Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated four previously excommunicated bishops, all of whom are members of a far-right group that rejects Vatican II and one of whom is a raging conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier. Is Benedict pandering to those on the theological far-right of the Church, and if so, why? Or could he be moving to create a genuinely more inclusive church, one which actually makes room for those whose views are loathsome to most church members? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
If that is case, this Pope continues his tradition of making theological/communal moves which are so nuanced that they end up being misunderstood by most and may actually hurt many, even if that is not his intention. Think of his speech about Islam, his reinstating the Good Friday prayer which calls for the conversion of Jews, etc.
Whatever is going on here, the focus should not be on the fact that one of those reinstated, Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier and how painful that is to Jews. The truth is it should disturb all people who actually care about facts and accuracy. Williamson’s reinstatement doesn’t bother me because I am Jewish, it bothers me because I would hope that it is beneath the Church to honor a man who believes and continues to teach such ugly and dangerous lies.
On the other hand, is it appropriate to judge this man based entirely upon his attitude toward the Holocaust? Is it fair to him? How would any of us hold up if the world measured any of us by the most outrageous belief we might hold?
In no way am I excusing Williamson. But I am willing to entertain that however much pain his reinstatement might cause relative to this issue, it may not be the only basis upon which the Pope should make his decision, nor should it govern the future of Church-Jewish relations, as some have already suggested/threatened it will.
The idea that this one move will jeopardize Catholic-Jewish relations is either insane or tragic. And any leaders, especially those who call themselves interfaith leaders, who intimate that Williamson’s reinstatement will jeopardize those relations should be ashamed of themselves. Real relationships between communities are stronger than what any one leader identified with either, might say. If they are not, then the relationships were never that strong to begin with and we should focus on that.
More interesting here, is the Pope’s willingness to find a place for these men in particular and for the Society of Saint Pius X in general. If our definition of inclusiveness does not reach beyond the boundaries of our own personal comfort, can we call ourselves truly inclusive?
How ironic then, that this conservative Pope who is deeply committed to maintaining the authority of the church, is willing to include those who challenge its authority on a number of theological and liturgical issues. Of course the test will be if in the weeks and months ahead, Benedict is willing to reach as far to his left as he has now reached to his right.
If he does make a parallel move to the left, this Pope will have accomplished far more good than bad, not only for the Church he leads, but toward modeling how real inter-group and inter-religious relationships are nurtured. He will have demonstrated the danger of single issue litmus testing in relations between any people. And that would be a profound spiritual lesson for all of us, one for which I would be deeply grateful.