Okay, I’ve calmed down.
On the one hand, it’s not (quite) as bad as I first feared. on the other, it’s worse. The Vatican spin control has kicked in sharply, to reassure the world that revoking the excommunication is emphatically not an endorsement of Williamson’s antediluvian ideas on the Holocaust. There are also various soothing noises about this being just the first step in a process, and that the precise future place of these men in the church has still to be decided – i.e., their status as ‘Bishops’ is not ratified. There is also a bizarre claim that welcoming back these opponents of Vatican II is intended somehow to ‘consolidate’ the reforms of the council, which at least sounds as if it is well-intentioned.
What was encouraging was the extent of the public backlash – and the fact that the Vatican was sufficiently bothered by it to even feel the need to go into spin control. This to me is very similar to the response after the ‘Decriminilastion’ furore last December, which J.S. O’Leary took to be signs of progress. Even more impressive to me, was the rapid response of Williamson’s own superiors in the Society of Saint Pius X, who were likewise quick to condemn his remarks – something they did not feel necessary at the time of the original interview, before the Vatican announcement .
So why I am I still bothered? First, because nothing in the Vatican’s assurances addresses the other concerns over Williamson’s remarks – particularly his wingnut views on women and on gays. Nor does it explain how welcoming the opponents of Vatican to can help to ‘consolidate’ it. this is like choosing racist politicians to fight racism. Next, because the whole Brouhaha raises questions over how the Vatican manages the news on controversial moves: was this a case of appallingly handled press relations which sent out quite the wrong message? Or was the whole mess deliberately designed to send out a very clear message, by distracting the world with one ridiculous issue, to deflect attention from others? (see Ross Douthat and Andrew Sullivan spar over at the “Atlantic”):
Ross joins the SSPX debate:
If the Pope de-excommunicates a Holocaust denier, the Vatican press office should be working around the clock, with press releases flying, to provide context and do damage control. What’s more, if the Pope de-excommunicates a Holocaust denier, the Pope himself needs to say something about it, and not just obliquely nod to the decision in his latest homily. Yes, the Church’s primary business is saving souls, not public relations – but in this day and age, public relations is part of the business of saving souls. And nobody in Rome, from Benedict on down, seems to have figured that out.
Or maybe they have and this decision sent exactly the correct signal about where Benedict will compromise and where he will not. Neo- fascists yes! Feminists no!”
But the real problem, as pointed out very clearly by Colleen Kochivar – Baker and Gerald Floyd, is that the whole fiasco has forced us into responding on Benedict’s own terms of reference. Mark Jordan, in “The Silence of Sodom” argues that is a mistake to try to argue with the Vatican, and this latest furore shows once again just why. All the reassurances about ‘consolidating’ Vatican II are misleading, and dangerous in their hypocrisy, if the public statements are contradicted by actions.
We need to remember and shout out loud and clear, that much as he likes to think so, the Pope does not have sole authority in the Church. He needs to work collaboratively with the rest of the hierarchy, and indeed with us in the laity as well.
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- The Vision of Vatican II (The Wild Reed)