Pope Benedict has always been a worrisome figure. When he was named pope the decision brought words of concern from the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. UCNews reported on April 19, 2005:
"Today as the conclave announces its decision, the offering of prayers for this new pontificate is the most appropriate response from other Christian leaders," the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, said in a written statement to United Church News. "Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I personally greet Cardinal Ratzinger's selection with profound disappointment. Cardinal Ratzinger's long tenure in the Vatican has been marked by a theological tone that is rigid, conservative and confrontational."
Thomas said that, during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger often "lacked the warm pastoral heart that is so central to the ministry of bishops, including the Bishop of Rome."The harsh treatment received by many gifted Catholic theologians over the years from the Cardinal's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been profoundly troubling," said Thomas, who served as the UCC's chief ecumenical officer before being elected the UCC's leader in 1999. "[Ratzinger's] interpretations of the ecumenical vision of Vatican II have been narrow and constrained, and he has persisted in describing the ecclesial status of non-Catholic churches in ways that have been insensitive and demeaning."
JERUSALEM, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The Chief Rabbinate of Israel says it has suspended ties with the Vatican following the pope's decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust denier.
Chief Rabbinate Director-General Oded Weiner wrote in a letter to Vatican officials that because of Pope Benedict's decision to reinstate Britain's Bishop Richard Williamson"without a public apology and recanting, it will be difficult to continue the dialogue," The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday...
Pope Benedict last week attempted to heal a decades-old rift between the Church and a band of ultra-conservative bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius, which opposed changes in Catholic doctrine made in the 1960s. Benedict lifted excommunications that had been imposed on the four, including that of Richardson, who has told interviewers he doesn't believe any Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.
The Post said Richardson has also reportedly endorsed the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and claims that Jews are bent on world domination.
The pope's decisions in these matters hurts the church universal, sets back the ecumenical movement, and harms efforts to grow the interfaith movement.
Pope Benedict is the first German Pope. He was forced as a teenager to join Hitler Youth.
Update: More on this story from The Washington Post:
Pope Benedict's decision to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, including one who has denied the Holocaust, has angered many Jews and Catholics who say the bishops represent repressive and anti-Semitic currents in Catholicism that they want the pope to now explicitly repudiate.
Church officials have been scrambling to downplay the decision announced over the weekend and portray it as a first step in ending the only formal schism in modern Catholicism. But Jewish leaders said the move threatens decades of interfaith dialogue and could harm plans for Benedict's planned trip to the Holy Land later this year. The dispute adds to growing concerns among leaders of other faiths about Benedict's view of interfaith cooperation.
The bishops who were reinstated have all resisted the reforms of Vatican II, the worldwide 1960s meeting that opened new dialogue between Catholics and other faiths, and had been excommunicated two decades ago. The biggest furor since the decision to reinstate them, however, has focused on one of the bishops, British-born Richard Williamson. In recent weeks, he has denied that the Holocaust occurred, and in the past has written that women should not attend universities, empathized with the Unabomber's views on modern technology and suggested that the U.S. government staged the Sept. 11 attacks as an excuse to invade Afghanistan
"I believe that the historical evidence . . . is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed," Williamson said on Swedish television this month. "I believe there were no gas chambers..."
In his short tenure as pope, Benedict has caused concerns among other faith leaders before. He sparked deadly riots across the Muslim world in 2006 by citing a 14th century characterization of the prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman." Jewish groups protested in 2007 when he expanded use of traditional liturgy -- a priority among groups such as Saint Pius X -- that on Good Friday called for Catholics to pray for "the faithless Jews." After protests, the next year he required all Catholics to remove the word "faithless."
Williamson, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Bishop Bernard Fellay -- leader of the Society of Saint Pius X -- were excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II after they were ordained as bishops over the objections of the Vatican by conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
In recent days, Catholic officials and many Catholics praised Benedict for reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of members of the Society of Saint Pius X, a small number of whom are American, who adhere to a traditionalist view of Catholicism, including wanting only the Latin Mass. They say anti-Semitic comments by any of the bishops, while possibly abhorrent, are not heretical.
Still, some church analysts -- including those who are typically defenders of the pope -- said they were concerned that a group that had clearly rejected the authority of the church and its teachings through Vatican II was being wooed back.
"This raises all sorts of questions about the consistency of the church's own self-understanding," said George Weigel, author of several books about Benedict and John Paul II. "How does this advance the unity of the church? If they are reconciled" without embracing church positions on religious freedom and anti-Semitism. "This really has the possibility of unraveling a lot of the accomplishments of the John Paul and Benedict periods if not handed well."
It seems that many of the fears first expressed when Benedict was named pope have found validation both within and outside Roman Catholic circles.