January 24, 2009

Where are My Ninjas?

A new tempest has blown up in the teapot of Catholic/Jewish relations: Pope Benedict XVI, attempting to heal an ugly schism, has lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops appointed by the late Abp. Marcel Lefebvre. The four men were subject to this punishment because they accepted ordination in defiance of papal authority—and for no other reason. The Church has decided to lift these censures in the hope of healing an internal wound—and for no other reason. Other religious organizations have as little stake in this Church decision as the Church does in the internal machinations of the Shi’ite Islamic or Orthodox Jewish hierarchies. It’s nobody’s business but ours. There are cranks in every creed, and unless they advocate terrorism, outsiders have no business poking around inside other people’s houses of worship, trying to rearrange the candlesticks.

That said, one of the bishops now reconciled, Richard Williamson, is an unspeakable horse’s ass. I’ve read his public statements, questioned seminarians whom he advised, and spoken to the man himself over drinks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Not bright enough to teach at a decent Catholic high school—I know firsthand that he cannot follow a straightforward theological argument— Williamson wields extremist rhetoric as a means of playing the prophet and browbeating the more intelligent. And now, by way of welcoming the Vatican’s attempt to heal the schism he helped create, he’s running around denying the Holocaust—giving the Church’s enemies the chance to run headlines like “Pope Rehabilitates Holocaust Denier.” This is part of his long-term strategy of keeping Lefebvre’s organization from ever healing its breach with the papacy; if that ever happened, Williamson would lose his celebrity status, and become just another dim-witted bishop with ill-informed opinions, like… Los Angeles’ Cardinal Mahony.

The fact that Abp. Lefebvre selected Williamson in the first place may someday prove the single strongest argument against ever canonizing Lefebvre—a brave and saintly man who (whatever his flaws) stood almost alone through the 1970s in resisting the demolition of the Catholic Church by the appointees of the worst pope in history, Paul VI. The very existence of the traditional Roman liturgy—now celebrated again all over the world with Church approval—can be traced to Lefebvre’s defiance of bishops who banned the traditional Mass while enabling Marxist theology, feminist heresy, and general apostasy. Every Catholic owes this rebel archbishop a debt of gratitude. But good and evil come tightly wrapped in our fallen world, and a fair supply of crackpots, haters, and fools will attach themselves to every movement. Some of St. Francis’ early associates ended up as heretics. Joan of Arc’s right-hand man, Gilles de Rais, went on to become a Satanist, sadistic serial killer of children. And one of the bishops ordained by Jesus Himself was the apostle Judas.

Had I the money, I would hire a team of ninjas to kidnap Bishop Williamson and drop him off on some Pacific atoll, there to live in isolation and meditate on eternity. His half-baked arguments against the historicity of the Nazi attempts to exterminate the Jews have been examined and rejected by historians right and left—and they’re clearly motivated by something other than Christian love, or the love of truth. The things Williamson says in private are even worse—but I won’t help the NY Times (and Bishop Williamson) to harm the Church by repeating them.

I wish that other religious groups would look to their own extremists: Hindu fanatics who murder nuns, and Moslems… well, where to start?

Jewish organizations in America, who are rightly disgusted by Williamson, should take action to rein in the worst members of their own community. How about the “settlers’ movement,” composed largely of American ultra-Zionists who have gone to Israel to squat on stolen land, and make impossible the establishment of a Palestinian state? On a more intellectual plane, consider the Jewish counterpart to Bishop Williamson, Hyam Maccoby. If I might quote an essay I wrote on Mel Gibson’s The Passion:

“Interviewed for Ron Rosenbaum’s fascinating book, Explaining Hitler, Maccoby blames Christianity itself, its central doctrine of the divinity of Christ and His sacrificial death, for subsequent anti-Semitism and for the Holocaust. Maccoby asserts in his various writings that the core narrative of Christ’s death on the cross led directly and inevitably to Jews being sacrificed, en masse, in Nazi death camps. ‘Christians say the Holocaust is part of the evil of humanity,’ he told Rosenbaum. ‘It isn’t the evil of humanity. It’s the evil of Christendom.’ For this reason, Maccoby considers that the only forms of Christianity that are not intrinsically anti-Semitic are those that reject Christ’s divinity and redemption. On the same page, Maccoby insists that for him, ‘Christmas is a sinister festival,’ since it points ahead to Easter.”

While Maccoby lived, he was not some excommunicate outlaw, awaiting rehabilitation by Jewish authorities. He taught at the Centre for Jewish Studies in Leeds, U.K. Best-selling Rabbi Shmuley Boteach quotes Maccoby without embarrassment. Maccoby never backed down from his embittered opinions—nor are Jewish authorities raked over the coals for failing to denounce him adequately. But by most, he is written off as kind of a crank—as Williamson should be.

The NY Times has taken this opportunity to rake up the dying controversy over Pope Pius XII—whom everyone agrees saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust—and his decision to criticize Nazi persecutions in a guarded way.

Well, I’d like to turn the tables: How forthright were Jewish organizations in the 1920s in denouncing Stalin’s genocide in the Ukraine? Where are the statements by Zionist groups decrying the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico in the 1920s, in Spain in the 1930s? Can anyone point to action by Jewish groups that saved hundreds of thousands of Catholic lives? I’d be happy to hear of them.

But in their absence, I’m not going to blame “the Jews” for Bolshevism any more than they should blame the Catholic Church for the Nazis. And I won’t hold a grudge against Jews or Jewish groups because they didn’t risk their own necks to help save ours. We are none of us perfect. We all have our crackpots, and must learn to forgive each other.

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