“Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome Priest?”

Monday February 2, 2009
25677By Scott P. Richert, About.com Guide to Catholicism
In the winter of 1170, Henry II, king of England, uttered those words (or other words very much like them), and set into motion a chain of events that would result in the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket. Almost 840 years later, the words can be heard again; but will the rest of this tragic episode repeat itself?No, these words have not been uttered by Pope Benedict XVI in reference to Richard Williamson, the bishop of the Society of Saint Pius X who, at the very moment when the Holy Father lifted his excommunication and that of his three brother bishops in the SSPX, chose to give an interview to Swedish television in which he absurdly denied that a single Jew died in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.

Rather, they (or other words very much like them) have been uttered by Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent for The Tablet, London’s ultraliberal Catholic newsweekly. Apparently not satisfied with having the feature article (“Benedict’s high risk strategy“) in this week’s edition, Mr. Mickens sent a note to America, a U.S. Catholic weekly. Fr. James Martin, S.J., posted the note, which he described as a “much more personal reflection” than the article, on America‘s blog.

Mr. Mickens is upset with the Holy Father because Pope Benedict’s understanding of the Second Vatican Council does not square with his. In his note to America, he lambastes the pontiff for believing that “we have the same doctrine after Vatican II as we had before.” Indeed, Pope Benedict has long argued, even before he was elevated to the Chair of Peter, “that much of the Council was badly misinterpreted by theologians and bishops in the post-conciliar period.” In a now-famous address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict declared that much of what is often called “the spirit of Vatican II” was part of a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” whereas the council, in order to be properly understood, has to be interpreted through a “hermeneutic of reform.”

Enough! Mr. Mickens cries:

All of this should be a cause of great alarm to those of us who still believe that something monumental happened at Vatican II, that there were developments, reforms and–yes–points of rupture with the past (despite the Pope’s unconvincing arguments to the contrary).

It is astonishing to see Mr. Mickens adopt a line that has long been associated with the Society of Saint Pius X, whose coming reintegration into full communion with Rome prompted Mr. Mickens’ outburst. And the irony deepens when one reads reports that the bishops of SSPX are finally prepared to accept the Council, now that Pope Benedict has shown the way to interpret it through the “hermeneutics of reform.”

Of course, Pope Benedict, like his 264 predecessors, understands that the fourth mark of the Church–its apostolicity–means that any actual rupture would imply that the Church today is no longer the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The idea that Vatican II represented such a rupture was wrong when the errant bishops of SSPX held it, and it remains wrong now, when Mr. Mickens has made it his own.

Perhaps Mr. Mickens never properly learned his catechism, or perhaps he is fine with the Church no longer being the Church. Sadly, I suspect it’s the latter.

Mr. Mickens ends his note to America with a strange reference to Joseph Ratzinger, rather than Pope Benedict XVI–again, mirroring certain traditionalists who refused to call Pope John Paul II anything other than his given name, Karol Wojtyla. But it is the final line of this final paragraph that calls to mind Henry II and St. Thomas Becket (emphasis mine):

Joseph Ratzinger is completing, as pope, the work he began more than twenty-five years ago as prefect of the CDF. It is no less ambitious than the wholesale reinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council. And no one seems willing or able to stop him.

Does Mr. Mickens really mean harm to the Holy Father? Almost certainly not. But eight-and-a-half centuries later, scholars still debate whether Henry II intended the death of St. Thomas Becket. What they do not debate is that the result clearly followed from his words.

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