Today’s Martin Luthers

By Les Kinsolving

It has been more than 491 years since a Roman Catholic priest and doctor of theology, the Rev. Martin Luther of Germany, nailed his 95 theses to the schlosckirche (or castle church) door in Wittenberg.

Thesis 86 was as follows: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”

In June of 1520, Pope Leo X, in the papal bull “Exsurge Domine,” warned Father Luther that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 of his statements.

But the Rev. Dr. Luther publicly set fire to this papal bull in December of that year. On Jan. 3, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo.

The following year, Luther appeared, as ordered by secular authorities, at the Diet of Worms, a meeting of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire. Here he made his stand, in saying: “I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

For this, he was condemned by the Edict of Worms.

But among many German rulers who supported him was Frederick III of Saxony, who had him taken to Wartburg Castle. Here he remained protected for 11 months and was never again threatened with being burned at the stake, as heretics were so often executed.

Today, for the first time in 500 years, the pope is German.

And Benedict XVI’s recent decision to revoke his predecessor Pope John Paul II’s excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the ultra-conservative society of St. Pius X has evoked an uproar among Germany’s Catholic prelates – that is well nigh Lutheran.

  • In a broadcast on German TV, the Catholic bishop of Mainz, Karl Cardinal Lehmann, former chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference, said that Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson – who denies the existence of Nazi gas chambers – has been “a disaster for all Holocaust survivors.”
  • The Catholic archbishop of Berlin, Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky, called for a review of Williamson’s excommunication being lifted by Pope Benedict: “My sense is that a different outcome would be reached. And if it is determined that mistakes were made; no matter on what level, then an apology has to be issued.” (“No matter on what level” surely includes the top – which makes this a clear contention that Pope Benedict could not only have been wrong – but should apologize.)
  • Catholic Bishop Gebhard Fuerst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart declared that the present Holy Father’s revoking of his predecessor’s excommunication has led to “external and internal alienation from the church on the part of many believers, to a betrayal of trust especially among Jewish sisters and brothers in their relationship to the church and to a considerable disturbance in the Christian-Jewish dialogue.”
  • Another German Catholic prelate, who directs the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity, is Walter Cardinal Kasper – who told the Vatican Radio’s German service: “I was not consulted before the Holy Father’s decision. There were certainly management errors on the part of the Curia – I want to be clear about that.”

In view of all of these very serious protests by German Catholic clergy leaders, why on earth doesn’t Pope Benedict revoke his own revocation of Pope John Paul’s thoroughly well-justified excommunication of these extremist and illegally consecrated deniers of the Holocaust?

From Berlin, the Washington Post reported on Feb. 4:

“The Vatican said Benedict was not personally aware of the bishop’s repeated public comments denying the Holocaust, until after the pontiff decided to overturn a decision to excommunicate Williamson and three other renegade clerics 21 years ago.”

Think about that Vatican claim.

Is the public – including 1 billion Roman Catholics – reasonably expected to believe that anyone who is as brilliant a scholar as Pope Benedict would deliberately reverse so serious a penalty as excommunication by his papal predecessor without knowing of any of the many instances in which schismatic Bishop Richard Williamson has denied the existence of the Holocaust?

This pseudo-prelatic extremist, Williamson, continues to do what in Germany is the crime of denying the existence of the Holocaust – for which Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin: “The pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial. The Vatican’s efforts to explain itself are not yet sufficient.”

Astoundingly, Pope Benedict, who has so strongly and commendably affirmed his beliefs in the Holocaust, has still not rescinded his rescinding of the well-deserved excommunication of alleged Bishop Williamson with his movement’s alleged membership of 400,000.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has asked the Holy Father to reverse his lifting of Williamson’s excommunication because: “You can’t condemn anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and then reinstate someone who’s a Holocaust-denier.”