Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Holocaust Denial and the Denial of Universal Human Rights

In the interview with the German journal Spiegel that I cited in my first posting today, Richard Williamson is asked if he recognizes university human rights. His response is illuminating:

When human rights were declared in France, hundreds of thousands were killed throughout France. Where human rights are considered an objective order for the state to implement, there are constantly anti-Christian policies. When it comes to preserving the individual's freedom of conscience against the democratic state, then human rights perform an important function. The individual needs these rights against a country that behaves like a Leviathan. But the Christian concept of the state is a different one, so that the Christian theories of human rights emphasize that freedom is not an end in itself. The point is not freedom from something, but freedom for something. For good (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,606323,00.html).
This response speaks volumes. At the heart of the denial of Vatican II by groups such as the Society of St. Pius X is a denial of human rights. What such groups are essentially combating is the movement within Catholicism after Vatican II to adopt the language of universal human rights as an appropriate way of speaking about ethical issues and about the church's mission to the world.

Strong currents within the Catholic church resist the use of that language because they resist--at a very fundamental level--human rights themselves. They resist the extension of fundamental human rights to groups (e.g., to women) who have previously been denied rights and have been relegated to positions of subservience in many societies.

It is this ineluctable movement to recognize the fundamental rights of all human beings that generates the critique of modernity that runs through groups like SSPX. Unfortunately, the current pope in many ways endorses that critique and its implication that the language of human rights is a flawed, politicizing way of talking about ethical issues and the mission of the church.

It will be interesting to see if the Catholic church, in its central governing structures, recognizes and acknowledges the dilemma it creates for millions of its faithful by telling us to respect the human rights of all, and then by allying itself with fascist movements that resist rights for all. When asked recently about all those the church is losing in nations like Austria and Germany due to its continuing intransigent infatuation with fascism and betrayal of its own message of human rights, Gerhard Maria Wagner replied that the church cannot allow itself to be blackmailed.

This response--shocking in a pastoral leader--spectacularly (and deliberately) misses the point. The crisis of conscience that is causing German and Austrian Catholics to renounce their church membership after Benedict rehabilitated SSPX is due precisely to the conflict Catholics of good conscience experience when the same church that calls them to respect human rights turns around and tramples on rights--and welcomes those who deny the tradition of universal human rights.