Logic! What are they teaching at the NYTimes copy desk?

YouTube Preview Image

Let’s carefully think our way — one step at a time — through this rather outlandish little story from The New York Times, the one that ran under the headline, “Funeral for Ex-Nazi in Italy Is Halted as Protesters Clash.”

It would be hard to imagine a more controversial figure in the context of modern Europe than an unrepentant Nazi. Thus, using the logic often associated with the powers that be at the Times, this man must have something to do with the hard-right Roman Catholic Church. Here’s the top of the story:

ROME – To shouts of “assassin” and “murderer,” the hearse bearing the corpse of Erich Priebke, the former Nazi who died under house arrest in Rome last Friday, wound on Tuesday through the streets toward a church in a tiny hilltop town 20 miles south of Rome. Police officers in riot gear had to hold back enraged citizens who kicked and punched the vehicle as it passed.

Eventually, the funeral was halted, Italian news media reported. Afterward, protesters and hard-right sympathizers battled in the streets. It was unclear when — even whether — it would actually take place.

For a while, it did not seem as if the former SS captain, associated with one of the most gruesome massacres of civilians in World War II, would find anyplace to rest in peace. The Diocese of Rome refused Mr. Priebke a public funeral in a church.

So, step one. The Diocese of Rome — as in the real local Catholic diocese — said “no.”

Let’s continue — carefully.

… (Up) stepped the Society of St. Pius X, a Roman Catholic group that rejects the church’s modernizing overhauls — in particular, the teaching that absolved Jews of responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus — and agreed to celebrate a furtive funeral in the town of Albano Laziale.

Now you remember the Society of St. Pius X, of course. This is a group of radical traditionalists that has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

In this case, strangely enough, we know that because of the very next statement in this Times report.

The Society of St. Pius X is no stranger to controversy. During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI devoted considerable energies to bringing the group into the fold, and the church has never fully abandoned that effort.

Logic! Perhaps it is best to paraphrase the wise Professor Digory thoughts in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” in the classic C.S. Lewis series “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

If (a) Pope Benedict XVI devoted considerable energies to bringing The Society of St. Pius X back “into the fold” and (b) the Roman Catholic Church has “never fully abandoned that effort,” then it is logical to conclude that (c) The Society of St. Pius X is not “in the fold” and, thus, not part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Thus, it is hardly logical for America’s newspaper of record to refer to this schismatic society as “a Roman Catholic group.”

Logic! What are they teaching these days at the copy desk of The New York Times?

Yes, there are complicated facts involved in this story. Quality newspapers often have to deal with complicated facts and it helps to get the details right.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of church history, and a key URL, from the Catholic conservatives at the Eternal Word Television Network:

Within the Traditionalist movement, which is certainly dominated by the Society, other branches developed. For example, the SSPX uses the 1962 Missal, which includes changes made by John XXIII. Some in the movement reject any changes, and thus will use only the Missal from Pius XII’s time. Others argue that the See of Peter is vacant since Pius XII (sedevacantists). Others have elected their own popes (there were, at last count, at least 3 antipopes). And so the fracturing natural to schismatics has its way.

In 1989, Archbishop Lefebvre, fearing that he would soon die and leave no one to ordain priests for the SSPX, sought an agreement with the Holy See for the lawful continuation of the Society. After first reaching one, with Cardinal Ratzinger acting for the Pope, Lefebvre reversed himself, and in an act which was ipso facto schismatic ordained 4 bishops without a papal mandate and incurred an automatic excommunication, confirmed a few days later by Decree of the Holy See.

Thus, class, what is the status of The Society of St. Pius X as a whole?

Correction please. Post haste.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Thinkling

    it is appropriate to point out the gaps in both facts and logic in poor reporting. However, it should be noted that the status of SSPX is more complicated.

    The society as a whole is not excommunicated, but some of its bishops are (all of them were at one time, but some have been rescinded). However, the society is not in communion with the global church. What that means is (slightly murky here) its priests do not have permission to perform certain pastoral duties.

    I may be stating these things slightly inaccurately, but the point is the status is not reducible to a sound bite. Although clearly criticism should be levied at the piece for the implied anti-semitic slur against Pope Benedict et al (ironically, one of the conditions Pope B demanded for full reunification of the society was to reject the anti-semitic crucifixion culpability argument)

    • tmatt

      Valid points all. I mentioned the complex nature of the facts in the post.

