Friday, May 29, 2009

2-8-2009: 5th Ordinary Time (B)

Job 7:1-4,6-7/Psalm 147/Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23 /Mark 1:29-39
With potential for greatness comes the propensity for huge mistakes.

It seems the pope has unfortunately fallen into that category with his decision last week to lift the excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the Society of St. Pius X who had been illicitly ordained by the ultramontane Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. The Vatican has reiterated that the pope’s sole intention was to heal the division of schism incurred when the automatic excommunication took effect. Although it was the illicit ordination of these four that triggered excommunication, it was their unwillingness to accept the reforms of Vatican II which first brought them to the impasse: rejection of the “new” Mass in the vernacular, ecumenical and interfaith initiatives – to name but a few of the contested issues. While it must be assumed that the schismatic bishops have now rejected their objections to these Vatican II reforms, a very thorny problem has arisen over one bishop’s rather horrific views of historical events which may well unravel the platform on which Benedict has built his papacy.

Bishop Williamson is a holocaust-denier by his own admission. He has stated publicly that the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust effected by the Nazi regime, never happened. He has also placed himself in that strange group of 9/11 conspiracy-theorists, stating that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives and not by airplanes manned by terrorists. And, if all that’s not enough, the bishop teaches that women should not be allowed to attend university.

The Vatican has suggested Pope Benedict was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views on these particular matters and was only acting to heal the rift of schism in the body of the Church. That claim seems quite disingenuous given the Vatican’s very able intelligence service not to mention that the Roman Curia has an entire congregation whose sole duty is to vet potential candidates for the episcopacy.

So is it reasonable to ascribe to the pope the sole (and laudable) motivation of healing the rift caused by schism in his lifting the excommunication? There have always been schisms in the church. Following the First Vatican Council, for example, a group of bishops separated themselves from Rome over the issue of papal infallibility. These so-called Old Catholics are still around today though their following is minimal and largely insignificant. One could say the same for the Society of St. Pius X which attracts relatively few: those who insist that the Tridentine Mass is the only valid Mass, and others who espouse Bishop Williamson’s horrific views regarding the Holocaust and other historical events.

One is left with the conclusion that the pope seeks the rehabilitation of this schismatic sect, not because he is a holocaust-denier or a 9/11 conspiracy-fanatic or that he wants to keep girls out of college, but because he himself has a great love and longing for the beauty of the Tridentine Mass. That being said, the pope has clearly taught and obviously believes (unlike the schismatics themselves) that both the “old” and the “new” Mass are equally valid. Thus one is forced to conclude the only difference between the two comes down to a matter of taste.

The great quest of Benedict’s papacy lay in his determination to confront relativism and its negative effect on the life of faith and the very existence of the Church. In lifting the incurred excommunication and, in effect, embracing the likes of Bishop Williamson, that great quest has now been severely compromised, because Benedict has fallen victim to the very relativism he seeks to oppose - for there is nothing more relative in life than matters of taste.

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