After a quiet summer, clouds gather over Rome…
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America
A storm is about to be unleashed on the Pope, the Vatican, and, by extension, the Catholic Church.
The first drops of rain have just fallen, with public accusations that the Pope lied this winter in connection with the “Williamson affair.” (see below)
What is it about?
Whether this storm will “blow over,” or intensify into a “perfect storm,” only time will tell.
But whatever happens, there is this to keep in mind: many, inside and outside of the Church, would like the Church’s traditional liturgy, known as the Latin Mass — the old liturgy celebrated up until 1970, and two years ago designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary rite” of the Mass — to disappear.
And they are irritated that Benedict — against many and vociferous objections — “restored” the old liturgy, which many thought had been buried definitively.
As strange as it may seem, this battle is in part about that — about the survival of the Church’s old liturgy — about her way of worshiping God.
But when I say this, I do not mean to downplay other, quite obvious concerns, for example, the tense situation in the Middle East, or in the world economy.
I mean to say that, on a fundamental level, it is not simply a political or economic battle, as important as political and economic factors are, but a spiritual battle.
Is Rome alone?
And at a time like this, when many forces in the West (the European Union, the new US administration) seem to be aligning themselves in favor of a thoroughly secularized “new world order,” the ally most helpful to Rome may well be the ally who still celebrates a divine liturgy which has not been modernized: the Orthodox.
And the most numerous and powerful of the Orthodox are the Russians.
In this perspective, these attacks on the Pope and the Vatican may drive Rome to ally herself, after a thousand years of separation, with Contantinople, and with Moscow — reuniting the “three Romes”…
The allegation this morning is that Vatican officials (but not the Pope) lied when they said this winter that no one in the Vatican knew about Bishop Richard Williamson’s views about the Holocaust when the Pope decided to lift his excommunication on January 24.
However, this allegation has been exploited by the Church’s current antagonist in Italy, Prime Minsiter Silvio Berlusconi, through his media empire, to suggest that the Pope, too, lied.
Here is the headline being run right now on Google news:
Swedish TV: Vatican knew about Holocaust-denier
Here is a link to the entire story:
Here are the first few few paragraphs to give you the gist of what is being said:
By KARL RITTER (AP) – 4 hours ago
STOCKHOLM — A Swedish TV program to be aired Wednesday (Note: today) claims that top Vatican officials knew that an ultraconservative British bishop was a Holocaust-denier when his excommunication was lifted in January. The program, which was obtained by The Associated Press prior to broadcast, could add new fuel to the controversy over Bishop Richard Williamson.
Jews and Catholics worldwide were outraged after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Williamson, along with three other ultraconservative bishops, in an attempt to bring dissidents back into the mainstream church.
The order, dated Jan. 21, came as Sweden’s SVT aired an interview recorded two months earlier in which Williamson said he didn’t believe any Jews were killed in gas chambers during World War II.
Vatican officials have said they didn’t know about the interview at the time. Benedict later condemned Williamson’s remarks and spoke out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Yet in a follow-up report, SVT says the Vatican had been informed of Williamson’s Holocaust-denial shortly after the interview was recorded in November. It doesn’t suggest, however, that the pope knew about the remarks.
The program singles out Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who had been leading efforts to heal the schism with the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X. The Vatican announced in July that Castrillon Hoyos was stepping down after reaching the customary retirement age of 80.
The SVT program says Sweden’s Catholic diocese informed the apostolic nuncio — the Vatican envoy to Sweden — about Williamson’s remarks and that he in turn informed Vatican officials, including Castrillon Hoyos…
The Italian Front: “He Lied”
The second allegation is that the Pope himself knew.
This allegation made headlines today in Italy, where the Catholic Church and the Italian government of Prime Minister Berlusconi have been sparring for months over Berlusconi’s immiration policies and his alleged sexual impropriety. This morning, Berlusconi (or those close to him) took the gloves off.
(Here, in better times, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi greets Pope Benedict XVI in Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia in this September 7, 2008, photo — CNS photo/Reuters)
For the first time in the many months of acrimony, Berlusconi (or his associates) directly attacked the Pope. This escalates the battle.
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s family, carried the exaggerated headline “He Lied” (“Ha mentito”), referring to the Pope and his handling of the “Williamson affair.”
(Below is a photo from three weeks ago of women reading Il Giornale. The Sept. 3 newspaper front page has a picture of Dino Boffo, editor of the Catholic newspaper Avvenire. Boffo resigned from Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, in a row that has strained relations between the Vatican and the Italian government — CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)
Here are a few lines from a British newspaper today explaining this story:
Silvio Berlusconi turns his guns on Pope Benedict XVI
The Italian newspaper Il Giornale, owned by the family of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, carries a headline today dominated by the words “Ha mentito” – “he lied”, referring to Pope Benedict XVI. The paper is busy stirring up trouble over the claims by Swedish TV, due to be aired tonight, that the Vatican knew in advance about the Holocaust-denying background of Bishop Richard Williamson before his excommunication was lifted.
The words “he lied” are admittedly taken from the programme. But it’s a malicious allegation: Benedict has told no lies whatsoever regarding this matter, even if Vatican officials working for him have a case to answer.
