Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amidst Controversy about Susan Sarandon's Benedict-Nazi Remark, Anti-Semitic Bishop Williamson Spouts Off Again

A day or so ago, when Kathy Hughes mentioned to me the dust-up about Susan Sarandon's recent remark re: Pope Benedict Hitler Youth past, I hadn't yet seen the news about Sarandon's remark.  I subsequently read an article at Truthdig reporting what Sarandon said.

As I note in the thread in which Kathy, Mark, and I discuss Sarandon's assessment of Benedict (see the first link above), I agree with Mark that it may be a stretch to call Benedict a Nazi because he joined the Hitler Youth.  This was expected of young Germans of his generation, and reprisal against any Germans who rebelled against the Nazi regime was swift and merciless.

But as I note in my response to Mark, I also think that Benedict keeps vastly overstating the case for the Catholic church's opposition to the Hitler regime.  The historical record shows a far more ambiguous picture than Benedict paints, when he wants us to believe that "Catholics" stood resolutely against the Nazis.  The sad and shocking reality is that many German (and Austrian, French, etc.) Catholics were strongly pro-Nazi, and actively abetted the Nazi party.  And bishops and priests were in their numbers.  Colleen Kochivar-Baker has posted some powerful pieces about Benedict's historical revisionism and his misrepresentation of this record at her Enlightened Catholicism blog (e.g., here and here).

As I also tell Mark (and I've blogged about this in the past--and see here), Benedict's fellow Bavarian Johann Baptist Metz, who is a theologian like the pope, has entirely different memories than does Benedict of what the Nazi period meant for a young Catholic growing up in the heavily Catholic region of Bavaria.  Where Benedict seems to recall Catholics in general standing against the Nazis, Metz recalls something rather different.  He recalls the silence of his totally Catholic village regarding the concentration camp just outside the borders of the village.  Metz recalls the silence of his Catholic village about what was occurring in that camp as the Catholic devotional life of the villagers continued untroubled and unbroken . . . .

Sarandon's remark may ruffle feathers, and it will be easy for those who see her as attacking the pope to paint her as lightweight and ill-informed when she calls Benedict a Nazi.  But here's something that's going to be much harder for Benedict and his apologists to shrug off as they deal with questions about his connections to the Hitler Youth: this week, Bishop Richard Williamson of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X which denies Vatican II posted yet another ranting and raving anti-Semitic statement on his blog. 

The SSPX folks have a long, proven history of overt anti-Semitism.  Williamson keeps stirring the pot, denying the Holocaust and now (once again) trying to revive the evil old notion that the Jewish people are deicides--a notion that has legitimated pogroms and other assaults on Jewish communities, and which ultimately lies behind the Holocaust itself, with its mass murder of Jewish people.

If Benedict wants to defuse claims that he's a Nazi, the best way he could do so would be to dissociate himself--decisively and fast--from SSPX.  Instead, he has chosen to rehabilitate this dissident group.  This may prove to be one of the unwisest decisions of a papacy that has been, to say the least, conspicuously tone-deaf over and over again, when it comes to presenting the best face possible for the Catholic church in the contemporary world.

(I'm grateful to Alan McCornick of the wonderful Hepzibah blog for emailing me information about the Guardian article re: Williamson.)

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