It does not help the Church if people like myself, with a certain experience working in the area of communications at various levels in the Church, especially with the Vatican, try to downplay, deny, spin or ignore the gravity of what has happened in the Bishop Williamson affair. I will not question for one minute the desire of Pope Benedict to bring about unity within the Church. The Pope is first and foremost Pontifex, bridge builder, unifier and peace maker. Benedict’s gesture toward the four bishops was absolutely sincere, necessary and hopeful.
Nor would I question the strong, unequivocal commitment of the Pope and the Vatican to foster solid Jewish-Catholic relations that flourish in the Church today. The bridges that have been built with our Jewish brothers and sisters over the past 50 years are solid. The waters beneath them sometimes rise to flood levels. The bridges remain standing and will survive many storms.
What I do question throughout this whole crisis is the timing and due diligence on the part of the Vatican structure, and the absence of serious internal dialogue among key Vatican players who are part of important papal decisions such as this one was. If it was necessary for the Secretariat of State to issue a clarification note today, it is unfortunate that such a note did not accompany the initial news of removal of the excommunication of the four bishops last week. Removal of the excommunication should have required the four bishops to explicitly and publicly profess their full adherence to the teachings of the Church, the Second Vatican Council and the consistent teaching on the Shoah.
Those involved in the decision-making process around and with the Pope must be very circumspect of many aspects of such a complex announcement, including the Shoah denial on the part of members of the Society of St. Pius X and the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican officials must also be aware of the confusion that could be and indeed has been caused for Catholics, Christians, Jews around the world, and many others who do not understand what is at stake in this case.
A major mistake has been made and is now being corrected. In the process, confusion, anger, frustration, disbelief and pain have been the outward results on a world scale. The Holy Father has expressed his deep regret over this. His teaching on the Shoah and his love of the Jewish people has been a clarion call to the universal Church.
The flood waters have risen once again in this Pontificate in the area of Interfaith Relations and basic communications of complex matters. Those waters are subsiding. Damage has been done. At times in Church history, efforts and sincere gestures for unity have backfired and caused pain. The Church reveals a very human face in all of this and humbly asks for forgiveness. Despite everything and everyone, I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is still leading the Church. The Vatican seems to be "getting it", albeit a bit late.
As one priest with one small voice in the situation, it is embarrassing, frustrating, and distressing. I am very sorry for all the pain it has caused. We will move beyond this and work for unity in the Church and deep, abiding respect and peace with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
I sincerely hope that the Vatican will quicken their efforts in the area of internal and external communications. Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J,, and his teams at the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Television and Vatican Radio have done their best. The problem is not at their level.
Having worked with and for the Vatican in the area of communications, especially at the most recent Synod of Bishops, I know that the communications system at the Vatican is not only about the Press Office, its daily Bulletins, Vatican Radio or Television Programs, the monumental Vatican Website or the newly launched You Tube channel. It is much deeper and higher than that.
May officials working on the upper floors of the Apostolic Palace and in various senior curial departments learn from this mistake and allow the Spirit to speak once again to the Church so that we can do a better job in telling our story, in season and out of season, and humbly ask for forgiveness when we make mistakes.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network