Reaction to the Vatican’s lifting of the excommunications of four Lefebvrite bishops continues to create more heat than light.
That one of these bishops, Richard Williamson, holds some odious views, is undeniable. The Vatican’s offer, however, has nothing to do with those views and everything to do with ending a long running schism in the Church. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made a series of efforts to heal a rift that started over the authority and declarations of the Second Vatican Council and has become a cause of scandal and division in Europe and elsewhere.
Reaction, however, has been almost universally negative in the secular press, which has added two and two together and gotten five. Most recently a Jerusalem Post editorial has suggested that the pope is more concerned about cozying up to the far right than in nurturing relations with the Jewish people. It also repeats the many attacks on Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope,” another wrong-headed reading of history that unfortunately has chilled Catholic-Jewish relations. The newspaper calls on the Israeli government to recall its Vatican ambassador.
The Vatican has responded to the general media cacophony with an editorial denouncing the over-reaction to the Lefebvrite decision. Unfortunately, the news cycle has moved on, and now the media message has solidified around the theme of Vatican insensitivity, or worse.
The Church will not step back from its consistent efforts since Vatican II to heal relations with our “elder brothers,” and it will continue to reject all forms of anti-Semitism. At some point, however, we can only pray that these cycles of praise and denunciation that have characterized Catholic-Jewish relations come to an end. The Church will not retreat from its position, but the growing atmosphere of distrust makes it hard to move forward.