The background you need to know is that Il Giornale has been engaged in a furious battle with Vatican Radio and the Catholic newspaper Avvenire, whose editor Dino Boffo it forced to resign after claiming he was a homosexual with a police record. Avvenire, not coincidentally, had consistently opposed Berlusconi, with the backing of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.
That struggle, which is part of a left-right, secular-Catholic battle at the heart of Italian society and government, has already damaged relations between the gruesomely oversexed Berlusconi and the Holy Father…
Here is a link to the complete article: https://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100011034/berlusconi-turns-his-guns-on-pope-benedict-xvi/
One consideration is the Italian situation.
There isn’t space or time here to go into the entire sordid affair. Suffice it to say that a rift between the Vatican and the government of Silvio Berlusconi has now become a chasm.
Since the Vatican, humanly speaking, is a tiny state entirely surrounded by Italian territory, it is naturally always a hope of the Vatican to be on close and friendly terms with the Italian government.
Therefore, this deteriorating relationship with the Italian governement led by Berlusconi is a real concern.
Here is a link to an Associated Press article on the background to this story: https://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090906/ap_on_re_eu/eu_italy_scandal_3
And here is a link to a Time magazine story on Berlusconi: https://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1923076,00.html
A second consideration is the relationship of the Vatican to the world Jewish community.
The re-emergence of the “Williamson affair” under these circumstances, with new allegations, shows that the “affair” was not settled in March, when the Pope on March 12 issued a dramatic letter of apology to the bishops of the Church.
Here are some key lines from that March 12 letter:
“An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication,” the Pope wrote.
“I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility.
“Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.”
(Here is a link to the official text of that letter: https://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica_en.html)
Will the world Jewish community come to the Pope’s defense?
A third consideration is the relationship between traditional Catholics, now un-excommunicated, and those we may call “conciliar” Catholics.
Is this case only about Williamson and his views, or are the “conciliar” Catholics actually unwilling to accept the readmission of “traditionalist” Catholics into communion with Rome, and themselves?
In this regard, a question arrises: who is really behind the re-emergence of attacks on the Pope for his January 24 action in un-excommunicating the four Lefebvrist bishops?
It isn’t fully clear.
But it has been reported in the La Stampa of Milan, Italy, that the Catholic bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, is in a very cordial relationship with the Swedish TV — and that he is a firm opponent of the Society of St. Pius X (the SSPX).
Arborelius said Wednesday in a statement posted on his diocese’s website that he was aware of negationist remarks Williamson made to an investigative news program filmed by Swedish public television SVT in November 2008 and which aired on January 21, 2009.
Arborelius wrote: “The content of the interview with Richard Williamson … was sent to the Vatican in November 2008, forewarning that the program with the Holocaust denial would be broadcast on January 21, 2009.
“We, at the diocese office in Stockholm, as we always do in matters of the Church, had forwarded the information we had about SSPX and Richard Williamson, including what we knew about the content in the interview Uppdrag Granskning had with him, to the Vatican,” Arborelius said.
“I want to underline that forwarding information to the Vatican is pure routine, and not something exceptional for this case,” he added.
(Of course, it is evident that such information could possibly have been held up on one desk or another, and never reached the Pope or his top advisors.)
A fourth consideration is the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the world’s Orthodox Churches.
It became clear last week, during a very cordial visit to Rome by a representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, that relations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, at least on the surface, are much improved over the past few years.
Here are excerpts from an account of that visit I wrote for the Monday, September 21 edition of the Zenit news agency:
Recent Meeting Could Mark Turning Point
On September 18, inside Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace about 30 miles outside Rome, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Hilarion Alfeyev (photo), 43 (a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy, composer and lover of music), met with Benedict XVI, 82 (also a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy and lover of music), for almost two hours, according to informed sources.
(There are as yet no “official” sources about this meeting — the Holy See has still not released an official communiqué.)
The silence suggests that what transpired was important — perhaps so important that the Holy See thinks it isn’t yet prudent to reveal publicly what was discussed.
But there are numerous “signs” that the meeting was remarkably harmonious…
In memory of the visit, Archbishop Hilarion gave the Pope a pectoral cross, made in workshops of Russian Orthodox Church…
It is especially significant, in this context, that Hilarion, Patriarch Kirill’s “Foreign Minister,” has some of the same deep interests as Benedict XVI: the liturgy, and music.
“As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the ‘theourgia,’ the mystery, and ‘feast of faith’ began, which continues to this very day.
“After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life — the liturgy.”
These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled “Feast of Faith”) is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.
“Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard,” Hilarion has written. “I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones.”
Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI’s own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church’s liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.
Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity… It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts.”
These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a “school” for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.
Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.
Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith…
(Here is a link to the complete article: https://www.zenit.org/article-26932?l=english.)
As I said at the outset, the “Williamson affair,” and the effort to ascertain what the Vatican knew, and when, about Williamson’s views, may continue to dominate news headlines, or it may pass away into silence. Time will tell.
But the re-emergence of the issue reminds us that there is a larger battle occurring, a battle for the “deposit of the faith,” a battle for our tradition and the beliefs handed down to us from the Apostles, and it is that battle that we should be aware of and concerned about.
Last week, I had a wonderful and productive meeting in New Rochelle, New York, with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, 86, who has given me some documents which may help me to understand better the history of the Church in our time.
I will be returning to Rome soon, God willing, and reporting on these documents, and on other matters which I have left unfinished.