L’Affaire Babini

An interesting development in the Babini affair is the content of the monsignor’s retraction. He denies having ever said anything anti-Semitic. “Certain words have been attributed to me which I never said…about my brothers the Jews.” There is fuzziness surrounding this interview. One of two things is going on, though. Either Babini gave the interview as published (in a kind of threat, Potifex claims to have the “tapes” of the  interview), and then retracted it in a sort of vague and non-committal way, or the whole thing is a fabrication.

I say non-committal because what is “anti-Semitic” in one person’s eyes may not be so in another’s. Perhaps there are those, like L’Osservatore Romano in its anti-Semitic heyday, who play the game of distinction between “good” and “bad” anti-Semitism. The good kind is actually anti-Judaism, or hatred of the Jewish religion. The bad kind is, presumably, violence against the Jews themselves. This is an extremely dangerous “distinction,” however, which led to the demonization of an entire people and sowed the seeds from which the Shoah grew. This “distinction” has also allowed the Catholic Church to wash its hands of any true responsibility in the Shoah. The brute killing was carried out by a “pagan” regime. Where might they have gotten their most dangerous ideas from? Why did they find the masses so indifferent and even willing? Could centuries of the most poisonous anti-Jewish propaganda by the Church have had something to do with it?

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s “semi-official” newspaper, skips the entirety of the 20th century. There is simply a widget reading, This section has no content. We learn nothing about what it actually published in its glorious heyday leading up to the Second World War: it’s vicious anti-Semitic campaign in the 1890s, its uncritical acceptance of ritual murder charges against Jews, its endorsement of Italy’s racial laws of the 1930s. Today L’Osservatore prides itself in “presenting the genuine face of the church and the ideals of freedom.” “145 years as the ‘genuine face of the Church,'” reads an article in the Catholic News Service from 2006. One hundred of which have no content, apparently.

Why bother about L’Osservatore Romano, though? Because it seems the Vatican is playing a never-ending game of hide-and-seek with “official” “semi-offical” and “unofficial” pronouncements. One might infer that the only “official” voice of the Church is that of the pope himself. That leaves a huge margin for bishops, priests, cardinals and the like to voice various “unofficial” points of view, some of which push the limits of free speech up against a wall. When Lilli Gruber of Otto e Mezzo, a popular evening news program in Italy, recently invited a cardinal to speak on the pedophilia scandals, Gruber smilingly acknowledged that the cardinal could not say certain things. Is his therefore an “official” voice, constrained to silence on touchy issues? Who can know? Can “offical” voices become “unofficial” if they lead to scandal or a worsening of the Church’s public image?

If the interview is indeed a fabrication, one would expect serious action to be taken against the Pontifex blog by the Church itself. One would expect the Italian media giants to have caught on to it by now and have published some kind of editorial apology. But none of this is happening.

I couldn’t, say, fabricate an interview with Hillary Clinton, quoting her as saying, “We’re going to nuke those sand niggers in Iran” (I’m being entirely facetious here), have the story picked up verbatim and uncritically by the New York Times and Washington Post and countless other media, then have Clinton retract her statement as “having said nothing against the Iranian people” and still keep the interview up on my blog without some serious legal action.

But that’s kind of how things stand at the moment with the Babini affair.

A Zionist Plot to Bring Down the Church

It just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. After Father Cantalamessa’s embarassing blather about the Church being the victim of anti-Semitism, now it’s Monsignor Babini of Grosseto’s turn to make the Vatican turn red. In an interview with the medieval website Pontifex, the venerable monsignor said what I am beginning to imagine a sizable amount of Vatican cronies actually believe (but are far too prudent to state openly): the pedophilia scandal is a “Zionist attack, given the force and sophistication…they don’t want the Church, they are its natural enemies. In the end, historically speaking, they murdered God.”

It gets better: “Don’t believe that Hitler was crazy. The truth is that the Nazi’s criminal fury was unleashed by the Jews’ excesses and ebezzlement, which strangled the German economy.”

Are you laughing yet, or crying? Babini then goes on to deride homosexuals, predictably accusing them of some sort of lobby to bring down the pope. Freemasons dutifully get theirs. In the end, there is not much to distinguish this interview, published on the internet in the year 2010, from the vitriolic attacks of the pre-war Osservatore Romano, or Der Sturmer.

But there is more than meets the eye here. The website Pontifex is in no obvious way an “official” organ of the Catholic Church. In fact, it’s nothing more than an ultra-traditionalist, obscurantist blog publishing the most disgusting, offensive and retrograde opinions imaginable anywhere in the “civilized” West. They flirt with exorcism, demonology, angelology and satanism. They are obsessed with Jews, homosexuals and sex. Nothing new here.

The interview was promptly retracted – according to Corriere della Sera – by the Italian Episcopal Conference. Apparently, Monsignor Babini denies having ever said such horrible things about Jews. The website Pontifex prompty shot back that Babini and the IEC are in the hands of the Jews. “All it takes is a sneeze by the American Jews for them to recant.”

Strong words by an integralist Catholic website. So strong you’d think the Vatican would distance itself from them immediately if they were making this stuff up. You know, so people don’t confuse bigoted, anti-Semitic Catholic bloggers with actual “official” declarations of the Catholic Church. With such tight control over what is said by the clergy, one would expect no less.

But the interview is still up. Is it a fake? Did Pontifex invent it out of whole cloth to voice their integralist opinions in no uncertain terms, hitching a ride on the back of Monsignor Babini and the good reputation of the Church itself? Would the two largest Italian dailies have published such words without some minimal fact-checking first?

I can’t say. But it isn’t much different from what we read in the Osservatore Romano, the official Church daily, in the not-so-far-away 1890’s: “Anti-Semitism ought to be the natural, sober, thoughtful, Christian reaction against Jewish predominance.” (David I. Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews) We might also recall the Lefebvrian Bishop Richard Williamson, a holocaust denier, reinstated by Pope Benedict XVI last year. His choice words were: “There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies.”

And just last week, on Good Friday, the pope’s personal preacher, Father Cantalamessa, had his fifteen minutes of infamy likening public outrage at the Church’s cover-up of pedofilia to “the worst aspects of anti-Semitism.” What are its best aspects, one might wonder?

The Church is spiraling downward in a maelstrom of scandal. It seems every time it opens its big unofficial mouth, it sticks a large official foot in. You can’t get away with this for very long, though. You can’t repeatedly make the same ignorant and offensive claims and then say you didn’t make them, or that they weren’t “official.” You can’t run from the law forever. Richard Dawkins just might catch up with you.