Papal Unflappability
By R. D. Flavin

Facta Non Verba (L. "Deeds Not Words"), motto of Chicago’s Leo Catholic High School.

SVT interview with Williamson broadcast on Jan. 21, 2009.

      For most of his papacy, His Holiness John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyla, b. 1920 - d. 2005), utilized the council and services of Cardinal Prefect Joseph Alois Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition), much like America’s 43rd President of the United States, George Walker Bush, relied on the advice of his Vice-President, Richard “Dick” Bruce Cheney.  Ouch...  While Bush and Cheney are now part of the public sector, with the passing of Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger was elected to the Supreme Pontifical office and took the name, Benedict XVI.  To go along with the wardrobe change, His Holy Father also donned the doctrinal drapes of infallibility.  Though different super-powers often accompany individual costumes, making the necessary adjustments to relax into the role with grace and aplomb, Benedict XVI requires a certain papal unflappability – like a Roman Catholic Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (aka The Fonz or Fonzie).  His Holiness Benedict XVI may squink from blame with the recent “I saw what you did” scandal and the attempted rehabilitation of the schismatic Bishop Richard Nelson Williamson, Holocaust denier and mundane conspiracy crackpot, but he’s not being very about it.  Come on, Most Holy Father, plot a course and navigate with confidence.  Please, make up your mind about this most unfortunate sentient (albeit just barely) life-form and do the whole “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” decision thing.  Okay?

Example of a yellow star worn by Jews during WWII, Buchenwald five days after liberation, and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

      The Jan. 21, 2009 withdrawing of the excommunications of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta of the ultra-traditionalist Priestly Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) explicitly by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, and implicitly by His Holiness Benedict XVI, was a move at reconciliation with Catholicism’s only genuine schismatic movement in over a century.  It could be regarded as an expected response to religious and economic depressions, times are tough all over, but it opened the Gates of Saint Peter to a creep with a crosier.  Reconciliation with a Holocaust denier?  The Most Holy Father is certainly aware of the horrible irony in that he was once a member of the Hitler Youth Party, an extension of the same political and religious hate movement which led the German people to invade Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 beginning World War II and are now most infamously known as the genocidal criminals responsible for the Holocaust (Gk. holókauston < holos or "completely" and kaustos or "burnt"), and known in Hebrew as haShoah or “catastrophe.”  His Holiness John Paul II apparently forgave Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turk who shot him in 1981, but to forgive an “overseer” of the Church who unrepentantly continues to preach against the acknowledgment of the deaths of six million Jews?  Such dismissal is currently above my condoner pay grade.

     So, a couple thousand years ago, there was an itinerant eastern Mediterranean cynic philosopher named Jesus (b. ca. 2 BCE - d. ca. 33 CE) who taught a program of egalitarian commiseration to the peasantry and dispossessed of early first century Palestine.  He spoke Aramaic and Hebrew and it's widely held that Jesus left behind no holographic writings, indeed, he may not have been able to write at all.  A couple of decades after his passing, a Hellenistic Jew with Roman citizenship, Paul of Tarsus (formerly Saul), composed several epistles in Greek describing Jesus in “cosmic” terms with no mention of Jesus’ family, associates, or other personal details.  A couple of decades later, a Greek most now refer to as Mark wrote a gospel about Jesus which included many details about Jesus’ life and death.  In the decades that followed, other Greeks likewise wrote their own gospels about Jesus which included many more details about Jesus’ life, death, and symbolic resurrection.  All of these epistles and gospels (as well as such associated compositions as John’s Book of Revelations) were in the Greek language.  Over the next couple of centuries many other epistles and gospels were composed, some in languages other than Greek, though in 325 CE with the Council of Nicaea it was decided by majority vote that only the earliest Greek epistles, gospels and
associated compositions should be followed.  Many versions of these Greek writings existed at the time in Latin translations, the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”), all with differences major and minor, and so in 382 CE it was tasked to the priest and scholar, Jerome (b. ca. 347 CE - d. 420 CE), to make a new and stylistically consistent Latin translation.  Jerome’s translation, often called the “Vulgate,” continues to enjoy popularity until this day.  Of course, a great many other translations followed with some more popular than others (to wit, the 1611 King James Bible in English, the 1961 The Jerusalem Bible in French and its English translation in 1966, and the 1993 The Five Gospels sometimes called the 'Scholars Version').  All of these subsequent translations claim to transmit the words and deeds of Jesus, but his languages were Aramaic and Hebrew with perhaps a little Greek – enough to get around the larger marketplaces of his time.  Now, all that remains of him is a recognizable style of teaching, a simple cadence of lyrical confidence, heartfelt understanding, and unfailing encouragement – in Greek.  Herein begins faith, that those teachings of Jesus as represented by the early Greek gospel writers contain at least some of his message.  Other matters of faith?  Yeah, that’s the sound of the other sandal dropping...

