Letter #29, from America, Buckle Up
The first drops of rain have just fallen, with public accusations that the Pope lied this winter in connection with the "Williamson affair." (see below)
What is it about?
But whatever happens, there is this to keep in mind: many, inside and outside of the Church, would like the Church's traditional liturgy, known as the Latin Mass -- the old liturgy celebrated up until 1970, and two years ago designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the "extraordinary rite" of the Mass -- to disappear.
The allegation this morning is that Vatican officials (but not the Pope) lied when they said this winter that no one in the Vatican knew about Bishop Richard Williamson's views about the Holocaust when the Pope decided to lift his excommication on January 24.
However, this allegation has been exploited by the Church's current antagonist in Italy, Prime Minsiter Silvio Berlusconi, through his media empire, to suggest that the Pope, too, lied.
Here is the headline being run right now on Google news:
Here is a link to the entire story:
Here are the first few few paragraphs to give you the gist of what is being said:
STOCKHOLM — A Swedish TV program to be aired Wednesday (Note: today) claims that top Vatican officials knew that an ultraconservative British bishop was a Holocaust-denier when his excommunication was lifted in January. The program, which was obtained by The Associated Press prior to broadcast, could add new fuel to the controversy over Bishop Richard Williamson.
Jews and Catholics worldwide were outraged after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Williamson, along with three other ultraconservative bishops, in an attempt to bring dissidents back into the mainstream church.
The order, dated Jan. 21, came as Sweden's SVT aired an interview recorded two months earlier in which Williamson said he didn't believe any Jews were killed in gas chambers during World War II.
Vatican officials have said they didn't know about the interview at the time. Benedict later condemned Williamson's remarks and spoke out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Yet in a follow-up report, SVT says the Vatican had been informed of Williamson's Holocaust-denial shortly after the interview was recorded in November. It doesn't suggest, however, that the pope knew about the remarks.
The program singles out Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who had been leading efforts to heal the schism with the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X. The Vatican announced in July that Castrillon Hoyos was stepping down after reaching the customary retirement age of 80.
The SVT program says Sweden's Catholic diocese informed the apostolic nuncio — the Vatican envoy to Sweden — about Williamson's remarks and that he in turn informed Vatican officials, including Castrillon Hoyos...
The words “he lied” are admittedly taken from the programme. But it’s a malicious allegation: Benedict has told no lies whatsoever regarding this matter, even if Vatican officials working for him have a case to answer.
The background you need to know is that Il Giornale has been engaged in a furious battle with Vatican Radio and the Catholic newspaper Avvenire, whose editor Dino Boffo it forced to resign after claiming he was a homosexual with a police record. Avvenire, not coincidentally, had consistently opposed Berlusconi, with the backing of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.
That struggle, which is part of a left-right, secular-Catholic battle at the heart of Italian society and government, has already damaged relations between the gruesomely oversexed Berlusconi and the Holy Father...
And here is a link to a Time magazine story on Berlusconi: http://www.time.com/time/
Arborelius wrote: "The content of the interview with Richard Williamson ... was sent to the Vatican in November 2008, forewarning that the program with the Holocaust denial would be broadcast on January 21, 2009.
"We, at the diocese office in Stockholm, as we always do in matters of the Church, had forwarded the information we had about SSPX and Richard Williamson, including what we knew about the content in the interview Uppdrag Granskning had with him, to the Vatican," Arborelius said.
"I want to underline that forwarding information to the Vatican is pure routine, and not something exceptional for this case," he added.
A fourth consideration is the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the world's Orthodox Churches.
Here are excerpts from an account of that visit I wrote for the Monday, September 21 edition of the Zenit news agency:
On September 18, inside Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer palace about 30 miles outside Rome, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Hilarion Alfeyev (photo), 43 (a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy, composer and lover of music), met with Benedict XVI, 82 (also a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy and lover of music), for almost two hours, according to informed sources.
The silence suggests that what transpired was important -- perhaps so important that the Holy See thinks it isn't yet prudent to reveal publicly what was discussed.
But there are numerous "signs" that the meeting was remarkably harmonious...
In memory of the visit, Archbishop Hilarion gave the Pope a pectoral cross, made in workshops of Russian Orthodox Church...
It is especially significant, in this context, that Hilarion, Patriarch Kirill's "Foreign Minister," has some of the same deep interests as Benedict XVI: the liturgy, and music.
"As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the 'theourgia,' the mystery, and 'feast of faith' began, which continues to this very day.
"After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life -- the liturgy."
These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled "Feast of Faith") is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.
"Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard," Hilarion has written. "I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones."
Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI's own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church's liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.
Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: "The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity... It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts."
These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a "school" for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.
Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.
Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith...
As I said at the outset, the "Williamson affair," and the effort to ascertain what the Vatican knew, and when, about Williamson's views, may continue to dominate news headlines, or it may pass away into silence. Time will tell.
Last week, I had a wonderful and productive meeting in New Rochelle, New York, with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, 86, who has given me some documents which may help me to understand better the history of the Church in our time.
Special Announcement: Please join me in Rome during Holy Week in 2010. For information, go to http://insidethevatican.com/
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