The marvelous thing about penitence is you don’t have to be particularly guilty to enjoy it. I write “particularly,” of course, out of anxiety to cover my theological position: We are all “generally” or “originally” guilty, all born into the heritage of Adam, and unquestionably needful of Christ’s redeeming grace. But penitence is not punishment, and the Lent that begins tomorrow is not for anything in particular we have done. (The expression, “That was for nothing; wait till you do something,” teases me from my atheist days.)
The Church herself enjoys penitence, some divinely self-imposed, and some imposed externally; and of that externally imposed, some deserved, and some not. An example of this last I watched as it arrived via the BBC one month ago. The headline on their Web site read, “Pope move ignites Holocaust row.” It hadn’t quite ignited this yet, at the time it appeared, but it soon would, as the BBC (which, like the rest of the Mainstream Media, is viscerally anti-Catholic) was obviously hoping.
I immediately recalled the viciously irresponsible way in which the “Beeb” belatedly reported Pope Benedict XVI’s address at the University of Regensburg in 2006. While other media outlets slept, the BBC became the first international news disseminator to realize that there was a single passage in the speech — a 600-year-old quotation — which, if misrepresented in a sufficiently sleazy way in their headlines and leads, and followed by hints that Muslims should riot, would soon have the desired effect. Given the “inverted pyramid” form of journalistic presentation, they could cover themselves later in the story, by factually qualifying the impression left by the lead — that the pope had intentionally made an incendiary, anti-Islamic remark. The damage would already be done, and they needn’t fear their qualification would limit it.
Ditto with their more recent, profoundly sleazy reporting, which likewise spread at electronic speed through the rest of the MSM. A very careful perusal of the whole story, in its original and most sophisticated version, would leave the reader in little doubt of the pope’s innocence. But people do not read the media; they “watch” or scan it. And anyone merely watching or scanning could be forgiven for thinking the pope had intentionally lifted an excommunication from a “British” “bishop,” in the full knowledge that he was a Holocaust denier. In other words, the Panzer Pope was being openly anti-Semitic.
The various liberal (and, in particular, liberal Jewish) “human rights” organizations were quick to run with this slander, and within 24 hours I had poorly informed Jewish friends forwarding to me a petition from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre that made the BBC’s original report look honest by comparison. The beauty of the slander, from the point of view of its perpetrators, was that explaining what had actually happened would take quite a few sentences more than the sound bite for which the contemporary media audience has patience.
Needless to say — or rather, it should be needless to say — that the lifting of the excommunications on four bishops the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre appointed after he had broken with Rome had nothing whatever to do with the political and historical views of any of them. While it could perhaps be fairly argued that Vatican bureaucrats should have vetted the men for “other misdemeanors” before exposing the pope to this “media row,” it was clear enough from the beginning that Benedict himself had no idea about Richard Williamson’s abhorrent “take” on the Nazi death camps — in which were murdered, among millions of others, René Lefebvre, the very father of the founder of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.
That Bishop Williamson himself is “a real piece of work” I soon learned from a friend who’d met him, who directed me to the man’s Argentine blog. He (Williamson, not my priestly friend) has since been condemned and berated not only by the Vatican but by the Superior General of the SSPX. A great deal of work, much of it by the pope himself, had to be put into patching up relations with Jewish representatives, and most in turn have been generous in accepting explanations.
The whole ugly and unnecessary incident is now behind everyone but the media, and various other anti-Catholic interests, who can be counted upon to raise it again, together with murky memories of Regensburg, when the next opportunity arises for a drive-by anti-papal smear. For these are people who, in my experience, live outside the old social norms, in which apologies can be either made or accepted. It is hard to pray for them, but we must always try.
And, in the meantime, we enter into Lent, with a poignant reminder that not only we ourselves, our families, our friends, and all our fellow faithful, but the whole Church must be tested through each penitential season. The redemption we require is not from the MSM, and will never come from there. It is instead from Christ, who precedes us to the Cross.