     In reflection with a nod to Dickens, the early 1960s were the best and worst of times.  Memory sometimes welcomes reduced expectations of the past.  Change, among other things, was in the air during those years.  Blessed Pope John XXIII (b. 1881- d. 1963) changed the way Catholics celebrate Good Friday in 1960 by instructing them to leave out the word perfidis (L. “faithless”) when referring to the Jewish people.  Towards further bringing the Church into modern times, he convened the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (var. Vatican II) in 1962, though because of his untimely death, it was passed to his successor, His Holiness Pope Paul VI (b. 1897 - d. 1978), to continue and conclude the council which ended in 1965.  Many changes were made in the practice of Roman Catholicism for both laity and clergy after Vatican II, most were superficially corrective and noticed by only the most exquisitely exceptional (bored?) Catholic, but a few had immediate and profound influence and impact on all Catholics, the most notable being the encouragement of Catholic communities to practice in local languages and forgo the previous Latin language versions of masses, rites, and other rituals.  For Americans, for instance, Sundays went from stodgy, anciently foreign and all but incomprehensible Latin in the morning to English, and in the afternoon television was slowly shifting from black and white programming to color.  Anywho, those were a couple of my little childhood changes in the early ‘60s, while others had “changes” which included a far different reaction to the cessation of Latin in the Catholic mass – bad, really bad reactions.  I’d guess those others likely didn’t care for color television, as well.           

Archbishop Marcel-François Lefebvre, Timothy James McVeigh, and Theodore John Kaczynski, Ph.D.

      Archbishop Marcel-François Lefebvre (b. 1905 - d. 1991) was arguably the leading critic of the change of Latin to a local language for the celebration of the Catholic mass.  Actually, “critic” is an inadequate classification, as the dude went vestments-to-the-wall whack with rage and turned on the Church with a series of theological hissy fits not seen since the Middle Ages.  As it goes, Msgr. Lefebvre had a great reverence for the past and openly pined for former times, such as when France was occupied by the Nazis in World War II and the collaborationist Vichy Government feigned autonomy.  Those of the Vichy regime, including the late French President François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand, never acknowledged their complicity in the Holocaust.  Msgr. Lefebvre was bitterly against liberalism in all its manifestations and actively spoke out against the Church’s modern positions of ecumenism, collegiality, and the encouragement of open dialogue.  These views, and acts of disobedience which accompanied them, were cause for the Church to initiate a series of punishments against Lefebvre beginning with an order of a collatione ordinum (denying him the right to ordain), followed by a ruling of cessatio a divinis (forbidding him any sacraments in the Church), and ending with excommunication latæ sententiæ (L. “Don’t let the door hit you when you leave...”).  Every game has its rules and religion, as Lefebvre found out, is no different.

     When Lefebvre ordained four bishops in 1988 against orders from the Vatican, that act of disobedience was too much for even some of the ultra-traditionalist SSPX, a number of which immediately formed their own order, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.  It’s said that there’s potentially millions of traditionalists out there, and perhaps a few million ultra-traditionalists, though if the members of the SSPX can scare Mel Gibson and his cult of arrogance, it would be safe to assume these clowns aren’t trying to be funny.

     With the equivalent of a Third-World mail-order diploma, one of those ordained, Bishop Williamson, soon began to complain beyond the changes of Vatican II and became a celebrity idiot by declaring that the American government had bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 and that former U. S. Army Staff Sargent Timothy J. McVeigh was innocent.  And, fighting the future, he seems to have an anti-technology man-crush on the Unabomber.  Removed from Catholicism, Williamson has embraced the carnival life of the absurd.

Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – The Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews, DBE in The Sound of Music.

      Williamson has continued his crackpot currency by espousing delusional paranoid conspiracy theories concerning the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  What happened to the cupids of St. Valentine’s Day, the Easter Bunny and Santa?  This several-crumpets-short-of-teatime loon has even gone on record describing the classic 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, as "soul-rotting slush.”  That goes beyond just being mean...

     Being an international crackpot must be demanding work and Richard Williamson seems committed to it.  Slandering an Academy Award winning musical, while especially punk and puerile, doesn’t require one to repeat any lines from The [Com]Passion of the Christ while tossing eucharistic hosts at the movie screen.  Forgiving Kaczynski for murdering three people and injuring twenty-three necessitates listening to “Sympathy for the Devil” more times than would be considered humane at a keg-party at Guantánamo Bay.  Pleading a case against the guilt of McVeigh in the deaths of 168 people, nineteen of whom were kids in day-care, would be beyond even the skills of the late Johnny Cochran.  Attempting to divert the blame from Al-Qaeda and the killing of 2,974 innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001 borders on an urgent need for a psych-evaluation.  Denying that six million Jews were executed during the Holocaust is the brass ring at the crazy carousel.

     Williamson has been a Holocaust denier for a few years and it seems irresponsible for anyone in any position at the Vatican not to have been familiar with his many published interviews, comments in newspaper articles, and op-ed feature articles in fringe magazines.  Ekklēsia, Mom Church, has been bleeding membership in recent years and bringing the ultra-traditionalists back into the fold might feasibly put more weight in the coffers.  BUT, LIFTING THE EXCOMMUNICATION OF A HOLOCAUST DENIER? . . .  Geez, buy Mel Gibson a couple of pints and maybe he’ll write a check!  Wait, he’s not too fond of Jews, either.  Bill Gates, that’s it; the Roman Catholic church should get Microsoft to financially bail them out!  It could be advanced that the Windows OS was utilized in some of the child abuse cases...  And, doing an Icarus hard landing back on topic, a significant number of non-Catholics who do not ascribe to the notion of papal infallibility have made their concerns well known.

