Friday, February 06, 2009


The Benedict Furor

So, let's connect these dots: You're the German leader of a church with, approximately 2 billion followers. Growing up, like many of your mates of the same age, you were part of what has come to be know as "the Hitler youth." The church you lead has long fought the charge that it didn't do as much as it could/should have done to confront Hitler during the Holocaust. And you succeeded a wildly popular leader who went out of his way to smooth centuries-long tensions between Catholics and Jews.

So, now you come up with the bright idea to reinstate/rehabilitate a nutty Nazi-loving bishop whom your aforementioned popular predecessor excommunicated 20 years ago! Oh, for good measure, the guy also is 9/11 "truther" -- i.e., the destruction of the Twin Towers was an inside job giving the United States free rein to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq.

To clarify the last couple of points: The bishop's excommunication occurred in 1988 because of his involvement in a
breakaway sect that rejected the Second Vatican Council -- part of which included an attempted rapprochement between the Church and Jews. His comments about 9/11, obviously, were in 2001. Thirteen years after being kicked out of the church, this guy is making various conspiracy-minded statements.

But, you, who we'll call Pope Benedict XVI -- since that's your name -- have decided that this bishop is ready to be officially brought back into the Catholic Church!

In the words of David Alan Grier, host of the Comedy Central faux news program, Chocolate News: "Have you lost your damn mind!?!?"

Knowing a public relations nightmare when she sees one, German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who runs a nation that has grown quite sensitive over Holocaust deniers -- rushed out and denounced the Pope's decision. It was an action that had even members of Germany's opposition parties applauding Merkel. Holocaust denial is a felony in the Federal Republic of Germany. Yes, it's a law that makes some Americans uncomfortable because of the obvious freedom-of-speech implications that it creates. But, hey, given Germany's "special" history, let's agree that they have every right to carve out an exception on freedom of speech in this one area.

Now, "papal infallibility" only extends narrowly to matters of church doctrine. That means Popes can make mistakes. For example, if it turned out he was a football fan and told everyone that he was absolutely positive that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl ("Cardinals," get it?) and the Steelers won anyway, well, it wouldn't mean that the Church would fall. It just meant that, with respect to things not related to official doctrine, the Pope is allowed to be as clueless as the rest of us.

But, that makes this situation even more embarrassing. Supposedly, Benedict determined that British-born Bishop Richard Williamson and the other members of the SSPX had done enough to be considered for re-admittance. That's certainly under his purview -- whether someone had shown repentance on a matter of church doctrine. However, the Pope isn't just the leader of one denomination of Christianity: He is a head of state, who must recognize that his actions have effects beyond his ecumenical boundaries.

Now faced with an international controversy -- purely of its own making -- the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict insists Williamson
renounce his denial of the Holocaust (deny his denial?). Well, if he wants to become an active Catholic bishop, that is. So now, the Holocaust has been elevated to official church doctrine! The Vatican, officially, states that it was unaware of Williamson's comments until after the de-excommunication. Those people who doubt the word of the Vatican on this, well, considering how well the Holy See plays the PR game, it's not out of the realm of possibility that its research/Googling division might not be that great either.

Blame Oprah, if she wouldn't have so many fake Holocaust memoirists on her show, these bishops wouldn't get confused and start thinking that it never really happened -- and the Pope wouldn't be put in these embarrassing positions.

On the plus side, the Vatican vetting process may have been better than the White House's in one respect: Looks like Bishop Williamson is up to date on his taxes.

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