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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why the Pope should use his Google

by Gerard Henderson (above)

February 10, 2009

TRADITIONAL Catholics accept that the Pope cannot err on the few occasions when the head of the Catholic Church makes consciously infallible statements on matters pertaining to faith and morals. But on those matters which pertain to governance, the Vatican is just as subject to error as any other political or religious leadership.

Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, was on the mark last week when he criticised Benedict's decision to readmit members of the Switzerland based Society of St Pius X to the Catholic Church - including the English-born bishop Richard Williamson.

Williamson had been consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Marcel-Francois Lefebvre (1905-91) in defiance of the Vatican in 1988. Soon after, Lefebvre and the bishops he had consecrated were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II.

The excommunication of some members of the Society of St Pius X by one pontiff, and their readmission by another, is a matter for Catholics - since it essentially involves issues concerning the teaching authority of the church.

Photo: Brought by a friend, Bishop Williamson was one of the seventy guests who attended David Irving's garden party in Windsor on October 19, 2008; they discussed Catholic affairs only, and no history (copyright Focal Point Publications)

However, this matter became controversial because Williamson is a follower of the English propagandist David Irving, perhaps the best-known Holocaust denier in the Western world.

On Swedish television last November, Williamson asserted that "between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber". He also claimed that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime did not deliberately murder European Jews in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Williamson's Holocaust denial was not widely reported until his readmission to the church. His comments caused considerable controversy and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, urged the Pope to condemn Williamson's views. The Pope included a reference to the Holocaust in his weekly papal address last Wednesday, spoke about his visits to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and said that this was "one of the concentration camps in which the heinous slaughter of millions of Jews occurred".

Earlier Williamson had apologised to the Pope for having caused him "so much unnecessary distress and problems". Williamson also regretted what he described as his "imprudent remarks". And that's the continuing problem. His comments were not imprudent. Just wrong and ahistorical.

It's much the same with Irving. As Richard J. Evans [right] documented in his book Lying About Hitler, Irving is not a historian in search of the truth but, rather, a propagandist running a line in support of an ideological cause.

The Vatican has demanded that Williamson recant his views. It has also acknowledged that it failed to do due diligence on Williamson before Benedict announced that the excommunicated members of the Society of St Pius X would be readmitted to Catholicism.

Due to the current surge of secularism in the West, and the high profile of many alienated current and former Catholics who are critical of the church, the Vatican should be extra careful to avoid political errors.

Critics of the church have had success over the past four decades in linking Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff from 1939 to 1958, to Hitler and the Nazis.

This theme even made the cut in Chris Taylor's documentary Happy News Year which went to air on ABC1 on New Year's Day. Presumably Taylor got this gig because he is one of the self-proclaimed Chaser "boys", rather than on the basis of any record as a contemporary historian.

As Michael Burleigh documents in his book Sacred Causes, the attempt to link the anti-communist Pius XII with Nazism was an initiative by Joe Stalin's heirs in Moscow and was popularised by the left-wing German playwright Rolf Hochhuth in his play The Deputy, which opened in 1963.

David Irving (right) meets Rolf Hochhuth, January 1965. They have been firm friends to the present day.

David Irving (right) meets Rolf Hochhuth, January 25, 1965. They have been firm friends to the present day.

It is always easy to say that, circa 1940, Pius XII should have openly condemned Hitler. But the attempt to brand Pius XII as "Hitler's Pope" overlooks the fact he was the Vatican's secretary of state when the encyclical condemning of Nazism was issued in 1937.

It also ignores the fact that, during Pius XII's papacy, the Vatican did much to assist Jews to escape the Holocaust. This has been documented by Professor Ronald J. Rychlak and Rabbi David G. Dalin, among others.

The Vatican is well aware of the campaign to discredit Pius XII. It also knows that there is a tradition of anti-Semitism within sections of the church in Europe, particularly in France where Lefebvre was born. Anti-Semitism was rare among Catholics in the English-speaking nations, including Australia. This is evident in Pell's condemnation of Williamson on Radio National's Breakfast last Thursday. Daniel Mannix (1864-1963), the influential Archbishop of Melbourne, was one of the first Christian leaders in Australia to enter into dialogue with Jews. Pell is in the Mannix tradition.

Some members of the Society of St Pius X are essentially good people who disagree with the way in which some of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were implemented.

They can be found in many nations, including Australia. However, a small number of the society's members are supporters of lunar right conspiracy theories, including Holocaust denial. Williamson, for example.

Pope Benedict is a fine theologian. Yet, he appears to lack basic political skills and seems unwilling to seek advice on some key issues. Anyone with a knowledge of the Society of Pius X would have understood the need to do due diligence on its members, including its bishops.

A simple Google search would have revealed Williamson's denial, which gives succour to anti-Semites and is an affront to history. Pell is correct. The whole issue has been mishandled. The Pope would be well advised to indicate that Williamson will not be admitted to a position within the Catholic hierarchy while he engages in historical lying.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute. [He appears to be its only staff member and employee]


Der Spiegel verbatim (but edited) interview with Bishop Richard Williamson
(Protestant) German Chancellor Angela Merkel demands that Pope clarify Holocaust stance - (otherwise Sozi Germany will prosecute?)
Disastrous Williamson decision may cost Pope his Vatican job, hints Daily Telegraph
Vatican Demands Williamson Publicly Recant - otherwise he'll be burnt at stake?
Video clip of Bishop Williamson has now vanished into the YouTube Memory Hole. AWPOW* But others have survived: click
Spiegel: Williamson lehnt Widerruf vorerst ab - he refuses to recant as yet: demands historical proof, "das wird Zeit brauchen", that'll take time | English

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