The uproar following Benedict XVI’s decision to lift the excommunication of bishops in the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X—one of whom is a notorious Holocaust denier—was predictable enough, except, it seems, to the pope himself. Benedict has tried to explain that he acted out of “pastoral concern and fatherly mercy,” in an attempt to begin the process of healing the only schism to have emerged from Vatican II. Since the bishops in question still reject the council’s teaching on such things as religious freedom, the separation of church and state, ecumenism, and the church’s relationship to Judaism, it isn’t clear where this “dialogue” between the Vatican and the traditionalists is headed. Church unity is, of course, every pope’s concern. In this instance, however, Benedict appears to have unified nearly all Catholics, from neoconservatives to liberation theologians, in a shared perplexity and bewilderment over the way in which the decision was made and its announcement handled. The outrage of the Jewish community sadly testifies to the damage done. Benedict may be regarded as a great teacher, but he will need all his pedagogical skills to help his flock, and those outside it, make sense of what is being called a “canonical mess” and a public-relations disaster.


Related: Why I Became Catholic, by John Wilkins
Phantom Heresies, by Justus George Lawler

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Published in the 2009-02-13 issue: View Contents
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