It's always interesting when writers take a controversial story and approach it from very different angles. Such was the case today in the continuing and complicated drama of the Pope's move to lift the excommunications of the four traditionalist Society of St. Pius X bishops.
Warning for mature audiences--the two mainstream press stories contain the "r" word (rehabilitate), one deemed inaccurate by some folks in the comments pages. The Catholic News Service story does not.
Let's start with the lede of today's article from the Los Angeles Times:
The Vatican stood firm Tuesday on a decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop, even as Jewish leaders warned that the move will set back decades of Roman Catholic overtures to mend strained relations between the two faiths.
The Vatican joined Jews and fellow Catholics in condemning the British bishop's assertions that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers. But the Vatican also said Richard Williamson's ideas had nothing to do with the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to return him and three other traditionalist bishops to the fold.
The controversy over lifting the excommunication of Williamson came as people worldwide Tuesday observed an annual commemoration of the Holocaust.
This story focuses on the controversy between Jewish leaders and Pope Benedict, while paying almost no attention to the internal dynamics of the Lebrebrevist bishops and the laypeople in the Society of St. Pius X.
The writer does include quotes from Catholic leaders and from SSPX leader Bishop Fellay himself expressing regret for Bishop Williamson's comments --it just doesn't headline them.
Here's a revealing quote from Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi:
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Williamson's "unacceptable" ideas had "nothing to do with the thinking of the pope or the ideas expressed in the many documents of the church that condemn the Holocaust."
He said there has been no talk of revoking the decision because it represents a first step toward eventual reconciliation with an entire religious community, not a single clergyman. "This regards an issue of the internal life of the Catholic Church," Lombardi said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
That is certainly a view shared by many of our commenters.
Lombardi then goes on to express "surprise" at the breadth of the reaction-and an apology.
Oh, and there's another "R" word mentioned here-the oft-noted, oft-quoted Jesuit priest Thomas J. Reese. He does not, nor can he, represent the entire spectrum of opinion in the Catholic world, and it would be a nice change if we saw other scholars mentioned more often.
The article by in the New York Times leads with Bishop Bernard Fellay's apology to the pontiff. Then the author takes a closer look look at the SSPX.
The group's founding documents, available on its Web site, paint a picture of a group deeply at odds with contemporary society, nostalgic for the French monarchy and hostile toward Jews, Muslims and the Vatican itself, some of whose pronouncements Archbishop Lefebvre called "satanic."
The society has "always refused to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which were clearly evident in the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it," Archbishop Lefebvre wrote in a "rebuttal to modernism" in 1974.
It is fair to ask whether the current bishops share these views or are in the process of changing the face of the Society.
The writer goes on to present some evidence that Williamson is not the only Society member to hold anti-Jewish views:
In a letter to Germany's 27 official bishops in October, the director of the society's German branch, the Rev. Franz Schmidberger, wrote that Jews "are not 'our older brothers in faith,' " as Pope John Paul II said in his historic visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.
Instead, Father Schmidberger wrote, "for as long as they do not distance themselves from their forefathers' guilt through the avowal of Christ's divinity and baptism, they are complicit in the deicide," according to a copy of the letter available on the society's Web site.
The Catholic News Service writer emphasizes the repudiation of Williamson's anti-Jewish comments in her lede:
Remarks made by a traditionalist bishop who denied that millions of Jews were murdered during World War II are unacceptable, "foolish," and in no way reflect the position of the Catholic Church, said the Vatican's top ecumenist and major dialogue partner with the Jews.
"Such gibberish is unacceptable," said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica Jan. 26.
"To deny the Holocaust is unacceptable and is absolutely not the position of the Catholic Church," he said, adding that the bishop's remarks were "foolish."
Judging by the extensive coverage given here to church officials distancing themselves from William's views, it appears that Catholic leaders do not now believe this to be solely an internal church matter, but one that has consequences for external relationships.
Yes, there are some highly debatable points in some of the articles appearing in the non-denominational media.
Some will argue that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. I don't. Taken together, with appropriate skepticism, they offer us morsels of insight (the Lombardi quotes) additional information (the SSPX website) and a broader perspective.
"Correcting" that perspective has now become a much more democratic venture -- time to hear from you.
Picture of Pope Piux X is from Wikimedia Commons