Father Z Equates Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 with Nazis UPDATED

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, also known (and hereafter referred to) as “Fr. Z,” will surely dispute the claim of this headline, however, this post will show that the proposition “Father Z equates Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 with Nazis” is true, by examining the words used by Fr. Z in today’s post at his web log, “Your Excellencies? REALLY?!?

Fr. Z’s post begins with the YouTube video (below) of a large group of Catholic Bishops, dressed in ecclesial attire, rehearsing hand movements to an upbeat religious song in Portuguese.

Fr. Z follows that video with the following remarks:

Bis pueri senes?

This is supposed to be a rehearsal of some sort.  I don’t know for which event.

I really want to just smile and shrug this off.  I suspect this isn’t what Pope Francis meant when he said that we clerics have to get out there.

This is too far out there.

As a quick aside: I am certainly not one to be offended by strong criticism, even of the Bishops or the Pope. And the opinion given up to this point of Fr. Z’s post strikes me as harmless and even somewhat persuasive, given my general intuitions on the matter.

But then, in the passages and image to follow, Fr. Z crosses into very hot and downright scandalous waters.

In a preventive and defensive disclaimer, Fr. Z anticipates possible critiques of the second image he uses in this post. For the sake of coherence, I will post it here, in advance. The image is a photograph of a single, dissenting person refusing to heil Hitler during a Nazi rally:

Fr. Z  then writes the following disclaimer about what he is not doing, but he also unwittingly describes the analogy he sees between the YouTube video and the Nazi photograph, thereby undermining himself. See for yourself:

DISCLAIMER: Some mouth-breathers out there will claim that I tried to compare WYD to some sort of Nazi rally.  That is NOT what I am about to do.   If there is a better image of non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong, please send it to me.

In the three sentences that follow the disclaimer notice, Fr. Z makes a negative claim — “That [i.e., trying to compare WYD to some sort of Nazi rally] is NOT what I am about to do.” — followed by another claim that, in fact, subverts what the prior negative claim is trying not to do.

Fr. Z tries to say that the only significance of the photo is this: it is a description of “non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong.” However, the only reason why this Nazi photograph is such a powerful description of something that is “just plain wrong” is precisely because they are Nazis. In other words, Fr. Z effectively equates the “wrongdoing” of Nazi’s with the, in his view, “wrongdoing” of the Bishops.

On a close reading, Fr. Z is only partially right in his negative claim. He cannot, strictly speaking, be accused of comparing “WYD to some sort of Nazi rally.” However, he can — and must — be held accountable for making a very direct, logical analogy between the wrongdoing of Nazi complicity with Hitler and the Shoah and the Catholic Bishops merrily gathered at WYD 2013. This alone supports the claim that the proposition, “Father Z equates Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 with Nazis,” is true.

But there’s more.

In the passage to follow, before the image appears, Fr. Z slightly changes his analogical imagery to describe the Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013. He goes on, saying

It is easy for us, in a crowd, in a mob – wherein there is that unpredictable n+x factor involved – to lose our heads and do what everyone else does in the pressure of the moment.  But, Your Excellencies, after watching this, … really?!?

In this passage one might argue that Fr. Z is not necessarily making the same analogy as before, but, rather, pressing a related and more generic one. Fine. It does not follow, however, to argue that a generic “mob” somehow weakens the prior analogy between Nazi rallies and the (poorly) dancing Bishops. Plus, if you are resorting to letting Fr. Z off the hook for calling our Bishops a “mob,” you’re not exactly winning the overall argument.

And there is even more.

Fr. Z then returns to the original Nazi analogy and makes another, slightly different association that further equates Nazis and the Bishops at WYD 2013. He asks the Bishops, condescendingly:

The next time they ask you to do something like this, and they will, please – be that guy? ALL of you?

That guy,” of course, is the lone person, circled in the photo (above), who refuses to heil Hitler. In other words, Fr. Z asks our (and his) Bishops that, next time, they should not act like Nazis in the one respect noted earlier:  “non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong.”

One might quibble that the details of what, exactly, is “wrong” could differ from one case to the other, and that would be true. It certainly does not follow from the proposition I am defending to claim that Fr. Z is accusing the Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 of genocide — or of being Nazi themselves. It is a simile. In Fr. Z’s post, the Bishops are like Nazsi in the respect that they are doing something “that is just plain wrong.”

Nonetheless, it does remain valid to make the propositional claim that Fr. Z, in the post “Your Excellencies? REALLY?!?“, equates the Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 with Nazis on at least two (sufficient) occasions and a third, slightly weaker, one:

  1. By making a direct analogy between the “wrongdoing” that makes the photo of a Nazi rally relevant to the YouTube video of the Bishops at WYD 2013.
  2. By asking the Bishops to abstain from dancing and hand motions next time they are in a situation that is “just plain wrong” through the use of the exact same analog noted in point 1.
  3. In addition to points 1 and 2, Fr. Z also refers to the Bishops gathered as a “mob” which, while being a rather stupid remark, does not add or detract from the proposition I am defending, but is hardly a salutary remark to make on the whole.

Since, as I have shown, this proposition, made in the title of this post you are reading, is, in fact, true, then, it must follow that the truth-value of that proposition can and ought to render serious, truth-based implications.

What are the implications that follow from Fr. Z equating the Bishops at WYD 2013 with Nazis?

That question is beyond the scope of this post. But, as you can imagine, they do not appear to be good ones. All my intuitions on the matter seem to be wholly negative.

My humble suggestion to Fr. Z would be to remove the post, apologize to his ecclesial superiors, and consider giving up blogging for an extended amount of time.

Feel free to chime in with the implications you come up with — my comment boxes are wide open, baby.


In an update, Fr. has removed the photo and all of the commentary I took issue with here. The opening remarks remain. He has also added more updates and media about the event, but no longer associates the Bishops with Nazis nor does he refer to them as a “mob”. While he doesn’t name me directly, he does, rather ungenerously, refer to the objections to the previous iteration of his post as “having a nutty.”

As I anticipated some people had a nutty about this, so I took down the photo I originally associated with this post.  Yes, it was the well-known photo that sometimes bears the caption “Be This Guy”, or words to that effect.

I guess having a nutty is persuasive. I do appreciate his prudent decision in censoring his imagery and commentary.

Meanwhile, my comment boxes will remain open.

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