Geoffrey Kirk reflects on the visceral hatred shown by Western liberals for Pope Benedict
It is time, I think, to come clean. Regular readers of this column will probably have guessed it by now; but it is as well to be explicit. I am a Global Warming Denier. When the shock has died down, perhaps you will permit me to explain. It is not that I deny that the world appears to be warming up – I grant that there is a good deal of evidence to that effect. But I seriously doubt that human agency is primarily responsible, or that human effort alone can reverse the process.
The question is, holding the views that I do, can I become a Roman Catholic? True, I have not yet expressed an intention to convert; but were I to do so, would my submission to the Holy See occasion a whole sheaf of articles in The Tablet about Pope Benedicts abandonment of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and lengthy heart-searchings by former editors about their own motives for conversion? Not, you understand, that I am under the impression that the Vatican Council expressed an opinion about Global Warming, one way or the other. I merely hope to spare the Holy Father further embarrassment.
But before you drag me off before the Liberal Inquisition (as people are wont to do these days at the drop of a hat), please hear me out. Though it is true that I deny Global Warming, it is not true that I am also a Holocaust denier. I am in fact living proof (and I suspect that in some quarters proof is needed) that it is possible to be unpersuaded both by Al Gore and by David Irving. But there is more. I have also to confess to a certain sympathy with poor Bishop Williamson, despite the opprobrium he has drawn from all right thinking people and The Times.
Like all those who have visited Auschwitz, there is a part of me that wants to -longs to – deny the Holocaust. How could the culture which produced the ‘Passus et sepultus est’ of the Bach B-minor and the last quartets of Beethoven have come to that7. It has to be, quite literally, incredible: like a favourite god-daughter aborting her first child. My first reaction to the obscene is to want to deny it.
I am not sure, however, that in his denial Williamson quite shares my motives. There is something just a bit spooky and cranky about him; which, together with the black base-ball cap in which he exited from Argentina, makes me doubt that we
are exactly soul-mates. But then, turning to the almost universal media outrage at the recent lifting of the excommunications on the Society of Saint Pius X, I am bound to reflect that small religious sects are notoriously prone to attracting nutters and entryists who share few, if any, of their core values. Just look at the Church of England. This does not mean, however, that they are all bad, or that one is obliged to sever relations with all of them, completely and for all time.
Pope Benedict began on the long road to ending the Lefebvrist schism years ago when he was still at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Marcel was very much alive. It was Lefebvre himself who, having come to
an agreement, went back on it. And it was Cardinal Ratzinger who left the file in the in-tray, and awaited more auspicious times.
What hope for wider and more ambitious ecumenical endeavours, he must have asked himself (with Orthodox? Anglicans? Lutherans?), if this little local difficulty could not be overcome? And why should the eccentric opinions of one bishop interfere with the reconciliation of hundreds of priests and thousands of layfolk with the Holy See? He calculated (unwisely as it turned out) that it would be enough for the authorities of SSPX to distance themselves from Williamson and his views.
What Benedict did not count on was the visceral hatred of the Western media for the Catholic Church in general, the Holy See in particular, and him personally. Joseph Ratzinger represents for Western secularists all that they most loathe and fear. He is intellectually brilliant, pellucidly clear and unashamedly orthodox. Like Margaret Thatcher for Arthur Scargill, he embodies in his person the opposing principle; and this at a time when they thought they were in the ascendant.
The truth is that in the last thirty years or so the modernist tendency in the Catholic Church has gained ground
in academe, in the seminaries, in many religious orders and in the hierarchies of local churches. They had begun to think of themselves as the mainstream of Catholic thinking and as the theological arbiters in the Church’s dialogue with the secular world. They have persuaded themselves of the reverse of the truth: that the Pope is isolated and out of touch. Indeed, German theologian Fr Hans Kung has said the Catholic Church increasingly threatens to deteriorate into a sect under Pope Benedict. Kung, of course, has a very personal animus against the man who censured censured him at the CDF; but the disappointment felt at the accession of Benedict must have been acute in many quarters; and the rapprochement with SSPX has for them a symbolic significance beyond its immediate context and effect. John Wilkins, a former editor of The Tablet (in its most recent incarnation the voice of Roman Catholic liberalism), has written:
‘The pope has asserted that the Lefebvrist bishops, who remain suspended from celebrating the sacraments licitly, must now show true acceptance of Vatican II. But how could they ever do that? The only practical possibility would be an ambiguous formula that would allow them to sign while continuing in the same belief and practice as before. It would not matter so much if this brought these bishops back within the embrace of the church universal. It would matter a great deal if it brought the church universal closer to them. Were those like me deceived when we saw a vision of what the church truly was at Vatican II and followed it?’
As in the Church of England, the Roman Affirming Catholics’ are hand in glove with those in the wider secular ambit who hate the Church and all that it stands for. Together they are intent on bring down this Pope, and will use any pretext, however spurious, to do so.
The catalogue of ridiculous accusations is already extensive: Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-semitism and more recently (with reference to his support for the Church’s perennial condemnation of artificial means of contraception) mass murder. What next? After decades of sentimental ecumenism, anti-Catholicism (always a significant undercurrent of the Enlightenment) is re-emerging as the world’s most fashionable hate crime.