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S+L in Rome: Sleepless nights

February 9, 2009
Whenever I walk past St. Peter's Basilica at night, I look up to see whether the lights are on in the papal apartment. As of 11:30 on Friday night, someone was still awake.
I wondered whether the Pope was then tending to the Society of Saint Pius X affair, a controversy that has gathered the otherwise tame forces of obscure traditionalists, internal communications failures and Swedish television into a perfect storm. Perhaps the Holy Father takes the long view and can't be consumed by one particular issue, but I could hardly imagine that the matter was far from his mind.
It may seem hypocritical for me to ask that the press deal compassionately with Pope Benedict—rarely, I confess, do I extend this same charity with other world leaders. Still, while there's room for fair criticism of the SSPX outreach, the Pope has been wrongly accused of being unclear in his condemnation of the Holocaust. It must be even more painful for such misinformed insinuations to come from Angela Merkel, his native country's Chancellor.
Misinformation is a natural product of distilling complex canonical issues into three CNN.com “story highlights”. In countless news articles, for example, the term “rehabilitation” is used interchangeably with the clunkier (but more precise) “lifting of the excommunication”. Readers consequently equate the the status of the SSPX bishops with their local prelate, as opposed to being more like that of Eastern Orthodox bishops. (It bears remembering that the excommunications resulting from the schism of 1054 were only lifted in 1965. Yet even here, full unity hasn't been achieved.)
Thankfully, Pope Benedict and Merkel reconciled by telephone on Sunday. Though CNN cynically reported that their subsequent joint-press release was “diplomatic-speak for saying neither side budged,” in reality, the full text describes the clarity, prudence and respect that need to characterize our reporting of this issue:
VATICAN CITY, 8 FEB 2009 (VIS) - At midday today Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. and Ulrich Wilhelm, spokesman for the German federal government, released the following joint communique:
"The Holy Father Benedict XVI and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a telephone conversation which took place at the request of the chancellor, were able to reciprocally exchange of points of view, in an atmosphere of the greatest respect.
"In this context, both referred once again to the declarations made, respectively, by the Holy Father at his general audience on 28 January, and by the chancellor last Thursday.
"Mr. Wilhelm, the German government spokesman, and Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Lombardi commented: 'It was a cordial and constructive discussion marked by their shared and profound conviction that the Shoah represents an ever-valid admonition for humankind'".
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