There’s been a bit of hoopla in the news lately about Pope Benedict lifting the excommunication of four bishops who are part of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), which society was basically in schism for the past 20 years or so. Shortly before he did this, one of the excommunicated bishops, Bishop Williamson gave an interview in which he denied the Holocaust (or Shoah). And so when the Pope lifted the excommunication there was an immediate outcry about Williamson’s statements.
Now, I think there is a reason to have an outcry about people denying the Shoah. My plans for law school are basically to focus on human rights abuses, and the issues I care most about are genocide and slavery. To me, denying the sin of the Holocaust would be almost a second murder. I am not, therefore, a big supporter of Williamson’s thoughts on the matter, or his shooting off his mouth. But I do have some issues with the results of Benedict XVI’s lifting of the excommunication.
Some have taken the opportunity to decry the act as implicit support of Williamson’s opinions. Some have even called for the Pope’s resignation. But it seems like the very same groups who criticise the Church for being “too dogmatic,” “unwelcoming,” “too strict,” etc., apparently don’t believe it when it comes to people they disagree with. Any religion that has any “meat” to it (i.e. isn’t a “feel good” faith, but takes a moral stand) is going to alienate some people who don’t want to be told what to do. But I think they’ve missed the whole point of church.
To put it plainly: Church is for sinners. In our circles of friends and associates, we decide who fits our standards. We choose what we can handle in terms of other people. Some of these choices are illegitimate (like those who won’t associate based on race, creed, color, class, etc.), and some are legitimate (people who exercise bad influences on us, with whom it is difficult to be happy or who try to domineer us, etc.)
But Church (and I’m talking really about the whole Body of Christ) does two things we can’t do:
- It has standards none of us can reach all the time (and often most of the time);
- It will take all of us anyway (atleast where it’s really honest about what being Church means).
Let’s be honest here: come Sunday mornings (and a lot of other times during the week), Christians worship around the world is the largest deliberate gathering of sinners. As I put it in my title, when we get together, we easily come together with more sin than a brothel on a busy night.
If you get the whole story, and not just what the sensationalist media reports, you’ll find out that another bishop of the SSPX told the pope that didn’t reflect them all, and put a gag order on Williamson. You’ll also see that Williamson did apologise, and most recently has been told by Pope Benedict to repudiate his views. But more importantly, Pope Benedict believes it is his mission to help heal the wounds within the Body of Christ, both within the Catholic Church and among the various Christian churches.
Fr. Roger Landry, editor of The Anchor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, MA, puts it well:
If the Pope behaved like a politician rather than a father, he probably would not have lifted the excommunications. It was a magnanimous, courageous move fraught with risks. First, many within the Church seem prone to view the possible return of the 1.5 million members of Society with as much enthusiasm as the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son for the homecoming of his wayward sibling. Benedict, however, has the perspective of the father in the parable, which is the only truly Christian frame of reference.
(The full article: Unity, Magnanimity and Lunacy.)
This is really the crux of it. I know a lot of people feel rejected by Church because it tells people to go in the face of modern culture, to practice self-denial of our baser desires to live the fullness of the life God wishes for us. But Christianity is also the only place that will really take everyone as he is and point to Christ as the “way up.” I could keep “pontificating” but I think the late Pope John Paul II put well what the Body of Christ is really about in his Message for the 20th World Youth Day at Cologne:
Jesus is the Prince of peace: the source of forgiveness and reconciliation, who can make brothers and sisters of all the members of the human family.
Listening to Christ and worshipping Him leads us to make courageous choices, to take what are sometimes heroic decisions. Jesus is demanding, because He wishes our genuine happiness. He calls some to give up everything to follow Him in the priestly or consecrated life. Those who hear this invitation must not be afraid to say “yes” and to generously set about following Him as His disciples. But in addition to vocations to special forms of consecration there is also the specific vocation of all baptised Christians: that is also a vocation to that “high standard” of ordinary Christian living which is expressed in holiness.
Thanks for reading. Thoughts and comments always appreciated.
-the Rosy Gardener