Pope confesses mistakes were made

In a letter to bishops worldwide, the pope says that the internet should have been used to check backgrounds, and that the reasons for lifting the excommunications should have been better explained. At the same time, the pope suggests he was not given the benefit of the doubt.


Pope Benedict has written an “anguished” letter to Church leaders admitting the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop was mishandled and warning the Church risked “devouring itself” with internal squabbles. In the letter addressed to the world’s bishops, which the Vatican will release on Thursday, the pope also says he was pained by Catholics’ criticism of him and that the Vatican could have foreseen problems if it had used the Internet more.

It is extremely rare in Church history for a pope to have to explain his actions to his bishops after the fact and to acknowledge that things went wrong.

In the letter, the pope says he was told after the crisis exploded that better use of the Internet would have revealed some of the problems. He says he “draws the lesson” and adds that in the future the Vatican must “pay more attention to this source of information.”

The pope says he could not have foreseen that the Williamson affair would overshadow his intention of bringing unity back to the Church by lifting the excommunications of the bishops who belong to the Society of St Pius X. He also says the Vatican did not sufficiently explain what it was trying to do by lifting the excommunications.

The letter can be read here in an unofficial English translation. One passage:

The real problem of our point in history is that God disappears from the horizon of people and with the cessation of light coming from God mankind falls disorientated whose destructive effects, we always get to see. From then it is obvious that we must seek the unity of believers. Their dispute and inner conflict puts speaking of God in question. Therefore, the effort for the common witness of the Christian faith – the Church – is the highest priority. Then there is the necessity that all who believe in God, seek peace with each other, trying to become closer to each other, so in the differences in their image of God they share the source of light – inter-religious dialogue.

Speaking of excommunication, there remains the issue of the church’s response the family in the 9 year old girl whose step father impregnated her with twins. Somehow that issue has not created the same uproar as the Williamson affair. In “Excommunicating the Victims” Mary Hunt writes:

A proper pastoral response would include: support for the pregnant child as she lives through an abortion; care for the mother who is responsible for the child and the rest of the family; protection for the family from the stepfather whose arrest may trigger backlash behavior; sensitive work with the other daughter who has also been sexually abused; HIV and venereal disease testing for the girls and the mother; economic support for the family; counseling for the family, the community, even the neighbors and parishioners who have been affected by this trauma; prayer and pastoral attention, including reception of the sacraments according to the family’s wishes. They need a spiritual community more than ever. Instead they got excommunication. “Is there anyone among you, who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). Apparently there are several in Rome and Brazil.

Meanwhile, “Jesuit Father Clodoveo Piazza, a missionary in Brazil, told La Stampa that there are thousands of similar tragedies unfolding in the poorest regions of the South American nation.”

More revelations about Williams have come to light:

“When he said jump, you said how far, so to speak,” said the Rev. John Rizzo, who was a student at the Ridgefield seminary in 1983.

Reached by phone in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he is an assistant priest at the cathedral, Rizzo says he remembers Williamson expressing unusual views about the Holocaust.

“He said it was a pack of lies, that we shouldn’t fall victim to a type of public sympathy toward the Jews,” he said. “He would also tease in regard to my sizable nose, ‘Gee, Rizzo, are you a Jew? I want to see a baptismal certificate,’ things like that he would say. [There was] this other seminarian by the name of Dan Oppenheimer, and he would say to him, ‘Oppenheimer, I don’t like your name, there is a gas chamber waiting for you down at the lake,’ horrible things like that, he would say.”

“He was always insisting that women should not wear pants, because that would be an occasion of sin, that women when married should be subjected to their husbands to such a degree — I’ll never forget this — that if the wife misbehaves the husband should be willing to beat her,” he said.

“He would criticize Mother Teresa for false facade of charity, saying, ‘Oh yes, she may take care of the poor, but she is still a modernist. We shouldn’t fall for her liberal tendencies,’ ” he said.

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