Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Ratzinger special

Schismatic, reactionary Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991)

Pope Ratzinger I (formally Benedict XVI) just lifted the excommunication of four schismatic hard-right bishops, one of whom is an overt Holocaust denier.

Dave Neiwert gives a great account in Pope Benedict reaches out to anti-Semitic Catholics, but liberals still talk to the hand (video fixed) Crooks and Liars by David Neiwert 01/25/09. I have to admit that "talk to the hand" is a figure of speech I only recently learned what it means, i.e., talk to the hand because the ears ain't listening to you.

Lefebvre movement: long, troubled history with Judaism by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter 01/26/09. The four bishops that Ratzinger just accepted back into the Catholic Church were ordained by the late schismatic Catholic archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Allen reports:

A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.

Reacting to the furor over [Bishop Richard] Williamson [the reinstated Holocaust denier], the Vatican has stressed that lifting the excommunication is not an endorsement of his views on the Holocaust, and has repeated its firm commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and to combating anti-Semitism. The pope’s outreach to traditionalists should instead be seen, spokespersons said, as an "act of peace" intended to end the only formal schism in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The PBS Newshour reported on the issue in Pope Draws Criticism for Pardoning Bishop 01/28/09. Their report shows Williamson declaring:

I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers.
Holocaust denial is a variety of pseudohistory. But it's main purpose is sneering at Jews and victims of the Nazi dictatorship. It's also an attempt to rehabilitate the image of Hitler and Nazism, but I see that as a distinctly secondary function. Holocausts deniers' approach is so full of far-right, crackpot features that I find it hard to take seriously that most of them actually believe their own line.

Williamson's brief statement is typical. Denying that there were gas chambers in the extermination camps is straightforward denial of historical facts. But the rest of his statement is full of the kind of double-talk rightwing kooks love.

"I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler, he said.

No one claims that six million Jews were killed in gas chambers. Large numbers were shot, starved or beaten to death, and so on. The "deliberately" is a nice weasel word.

The six million number originated with Adolf Eichmann, who was in a better position than most to know. I believe that most historians of the Holocaust would put the number of clearly documented deaths at between 5.2 million and 5.8 million. But they also don't challenge six million as a likely number. Leading Holocaust historians did react against a claim several years ago that newly-released files from the Soviet Union showed that the number was significantly higher than six million. The higher estimate was a serious misreading of the material.

But Holocaust deniers and Hitler apologists love to comma-dance over numbers. They insist on minimizing the number of Jews and others killed in the Holocaust. But exaggerating the number of Germans killed in the Dresden bombing in particular has been a favorite obsession of the same crowd.

Also, Williamson specifies a "deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler". A variation on Holocaust denial is to deny that Hitler himself ordered it or even knew about it. In response to David Irving's work in particular, historians have looked closely at both issues. And, despite the extreme efforts to shield Hitler from documentable responsibility, there is no serious doubt that he both ordered the killing and knew what was going on.

This is part of the problem of responding in a careful way to bald-faced liars. I say "no serious doubt" because despite overwhelming circumstantial and other evidence, we don't have a handwritten order from Hitler saying "Kill.All.The.Jews." Someone looking at the question carelessly or superficially might have some doubt. But not anyone who actually is aware of the evidence. Christopher Browning deals with this particular question in The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution (1995).

Additional sources on the controversy over Ratzinger's action:

Replacing dialogue with deafness by Jonathan Romain Guardian 01/26/09

Pope’s Embrace of Renegade Bishops Dooms Jewish-Catholic Summit by Nathaniel Popper The Forward 01/27/09:

The most significant impending meeting between Jewish leaders and Pope Benedict XVI is being called off due to the Catholic Church’s recent decision to reconcile with four renegade ultra-conservative Catholics, including one who has a history of denying the Holocaust.

Israel’s chief rabbinate sent a letter to the Vatican indefinitely postponing a March summit in Rome that was to include the pope. The letter came a few days after the Vatican revoked the excommunication of four bishops from the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that opposed modernizing reforms adopted by the church during the 1960s, including efforts to reconcile with Jews. One of the four bishops in question, Richard Williamson, has said that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers and has accused Jews of striving for “world dominion.”
Pope decision to rehabilitate Holocaust-denying bishop sparks Jewish-Catholic row Haaretz 01/25/09:

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Jerusalem decried as
"scandalous" Benedict's decision to lift excommunications on British-born bishop, Richard Williamson, who has said there were no gas chambers and only 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps in World War Two. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, said, however, the pontiff's planned visit in May to Israel was not in doubt. "This has nothing to do with relations between states," he said.
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