|Pope's PR machine backfires|
Prince Philip’s crown as the public figure prone to the greatest PR gaffs has surely now been stolen by Pope Benedict XVI with his latest proclamation.
At a stroke the German pontiff has undone probably 50 years of growing ties and understanding between Christians and Jews and stirred a diplomatic maelstrom in the process.
The lifting of the excommunication of the British Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson has caused consternation across the globe including disbelieve among moderate Catholics.
Just this week Bishop Williamson, gave an interview to Swedish TV in which he said: “There were no gas chambers.”
He has also made comments endorsing the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Relations between the Catholic Church and world Jewry had been improving since the 1965 Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which included the statement: “The Church deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism levelled at any time or from any source against the Jews.”
But coming on the back of the Pope’s revival of the Tridentine Mass last year with its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews, this latest proclamation has seen relations between the Vatican and the Jewish faith plummet to their lowest level since the Holocaust.
The fallout has started already; the chief rabbinate of Israel has cancelled a planned meeting with Catholic officials. The head of Germany's Jewish community has also pulled out, reportedly “enraged”.
All of which has forced the Vatican PR machine into overdrive to apologise, explain and ultimately limit the damage that such a naïve proclamation has caused between two of the worlds largest religions.
What is even more astounding is that such a proclamation could be made by a Pope brought up in Hitler’s Germany, he of all people should surely be aware of the sensitivities around this whole subject. Indeed, voicing such views as the Bishop did in Germany today would land him in jail.
His attempts after the fact to express “solidarity” with Jews have cut little ice. This is probably the most serious blunder during a papacy that has so far all too often caused offence: to Muslims, to Anglicans, to homosexuals and now to Jews.
The Pope is an intelligent man, it is unthinkable to ascertain that he didn’t know what he was doing, and frankly crass to try and half heartedly spin his way out of this crisis.
So we have to believe his actions were intended which leads us to something more sinister. That there is a growing belief within the Catholic hierarchy that the desire to assert conservative Catholic doctrine overrides everything else, no matter what the consequences or the harm done.
Bishop Williamson is one of four followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a conservative who fiercely opposed the Vatican's reforms of the 1960s, and was excommunicated. They particularly opposed the declaration “Nostra Aetate”, according to which Jews are the “older brothers” of Christians.
The lifting of their excommunication could be seen as a sop to Catholic traditionalists who the Pope wants on side in his fight against growing liberal questioning of established doctrine.
The signal sent from Rome this week is depressing. All it does is reinforce Jewish suspicions that the Catholic faith is anti-Semitic right to the top of the tree.
It has done untold damage at a time when Christians should be working to reconcile a situation in the Middle East that could have grave consequences for us all. It makes the pontiff look naive or manipulative depending on your views, neither of which is good for someone supposedly providing spiritual guidance for millions.
Whatever he was trying to achieve it has misfired spectacularly.
Prince Philip has much to do if he is to reclaim his crown.