David Rothkopf

Reports of His infallibility are greatly exaggerated

There comes a moment when some leaders forfeit their moral authority to lead. You could call it their Guantanamo Moment. Pope Benedict crossed that line Saturday when he rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying British bishop who had said as recently as Wednesday of this week, "I believe there were no gas chambers" and who argues that estimates ...

There comes a moment when some leaders forfeit their moral authority to lead. You could call it their Guantanamo Moment. Pope Benedict crossed that line Saturday when he rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying British bishop who had said as recently as Wednesday of this week, "I believe there were no gas chambers" and who argues that estimates of six million Jews killed by the Nazis are perhaps 20 times greater than the toll he is willing to acknowledge. 

According to a report in the New York Times, "Williamson said: ‘I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.'" A Vatican spokesperson, defending the reinstatement of Williamson after his excommunication for being ordained without Rome's permission, said the British clergyman's views were "extraneous." 

Admittedly, it is nothing new for the Catholic Church to look the other way when it comes to the Holocaust or to centuries of abuse and persecution of the Jews. Still, it is still stunning to hear a religious organization argue that morality and the truth are actually less important to the status of its leaders than the technical processes by which they became leaders. It would be an indefensible position for any high church official and is a particularly awkward one for a German pontiff who was himself a member of the Hitler Youth and the German army in World War II.  Given that church doctrine argues that the Pope is infallible and that this act was clearly a mistake, the only conclusion a logical observer can draw is that Benedict is not really the Pope.

There comes a moment when some leaders forfeit their moral authority to lead. You could call it their Guantanamo Moment. Pope Benedict crossed that line Saturday when he rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying British bishop who had said as recently as Wednesday of this week, "I believe there were no gas chambers" and who argues that estimates of six million Jews killed by the Nazis are perhaps 20 times greater than the toll he is willing to acknowledge. 

According to a report in the New York Times, "Williamson said: ‘I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.’" A Vatican spokesperson, defending the reinstatement of Williamson after his excommunication for being ordained without Rome’s permission, said the British clergyman’s views were "extraneous." 

Admittedly, it is nothing new for the Catholic Church to look the other way when it comes to the Holocaust or to centuries of abuse and persecution of the Jews. Still, it is still stunning to hear a religious organization argue that morality and the truth are actually less important to the status of its leaders than the technical processes by which they became leaders. It would be an indefensible position for any high church official and is a particularly awkward one for a German pontiff who was himself a member of the Hitler Youth and the German army in World War II.  Given that church doctrine argues that the Pope is infallible and that this act was clearly a mistake, the only conclusion a logical observer can draw is that Benedict is not really the Pope.

(And admit it, when you saw the headline from this posting mentioned "infallibility" you thought it was going to be about Obama, didn’t you?)

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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