Ask the rabbi about the bishop and the pope!

Image: cover of Rabbi Hirschfield's book

There are a number of questions in the comboxes related to the SSPX/Williamson story. Here are few brief responses:

1) The pope will not suddenly "defrock" or "laicize" a bishop because he has made inane comments or holds a ridiculous position on a serious topic. The pope would first correct the bishop and invite him to recant. In fact, the lifting of the excommunication is, as I understand it, a necessary first step towards just such a conversation -- and there are more issues to be placed on the table than the denial of the Shoah. The SSPX has for several decades refused to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The lifting of the excommunications does not give "approval" to unorthodox views but does open the door to serious conversation about reconciling those views.

2) Although the excommunications have been lifted, the four bishops are still denied permission to celebrate the sacraments.

3) H/T to Rocco for a lead to this Rabbi Brad Hirschfield's blog on Beliefnet.com. The Rabbi (President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) has some sensible and sober commentary on this story in this post:
Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated four previously excommunicated bishops, all of whom are members of a far-right group that rejects Vatican Two and one of whom is a raging conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier. Is he 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 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 inter-faith leaders who intimate that Williamson's reinstatement will, 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, 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, and one for which I would be deeply grateful.



  1. I wouldn't hold my breath that the pope would reach as far to the left as he has to the right - particularly not in the next weeks or months. Somewhere in all of the information I've read on this I saw that the pope would probably eventually make the Pius X Society a papal prelature, something that was done by Pope John Paul II for the Opus Dei group. Personally, I think this would be very unfortunate. In my opinion these types of Catholic groups are more akin to cults than they are to mainstream Catholicism. They tend to operate in secrecy and expect their adherents to be completely obedient to their form of Catholicism. Unhealthy at best - dangerous at worst.

  2. Despite my self-imposed commenting break, I must say that Hirschfield's blook was really good.

    Not the most well written, but what a mesage. And his words on his blog provide much needed perspective.


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