A point I try to impress on my children is one that the Jewish community would do well to consider. If you spend a day continually whining about trivia, by the end of the day, even if you’ve got something legitimate to complain about, mommy and daddy aren’t going to be in a frame of mind to listen to you very seriously. This lesson can be difficult for a little kid to grasp.
The Anti-Defamation League has a hard time with it, too, otherwise the group wouldn’t profess to be “stunned” that the Vatican had “ignored our concerns” and reversed the excommunication of four previously outlawed rebel bishops, leaders of the reactionary Society of St. Pius X. The Pius X organization opposes the reforms of Vatican II, including its olive branch to the Jews and Judaism. One of the bishops is a flagrant anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and conspiracy theorist.
Bishop Richard Williamson remains in hot water with the Catholic Church for having accepted ordination in 1988 in the first place, against the wishes of Pope John Paul II. Williamson still cannot minister officially as a bishop. Yet the title and at least some of the influence that goes with it are now his, unsullied by the sinister status associated with excommunication. The combination of malignant views and lofty office are why this case matters.
A priest friend in Rome whom I trust assures me there are sound technical reasons for Pope Benedict’s act of mercy to Williamson and the other SSPX bishops: “Being a nut, even a pernicious one, is simply not a justification for maintaining an excommunication, which, from the Church’s point of view, is the ultimate punishment. The guy could have been an unrepentant murderer and the excommunication – for the specific offense of illicit ordination – would have still been lifted. It is a technical thing, not a sign of personal approval or rehabilitation.”
But as Jews know well from our own religious tradition, well acquainted with legal arcana, such technicalities usually carry the day only when unopposed by urgent real-world considerations.
Before Williamson’s forgiveness was announced but after it was known to be a likely prospect, the ADL sought to dissuade Benedict from extending public mercy to a man who argues that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are a gift that “God put into men’s hands.” Yet the Pope went ahead anyway, leaving ADL national director Abraham Foxman “stunned.” When the news came out, my wife and I watched Williamson’s video on YouTube in which he allows that maybe 200,000 or 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, but not one in a gas chamber.
I was disturbed but not stunned.
No one should minimize the good that the ADL and other Jewish anti-defamation groups have accomplished in publicizing Muslim anti-Semitism. But they have also done great damage to Jewish-Christian relations by making a habit of attacking Catholics and Protestants, sometimes in hysterical terms, on matters about which Jews have no business complaining.
Thus for example the ADL and its allies remain publicly unapologetic, as far as I know, for their role in hyping the supposed anti-Semitic menace posed by Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. Before the film was released, the ADL harped on supposed parallels between Gibson’s movie and medieval Passion plays. The latter led to pogroms, so the obvious implication was that the former could also.
Others went further. In an article in The New Republic – Jewish-owned and edited – a Jewish scholar, Paula Fredriksen, stated not as speculation but as a certainty that when the film appeared in countries like Poland, Spain, France and Russia, savagery would erupt: “When violence breaks out, Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to.”
Of course no such thing came to pass.
Meanwhile, Jewish groups continue to pillory the Christian churches for their alleged guilt in fomenting the Holocaust. That’s despite the fact that Hitler himself clearly dismissed as ineffective any fancied strategy to try to whip up Germans with appeals to punish the Christ-killers. In Mein Kampf, an influential best-seller, he relied on the language of Darwinian biology to declare a race war against the Jews.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, America’s largest Jewish denomination, has called conservative Christians “zealots” and “bigots.” Harshly attacking opposition to gay marriage, Yoffie remarked: “We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things he did was ban gay organizations.” And so on and on. By now, as far as anti-defamation activism is concerned, our community has squandered much of its credibility. Therefore when a real issue of concern arises, as in the Williamson affair, we have little on which to draw. Under circumstances like these, some Christians will listen politely but then turn away, citing technicalities.