, as far as I know, for their role in hyping the supposed anti-Semitic menace posed by Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Before the film was released, the ADL harped on supposed parallels between Gibson's movie and medieval Passion plays. The latter led to pogroms, so the obvious implication was that the former could also.

Others went further. In an article in The New Republic - Jewish-owned and edited - a Jewish scholar, Paula Fredriksen, stated not as speculation but as a certainty that when the film appeared in countries like Poland, Spain, France and Russia, savagery would erupt: "When violence breaks out, Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to."

Of course no such thing came to pass.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups continue to pillory the Christian churches for their alleged guilt in fomenting the Holocaust. That's despite the fact that Hitler himself clearly dismissed as ineffective any fancied strategy to try to whip up Germans with appeals to punish the Christ-killers. In Mein Kampf, an influential best-seller, he relied on the language of Darwinian biology to declare a race war against the Jews.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, America's largest Jewish denomination, has called conservative Christians "zealots" and "bigots." Harshly attacking opposition to gay marriage, Yoffie remarked: "We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things he did was ban gay organizations." And so on and on. By now, as far as anti-defamation activism is concerned, our community has squandered much of its credibility. Therefore when a real issue of concern arises, as in the Williamson affair, we have little on which to draw. Under circumstances like these, some Christians will listen politely but then turn away, citing technicalities.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and the author of Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History and other books.


The Pope will undoubtedly treat the hysterical reaction of some Catholics - even bishops - with the same degree of mild regret and paternal solicitude as is his habitual manner.

The rest of us might just remember that the very same Catholics who are now berating the Pope and even calling for his resignation include many who spewed forth vitriol and venomous hatred against traditionalists for the alleged reason that...wait for it...yes, you've guessed it..."they were disloyal to the Pope"!.

Yes, really!

Come back ye Pharisees and whited sepulchres! Your time is not yet up, apparently.

Some people still think that Catholics have always blamed present-day Jews for crucifying Christ.

That is nonsense and never has been our theology. All sinners are to blame for he Crucifixion and bad Catholics are more to blame than bad Jews.

And we do not hesitate to blame those amongst our own bishops whose disloyalty to the Church often crucifies Christ far more obviously and openly than any other religious group or leader does.



Thomas More said...

Great articles from the two rabbis. Their reasoning and logic far exceeds most of what has been written about this development, on either side of the argument.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tribunas. Sometimes when you hear the howling voices of certain organisations one mistakingly assumes they represent the Jewish community.

Anonymous said...

I was waiting for your post on this one it must be said. I thought you might have some insights on the history of the whole affair. Could you recommend a sound historical account of WWII, Nazism and the Holocaust?

David Lindsay said...

If the buffoonish Richard Williamson’s easily refutable views on the Holocaust (never mind his objection to ‘The Sound of Music’ because it depicts a nun running away to marry a rich man) must be recanted in order for him to be admitted to communion with the Petrine See, then so must be the easily refutable views of those buffoons who claim that Pius XII was complicit in the Holocaust. Or that the present Pope was a Nazi.

Or that the Spanish Inquisition was either an institution of the Church or committed all manner of atrocities, and those against Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Or that any noticeable amount of sexual abuse by Catholic priests has been other than of teenage boys, a pattern of behaviour glorified in the mass media and so presumably incurring no social disapproval among the people who run those media.

Or that Opus Dei is some vast global conspiracy. Or that Catholic Teaching precludes the prevention of HIV infection in Africa and elsewhere. Or that Natural Family Planning does not work. Or that the preborn child is ever both a part of a woman’s body and insentient (think on that one).

That would be a start, anyway.

Meanwhile, where ARE the world’s “one million” Lefebvrists? But however many of them there really are, there is no way that their four bishops (if bishops they be – ordaining bishops without Papal permission is one thing, but doing so in express violation of Papal instruction is quite another, so I await the word of the Holy Father on this one) will ever be permitted to ordain successors without incurring excommunication again.

So that takes care of the Richard Williamson problem. The other three would not now so ordain. But he still would, and I confidently predict that at some point he will, taking with him whatever tiny faction concurs with his views on the Holocaust and other matters. He even looks and sounds like David Irving. Are they related?

Meanwhile, shorn of him and his, full reconciliation with the Petrine See will await those exemplified by the Lefebvrist church in Gateshead, which has excellent relations with its very Jewish local community, and where a distinguished scholar of Judaism plays the organ.

Tribunus said...

Well, indeed!

I love the idea of Geordie Jews - marvellous!

Richard Williamson is, of course, a validly ordained bishop. It is the licitness of his canonical mission which is in question.

Some say the arguments that applied to the validity of the excommunication also apply to the suspension of Archbishop Lefebvre in which case it was invalid and his ordinations are licit.

Some say not, in which case they aren't.

Which it is remains unclear since the Pope has not stated the grounds for lifting the excommunication.

Was it a response to, and final judgement in their favour on, the appeal of SSPX?

Or was it an act of clemency alone?

One the one hand, words of clemency were used but, on the other hand, no recantations were required of the SSPX bishops.

It is an open question.

What is NOT an open question is the silliness of Richard Williamson's views as to the number of people who died in the mass murder of Jews during WWII.

The evidence of Eichmann and of Rudolf Hoess at their respective trials accounts for almost 6 millions Jews on their own.

Williamson relies on the discredited Leuchtars report.

However wrong-headed his views on that subject it is entirely irrelevant to the issue of lifting the excommunications.

Fred Preuss said...

So you don't agree with John Deer, SJ that the pope should resign?

David Lindsay said...

Gateshead has the largest concentration of Jews in the world outside Israel, and I believe it is correct to say that the Gateshead yeshiva is the largest in Europe. The Lefebvrist (formerly Anglican) church is right in the middle of that part of town.

Tribunus said...

Dear Fred,

I rarely agree with so-called Jesuits these days since most of them are heretics, for which reason they do not deserve the name of Jesuit and are no more true sons of St Ignatius Loyola than any other other bag of rotten traducers of the faith of Jesus Christ.

Clear enough for you?

Tribunus said...

Dear David,

Excellent news!

The large Jewish community of Antwerp are also among the chief supporters of Vlaams Belang, the Flemish separatist group often falsely accused of being anti-Semitic.

Life is larger than the narrow liberal view of it!