The Holocaust Furor and the U.S. Bishops
one would expect that at least one of 433 active or retired Catholic bishops in the United States might have voiced some misgivings or raised some questions about Pope Benedict XVI’s recent action in revoking the excommunication of four bishops — including one who has denied the Holocaust — of an ultratraditionalist schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X.
As of Friday afternoon, Catholic News Service knew of not one who had done so.
On Friday, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, the current chairman of the United States bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said Catholics were “embarrassed” by this episode and needed to reaffirm their bonds with Jews.
But no bishop, it appears, has added a public word of doubt about the wisdom of Pope Benedict’s action, or wondered out loud how it came about.
The pope’s action has provoked a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations. But you don’t have to be Jewish to be outraged by Holocaust denial. Many Catholics are upset, and they are upset not only because Jews are upset.
The problem is more than Bishop Richard Williamson ....
No, the further problem, for Catholics no less than for Jews, is puzzlement about the pope and his leadership. No one believes that he shares Bishop Williamson’s grotesque views about the Holocaust. But was he somehow uninformed about them? Or was he aware of them but inclined to minimize their significance? Or did he disregard how they might poison what he was trying to accomplish? None of the alternatives seem comforting.
Even Catholics who understand the priority that church leaders always give to healing any formal schism that can perpetuate itself are puzzling over the Vatican’s extraordinary solicitude for this relatively small ultratraditionalist sect.
And of course there are Catholics who dread — and some who hope — that the accommodations made to the Society of St. Pius X augur a larger reversal of the work of Vatican II.
This silence would be understandable if the bishops’ only option were to engage in harsh criticism. But they have plenty of respectful, charitable alternatives, from merely acknowledging that the papal action was troubling or perplexing to indicating that they are requesting clarification of Rome’s procedures and the pope’s intentions.
It’s a safe bet that during the last week, private expressions of dismay or bewilderment have been flying from bishop to bishop and from bishops to Rome.
Still, that does not satisfy Jews. Nor does it assure millions of concerned Catholics that their questions and anxieties are shared by leaders determined to discuss them charitably, candidly, maturely, in a way suited to what the bishops themselves teach about the church and the papacy.Who will speak up first?