Tue, 27 Jan 2009 15:31:42 +0000 – Chances are, you have seen in recent days at least one hair-raising headline announcing the Vatican has "welcomed back", "rehabilitated," or "made peace with" an unrepentant, Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic, schismatic bishop -- Richard Williamson.
Those headlines were false. And every news story they bannered also missed the mark.
Here's the skinny on a complicated but important story. Pope Benedict XVI has offered an impressive carrot to the estimated 600,000 followers of an ultra-conservative schismatic group, The Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
[caption id="attachment_6236" align="aligncenter" width="202" caption="Pope Benedict (AP)"][/caption]
By lifting the censure of ex-communication of their four bishops (ordained without Vatican approval in 1988), Pope Benedict is removing a legal--"canonical"--barrier for the bishops and their followers to return eventually to the fold, if they choose.
The media missed completely this essential condition for "rehabilitation".
The result has been a firestorm of confused public opinion and righteous indignation over what was communicated by most news sources as a papal blessing on an unrepentant anti-Semite.
If there was any doubt what the Vatican thinks about the schismatic Bishop Williamson's claim that only a few hundred thousand Jews were killed by Hitler and that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz, the Vatican official in charge of inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, cleared it up (why was he so rarely quoted?):
"They are unacceptable words, stupid words. To deny the Holocaust is stupid and it is a position that has nothing to do with the Catholic Church".
And since the story continues to be told either poorly or dishonestly, in bits and pieces, with fits of fury by one not-so-expert, expert after another, the Vatican published today an editorial in its official newspaper saying Pope Benedict XVI deplores all forms of anti-Semitism and that all Roman Catholics must do the same.
In my opinion, Pope Benedict XVI knew the public relations mess he was about to make, but believed the possibility of estranged members of the Catholic Church leaving the world of schism (and the conspiracy theories that often thrive in it) and coming back to the fold, would be more important for both Catholics and Jews long-term, than the unfortunate short-term affects of predictable media misinformation.
For the record, as things stand now, and until the leaders of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X accept the Pope's invitation to come back home--with this invitation's monstrous condition attached--this group remains illegitimate (not sanctioned by the Catholic Church), its bishops (including Bishop Williamson) remain suspended and the services carried out in its chapels are considered illicit.
Now that's not exactly the story you heard most places, right?
Father Jonathan Morris is author of the book, "The Promise: God's Purpose and Plan for when Life Hurts". For information go to www.fatherjonathan.com