Father Leonard Peterson
The “February flap,” if you will, about that ultra-traditional bishop Richard Williamson who denies the Holocaust continues to haunt us. A basic admission in this case is obvious: ordination, even to the episcopacy, does not preclude lunacy. History bears witness to that as well.
But, as we conclude our Lent, the “why questions” stand as a built-in penance for the whole Church to endure. This in the light of our faith in the resurrection from the death of a Jewish man who is also God.
To begin with the obvious: why would an otherwise educated man, called to be as a priest, a bridge between heaven and earth for fellow human beings, ever deny an authenticated fact like the Holocaust? Why would a man designated as worthy of the episcopate, thereby charged with leading a flock as its shepherd, ever thwart the slow healing of the wound inflicted on his Church by the clergy abuse scandal? I certainly do not fault Argentina for expelling him. That government’s secretary for religious affairs, Guillermo Oliveri, said, “I absolutely agree with the expulsion of a man residing in our country following his statements (denying) one of the greatest human tragedies.” It makes me want to escort Bishop Williamson to wherever one goes to get one’s head examined.
The various why questions point like an arrow to a possible root cause: prejudice on the bishop’s part. Racial prejudice is a topic right up there with “economic downturn” on the minds of many Americans these days. Race came to the fore during the recent presidential campaign, as we all know.
Despite the huge popularity of our new president and any feeling of pride that an African-American represents for all of us on the world stage, there still exists in many places the mindset of the Ku Klux Klan. I heard more than one expressed fear that when the president and his wife stepped out of that intimidating limo on Inauguration Day, there might just be a lunatic with a gun waiting to shoot them.
Are there specific reasons why anti-Semitism exists?
One might well be that it sprang from a faulty reading of the Good Friday Scriptures. Generations of Christians came to believe that the Jews killed Christ. But even a cursory reading implies that procurator Pilate gave the crucifixion order to the Roman soldiers obliged to obey him.
Here are better answers from Sara Yoheved Rigler, a popular international lecturer on subjects of Jewish spirituality and author of “Lights from Jerusalem,” as to why anti-Semitism exists. She points out that: “Jews are hated for being a lazy and inferior race – but also for dominating the economy and taking over the world. Jews are hated for being capitalist exploiters – but also for being socialists and communists. Jews are hated for their Chosen People mentality – but also for their cringing inferiority complex. To that we must add … Jews were hated for 2,000 years because they didn’t have their own state; now they’re hated because they do.”
I have no idea which of the above reasons, if any, might figure in the twisted thinking of Bishop Williamson. His removal from office as rector of a seminary and the Vatican’s demand for an apology from him speak volumes about where the Church stands. His expulsion from Argentina shows what the secular world thinks of him.
Surely, the whole episode puts additional burden on the upcoming visit in May of Benedict XVI to Israel. A burden that never should have been. Hopefully, the February flap will fade behind the Pope’s May amends.
Meanwhile, all of us will have learned anew not only how human our Church is but also how stubborn error can be.
Father Peterson is pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield.
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