     The televison interview shown above was recorded in November 2008 and was coincidentally and most eerily broadcast on Swedish television the same day his excommunication was lifted.  The interview ends with Williamson asking about German authorities as it’s a punishable offence to publically deny the Holocaust or other Nazi crimes in Germany.  The German left-wing Catholic theologian, Hermann Haering, reacted poorly and has suggested that the Most Holy Father resign for his oversight.  With more diplomacy, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel got on the phone and asked His Holiness Benedict XVI to put some shoulder into the matter and get Williamson to retract his cruel ravings.  And, following a different set of rules, a German District Attorney, Guenther Ruckdaeschel, has begun an official investigation against Williamson for “inciting racial hatred.”

     Last week, another whack Catholic, Father Gerhard Maria Wagner of Linz, Austria, refused an elevation to the office of auxiliary bishop.  Why?  Father Wagner is a bully loud-mouth who has said many nasty and untrue things regarding the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and the Harry Potter series of children’s books and correctly accessed that the promotion would cause unnecessary embarrassment to his diocese.  Well, if one is going to be whack at least be polite about it.

     A year before Lefebvre died, he was fined 5,000 francs by a court for “
defaming” Muslims when he tried to scare and enrage the French with, “it is your wives, your daughters, your children who will be kidnapped and dragged off to a certain kind of places as they exist in Casablanca." [sic]  I can keep chagrin at bay for only so long.  The infallibility of a pope, the Church, or a properly convened ecumenical council may seem like some Medici relic, but the concept was first fully articulated by the Christian Arab theologian and translator, Theodore Abū Qurrah (b. ca. 750 - d. ca. 825), a Melkite bishop of Harran (modern southeastern Turkey).  Abū Qurrah wrote in Arabic, Greek, and Syriac (and, perhaps had a reading knowledge of others such as Hebrew and Armenian) and was familiar with ancient Greek authors, The Qur’an, as well as the writings of the early church fathers.  His life points to Muslim toleration when history would least expect it.  A dedicated defender of the duality of Jesus, the Christ as human and divine, as proposed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE and rejected by the so-called Old Oriental Churches (Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and Syriac Orthodox), he maintained that the Council was infallible and resistant to error because of its genuine ecumenical nature.  This position is believed to have been strongly influenced by Islamic theology and respect for teaching traditions.  Later, with the consolidation of Roman Catholicism, the quality of infallibility was extended to the Church and the Supreme Pontiff.  While not entirely an Islamic concept, infallibility as an attitude befitting a rock in a Catholic sense owes a debt to the Rock of Moriah on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  I’ve no idea if Lefebvre ever paid his fine, I really don’t care, though I’d guess someone at the Vatican might.

     Bishop Richard Williamson was born in England and raised an Episcopalian.  He was baptized a Roman Catholic when he was thirty years old.  I was baptized six weeks after I was born on the South Side of Chicago.  Williamson and his ilk have problems with the modern Roman Catholic church, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have some serious grievances myself, though the changes that they balk at are some of the very mature and modern corrections which fascinate me (i.e. acceptance of Galileo and Darwin, reaching out ecumenically to other faiths both Protestant and non-Christian, letting unbaptized babies get into Heaven [4 stars]).  Vatican II was a tremendous leap forward and I hope further doctrinal progression is not delayed because of lack of popularity or financial timidity.

     The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X has attempted to distance themselves from the hate speech of Williamson and have recently removed him as head of the La Reja Seminary in Buenos Aires.  Further action by His Holiness Benedict XVI seems inevitable.  This May, when the Most Holy Father travels to Israel, the first pontifical visit since 2000, it may be imagined that his demeanor will be respectful, somber, imperturbable, and as unflappable as the sandals of a fisherman.

Chicago’s St. Leo the Great Catholic Church (opened 1926–demolished 2005).

For more on Theodore Abū Qurrah:
Griffith, Sidney. H.  1976.  “The Controversial Theology of Theodore Abū Qurrah: (c. 750-c. 820 A.D.): A Methodological, Comparative Study
  in Christian Arabic Literature."  Thesis; Ph.D., Semitics.  Catholic University of America.    
Griffith, Sidney H.  1992.  Theodore Abū-Qurrah: The Intellectual Profile of an Arab Christian Writer of the First Abbasid Century.  Tel Aviv:
  The Irene Halmos Chair of Arabic Literature, Tel Aviv University.
For more on the Holocaust:
Arad, Yitzhak.  1984.  “‘Operation Reinhard’: Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobobor and Treblinka.”  Yad Vashem Studies.  16: 205-239.
Mckinnon, Catriona.  2007.  “Should We Tolerate Holocaust Denial?”  Res Publica.  13, 1: 9-28.

Remembering how cool Anthony Quinn was,

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