Friday, February 27, 2009

"I'm Sorry You Were Offended" Doesn't Fly at the Vatican

Apparently, SSPX Bishop Williamson's apology for his remarks about the Holocaust has been deemed by the Vatican to be decidedly of the "non-apology apology" variety, so popular among American politicians, large corporations, and anyone else who thinks that never having to say you're sorry is the best defense against lawsuits:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson's statement "doesn't appear to respect the conditions" the Vatican set out for him.

In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed.

Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known "the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise."

But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them.

The Vatican is perfectly correct to press for a real apology from Williamson. But as an American who believes in free speech rights, even for those whose speech is erroneous, wrong-headed, and needlessly insulting, I can't help but find this part of the article a bit chilling:

On Friday, Germany's justice minister, Brigitte Zypries, said Germany could issue a European-wide arrest warrant on hate crimes charges for Williamson, because the Swedish TV interview was conducted in Germany.

State prosecutors in Regensburg, Germany, have already opened a preliminary investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial.

Don't get me wrong: I think Holocaust denial is something which should not be done, as it ignores the evidence of history, minimizes the sufferings of those who perished in concentration camps etc. during World War II, and is usually linked to some kind of anti-Semitic agenda on the part of the speaker; it offends against truth and charity either to claim that this open attack upon the Jewish people of Europe never happened, or was much smaller than reported.

But as someone who doesn't believe in "hate crimes" per se, since I think this is an attempt to legislate people's thoughts, I also wonder if it's wise for Germany to pursue hate-crimes charges against Bishop Williamson. Won't this just have the effect of making him a "martyr" figure to those groups who are openly anti-Semitic in their views? Won't such actions give him an even bigger public notoriety upon which to spread the idea that he's being "persecuted" for denying the Holocaust?

In any event, I'm glad to see that the Vatican is insisting that Bishop Williamson must truly apologize for what he said, not merely apologize for the fact that people were offended by it. What is chilling in the State is absolutely proper in the Church, in that the Church has the right to insist that Bishop Williamson stop believing falsehoods--and spreading them--as a condition of being returned to full communion with the Catholic Church as a clergyman. It may be good enough, from the standpoint of free speech, that one might only have to apologize for offending others. But from the standpoint of Christian charity and respect for our fellow men, the apology for believing and spreading untruths needs to be sincere.


Maria said...

What a double standard! Do you remember an article on Rod Dreher's blog about a month ago when German POLICE broke into a private citizen's apartment and removed an Israeli flag from his balcony because it was upsetting the anti-Semitic crowd below, which was chanting, "Kill the Jews"? I find Bishop Williamsom utterrly ridiculous and wrong-headed and am so happy and relieved the Vatican has sent him packing. However, it seems to me German officials are acting more out of anti-Catholicism in this case than actual concern about anti-Semitism. Let's put out a warrant for the ex-communicated Catholic priest making comments in a foreign country, butcondone and capitulate to the outrageous behavior of anti-Semitic crowds in their own streets!

Red Cardigan said...

An excellent observation, Maria! So anti-Semitic behavior from *some* groups is fine, apparently, even in Germany.

Anonymous said...

There's a hierarchy of offense. Jews are sacred, but Muslims are more sacred. Christians are fair game, and a Christian spewing forbidden Holocaust denial, or even a Christian lifting an excommunication that had nothing to do with Holocaust denial, are fair game.

S. Murphy