The trouble with being Pope is one must spend so much time contemplating things celestial that things terrestrial get overlooked. That helps explain the occasional papal activities that cause the non-papist to react with astonishment. In 2004 it was the promotion by Pope John Paul II of Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, to Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica, that astonished.
Cardinal Law’s promotion followed a tenure in Boston marked by priests under his jurisdiction engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with young boys. After he was named in more than 500 sexual abuse related lawsuits he abandoned the $20 million three story church-owned house in which he’d been living, gave up being Cardinal and two years later moved into the Basilica in Rome.
His new assignment was pleasant. The basilica in Rome had undergone extensive renovations and its occupant received a monthly stipend of $12,000. Commenting on his ascension, Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represented a large number of the Boston sexual abuse victims said: “He apparently is being transferred to a position that is comfortable and appears to be some sort of reward. The Vatican either doesn’t understand the problem of clergy sex abuse, or it doesn’t care.” Pope Benedict XVI has now proved that he is as unconcerned with matters temporal as his predecessor.
On January 25, 2009, out of the celestial blue, Pope Benedict announced that he was revoking the excommunication of four Bishops who had been ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Archbishop himself was excommunicated in 1988 for consecrating the four bishops who, like him, rejected practices endorsed by Vatican II. One of the newly minted Bishops was Richard Williamson, a man who denied the holocaust. (Denying the holocaust was not his only claim to fame. He also publicly stated that September 11 was an event staged by George Bush in order to give him a pretext to invade Afghanistan).
On January 25 the Vatican announced that Bishop Williamson’s excommunication was being lifted. Following the announcement it was disclosed that Benedict was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views on the holocaust.
On January 22, two days before his reinstatement was announced and expounding on his oft-stated views, Bishop Williamson told Swedish Television that no more than 300,000 Jews had died during WW II and that of those “not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.”
In an interview with Der Spiegel online 4 days after his reinstatement was announced, the bishop explained that the reason he did not believe the holocaust occurred was because of his research on the subject in the 1980s. He relied on the Leuchter report which said, among other things, that it was impractical to construct the gas chambers allegedly used to kill Jews and made many other bizarre claims to explain why the events never happened. He did not, apparently, spend any time reading any of the many criticisms of the report that might have given him pause. In response to a question as to whether he intended to visit Auschwitz in order to see it for himself, he indicated that that was not necessary. He was instead planning on reading a book called: Auschwitz: Technique and operation of the Gas Chambers. In that same interview, the interviewer observed that the bishop was consistently anti-Semitic to which he responded: “St. Paul put it this way: The Jews are beloved for the sake of Our Father, but our enemies for the sake of the gospel.”
Pope Benedict was reportedly surprised at the bishop’s views. When he decided to re-communicate the bishop the Pope had neglected to first google him, a non-ecclesiastical process that would have disclosed the bishop’s peculiar views. Being now informed, the Pope has demanded that the bishop recant his views on the holocaust or remain an ecclesiastical outcast. Recanting is a way of saying publicly you no longer believe what your past actions indicate you clearly believe, thus enabling the church to save face. Joan of Arc’s recanting that she heard voices (a recantation she subsequently recanted resulting in her burning) and Galileo’s recanting his correct celestial theories are historical examples of the practice. I am sure the church will be glad to have Bishop Williamson recant since it will show that appearances sometimes to the contrary, the church does not tolerate anti-Semitism.
[The day my most recent column about KBR was published a $579 million fine was imposed on it for paying $180 billion in bribes to get $6 billion in contracts in Liberia. The payments occurred when KBR was still part of Halliburton. Halliburton is the company of which Dick Cheney was president before he became vice-president of the U.S. Dick Cheney is an honorable man. He paid no bribes. They were paid by people who worked for him. The buck stopped with them.]
CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org