Sunday, February 1, 2009


Until this month, the biggest recent news out of the Vatican was that Pope Benedict XVI (below, left) was stepping up – way up – to the digital age, by starting his own YouTube channel. That caused passing interest among the world’s population, but nothing even close to international reaction to two later announcements:

First came news that the Pope is bringing disgraced Bishop Richard Williamson back into the church. Williamson, who had been consecrated as a bishop without the approval of the Vatican, was excommunicated in 1988. The current Pope refers to this reversal of his predecessor’s decision as “rehabilitation.” Williamson is most known for his assertion that the holocaust has been blown way out of proportion, that six million Jews did not die, and that there were no gas chambers in the German concentration camps.

Increasingly liberal columnist Christopher Buckley wrote a good piece on this debacle this week. As you read it, you will have an opportunity to click through to another piece by Buckley about his in-person visit to Auschwitz. Buckley’s account of visiting the infamous death camp is more than riveting. Further, it is all the evidence needed to cause one to wonder what Pope Benedict’s motivation could possibly be for readmitting Williamson to the church. And if all of that were not enough to outrage an otherwise compassionate populous, an interview Williamson granted Swedish TV in November of last year should do the trick – especially the part where Williams posits that the buildings we always thought were gas chambers could not have served that purpose since their chimneys were not high enough. Yes, he honestly said that. See for yourself:

The Pope lifted Williamson’s excommunication on January 21. Immediately there was a worldwide uproar, especially when the video you just viewed found wide distribution. On January 30, Williamson, probably fearing the Pope might rethink his unfortunate reversal, wrote a public letter to Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, apologizing for his “imprudent remarks” on Swedish TV. By the end of the week, the Pope was issuing statements reassuring naysayers that the Vatican does not support holocaust deniers. Except apparently, Richard Williamson. It remains to be seen how the Pope and his minions will handle this international public relations disaster. Stay tuned.

Just as the groundswell of outrage was making itself heard about Williamson came news that Pope Benedict had installed Father Gerhard Maria Wagner (below, right) as Bishop in the Austrian city of Lenz. Wagner’s name will ring an off-key bell with some readers, particularly those in New Orleans. Back in 2005, Wagner publicly stated that Hurricane Katrina was the direct result of “spiritual pollution,” and that God was exacting retribution on a city with “the best brothels and the prettiest prostitutes.” As evidence of the widespread debauchery that New Orleans represents, he pointed out that the hurricane destroyed abortion clinics and nightclubs. He did not, however, mention the churches, hospitals, hospices, homeless shelters, nursing homes or schools for the disabled that were also under water. He failed to include the elderly citizens who washed away in the storm because they were too weak or too poor to escape. And, of course, he neglected to mention the good citizens who were found dead, weeks, even months after the storm, in the attics of their homes, where they sought refuge from the merciless rising waters. “The conditions of immorality in this city are indescribable,” Wagner said at the time. As it turned out, the real and sole issue of immorality during Katrina was the level of poverty that demanded some citizens stay behind and perish. Wagner, of course did not understand that -- because he wasn't here.

Wagner’s ascent to Bishop of Lenz was strictly an executive decision from the Pope. Reportedly, Pope Benedict did not confer with any of the reigning clerics in Lenz.

News reports about Williamson and Wagner routinely refer to these Papal decisions as signs of increasing “conservatism” from the Vatican. More importantly, such moves are truly signals of intolerance. By supporting and promoting a revisionist priest who denies the holocaust, and another whose judgmental and disrespectful comments condemn the entire population of a U.S. city, the Pope sets an example of dogmatism and arrogance that contributes nothing to the greater good. Catholics, Jews and the good citizens of New Orleans deserve so much better.

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