The media firestorm consistently misrepresented the Vatican’s remission of the excommunications as a “reinstatement.” The breakaway prelates are not even heads of titular dioceses, offices which even the lowliest assistant bishop holds. The SSPX bishops are not yet in full obedience to the Pope and certainly need to clarify their adherence to the Second Vatican Council.
Yet despite the preliminary nature of the Pope’s decision, we are treated to stories about a no-name dissident theologian calling for Pope Benedict to step down, Jewish leaders wringing their hands about the future of Catholic-Jewish relations and Catholic U.S. House Democrats cluelessly and shamelessly voicing their “deep concerns” with the Pope’s decision to (there’s that word again) “reinstate” the wayward bishop.
“As such, we seek clarification on this important matter,” say members of the party unapologetically opposed to Catholic teaching on abortion.
To these almost automatic responses, Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York, has written a fine rebuke of similar “over-the-top” reactions.
His Washington Post/Newsweek essay “Jewish Reaction to Pope Disproportionate” describes SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson as “the sort of crabby, crotchety, trivial, unknown sort of jerk - the ratty uncle who embarrasses you every time he is in public -- who we all recognize exists in our communities.”
Rabbi Kula continues:
How is it that the view of some cranky bishop who has no power evokes calls of a crisis in Catholic - Jewish relations despite the revolutionary changes in Church teachings regarding Jews since Vatican II? Where is the "proportionality", where is the giving the benefit of the doubt - a central religious and spiritual imperative - in response to something that is admittedly upsetting but in the scheme of things is less than trivial especially given this Pope's historic visit to Auschwitz in which he unambiguously recognized the evil perpetrated upon Jews in the Holocaust and in his way "repented" for any contribution distorted Church teachings made to create the ground for such evil to erupt?
Something is off-kilter here. Is it possible that the leadership of Jewish defense agencies, people with the best of motivation who have historically done critical work in fighting anti-Semitism, have become so possessed by their roles as monitors of anti-Semitism, so haunted by unresolved fears, guilt, and even shame regarding the Holocaust, and perhaps so unconsciously driven by how these issues literally keep their institutions afloat, that they have become incapable of distinguishing between a bishop's ridiculous, loopy, discredited views about the Holocaust and a Church from the Pope down which has clearly and repeatedly recognized the evil done to Jews in the Holocaust and called for that evil to never be forgotten?
Echoing Cardinal O’Malley, the rabbi also criticizes the newfound enthusiasts for excommunication.
He asks: “And isn't it possible that bringing Richard Williamson back inside the Church may actually influence him to see how wrong he is on this issue given how clear the Church is regarding the Holocaust and its commitment to Catholic -Jewish relations?”
Still noting the “very raw and very vulnerable” attitudes towards the Holocaust in the Jewish community, Rabbi Kula then calls on the most hysteric commentators to acknowledge their overreaction.
For that he deserves praise.
Some writers, like Amy Welborn, Ross Douthat, and Sandro Magister have argued the media reaction shows the Vatican’s inability to anticipate and respond to the superficial and often hostile nature of the contemporary news cycle.
Improvements are always possible. The Vatican's unawareness of Williamson's kooky sides is difficult to understand, let alone excuse.
Yet we should remember it is not obvious which stories will produce hostility before the fact. Who could have predicted that the Pope's reference to a Byzantine emperor in a university speech would cause journalistic schadenfreude and Muslim outrage? Or that his brief pre-Christmas discussion of the created order and “gender ideology” would become the central grievance in a homosexualist media crusade?
The dullard’s opportunism in the press, especially concerning Catholicism, is perhaps too capricious even for an expert media relations firm. How can curia bureaucrats be expected to cope?