      But it is wrong, at this point, to say the society is a Roman Catholic group, especially to in any way suggest that the ELEMENTS of the society active in this case are inside the church.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      Thinkling, no matter how complicated the issue is, the bottom line is that the bishops of the SSPX are not in communion with the See of Rome. That’s really all that the journalists covering this story need to know. When you’ve got Bishop Fellay (as reported by Rod friend-of-this-blog Dreher: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/bishop-fellay-lets-pope-francis-have-it/) letting “Pope Francis have it” and saying that he thanks God that the reunification talks with Pope Benedict XVI didn’t succeed, that’s really all you need to know.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Yeah, the SSPX situation is complicated. It’s not as simple as the latest bunch of women borrowing a Lutheran church to hold a fake ordination or a priest who has been dismissed from the clerical state running around performing marriages for the divorced and same-sex couples.

      SSPX clergy can be considered to be valid but illicit; some of their ordinations are valid, and they can exercise certain sacramental powers (the question of are the bishops validly consecrated is a thorny one; on the one hand, they’re not bishops because they are not in communion with Rome but on the other hand they do possess priestly orders and it’s a very fine point about is their consecration invalid as well as illicit or illicit only?)

      Especially with the 2009 revocation of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, it can’t be plainly stated that they are not Catholics or even not Roman Catholics (that is, Catholics of the Latin Rite).

      It’s also further complicated by the fact that Bishop Fellay et al have been careful, even when making criticism as in his recent homily, to proclaim acceptance of the popes since John XXIII as valid popes and to offer a qualified obedience to them:

      “If the present Pope continues in the way he started, he is going to divide the Church. He’s exploding everything. So people will say: it is impossible that’s he’s the Pope, we refuse him. Others will say: “Wait, consider him as Pope, but don’t follow him. He’s provoking anger. Many people will be discouraged by what people in the Church do” and will be tempted to “throw it all away.”

      It’s messy, which is why Benedict XVI tried to clear it up (and he was the most sympathetic to their views pope they could have hoped to get) but our friends cast his peace overtures back in his face.

  • wlinden

    Answer: schismatic

  • Darren Blair

    To me, this says “lack of research” more than “failure of logic”.

    Whoever wrote the article likely either did not have time or did not feel the need to confirm the group’s affiliation with the Roman Catholic church, and so printed the article as-is.

    It’s similar to the number of talking heads who keep confusing the main body of the LDS faith with the various offshoots that still practice some form of plural marriage. The pundit has taken the “It’s all the same to me” approach and gone with it.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    As far as I’m concerned, they are schismatics. The problem is, the SSPX is more or less convinced (and more or less goes about telling everyone who will listen) that they are the last faithful remnant of the True Roman Catholic Church.

    What makes this particular story about the attempt to give a church funeral to an admitted convert to Catholicism (it is useless to speculate how sincere that conversion was or whether or not he died in a state of grace) who was also an admitted Nazi and seems not to have expressed any remorse for his membership or philosophy even more piquant is Bishop Fellay’s recent effusion about Pope Francis:

    “When we see what is happening now we thank God, we thank God, we have been preserved from any kind of Agreement from last year. And we may say that one of the fruits of the Crusade we did is that we have been preserved from such a misfortune. Thank God. It is not that we don’t want to be Catholics, of course we want to be Catholics and we are Catholics, and we have a right to be recognized as Catholics. But we are not going to jeopardize our treasures for that. Of course not.”

    … “The same for the Mass. The want us to recognize not only that the Mass is valid provided it is celebrated correctly, etc., but that it is licit. I told them: we don’t use that word. It’s a bit messy, our faithful have enough regarding the validity, so we tell them, ‘The New Mass is bad, it is evil’ and they understand that. Period!’”

    So if you go to a Novus Ordo Mass on Sunday, you are attending an evil ceremony, but if you decide to use the opportunity to bury an ex-Nazi as a PR exercise, you are preserving the treasure of genuine Catholicism!

  • Bob Smietana

    The SSPX says their founder was not excommunicated.
    http://sspx.org/en/faq-page#n1995


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X