This past weekend, during a discussion forum at the Hamptons Film Festival, actress Susan Sarandon was recounting her involvment in the 1995 anti-death penalty film “Dead Man Walking,” and stated that she had sent a copy of the book on which the film was based to the Pope. To clarify, she added this caveat during her interview with Newsday; “The last one. Not this Nazi one we have now.”(1)
Almost immediately, reactions to her remark started circulating among the news agencies, anti-defamation groups such as the ADL, and the Catholic community. “Oh my God, she called the Pope a Nazi!” is the sentiment that’s running through several news and opinion pieces on the matter. John Fund, opinion columnist for Fox News just today wrote an OpEd article (albeit a rather poorly edited one!) in response to Ms. Sarandon’s remarks, entitled “Being a Celebrity Is Not a License to Be a Jackass.”(2) As religious groups demand apologies, the Sarandon camp remains mum for the moment.
This is the point in the story where I pull out the blogger’s “soapbox,” and begin to opine. When I read this story on Fox News this morning, I immediately recalled that I had written a notes entry back in 2009 on MySpace regarding this very same topic. (The subject of the Pope and his Nazi ties.) Back in early 2009, there was much furor over the Pope’s lifting of the excommunication of a certain bishop, one Richard Williamson. The reason for the furor, which by the way was shared and expressed by the same Anti-Defamation League that is now wagging its finger at Sarandon, was that Bishop Williamson was, and still is a prominent Holocaust denier and anti-semite. (Not quite as prominent as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but getting there!) Mere days before his “rehabilitation” by the Pope, Bishop Williamson gave an interview to Swedish state television, in which he stated that historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed.” At the time, Rome’s chief rabbi called for an immediate halt to Williamson’s rehabilitation, however the spokesman for the Vatican, Reverend Federico Lombardi, stated that Williamson’s views had no bearing on the decision to lift his excommunication.(3)
Since his rehabilitation, the “Bish” has been unapologetic regarding his alignment(s) with other anti-semites and Holocaust deniers. In 2009, upon arriving in Great Britain from Argentina, Williamson’s greeting party included former model Michele Renouf, who is widely known for her vitriolic anti-semitism.(4) In a November 2010 appeal of an incitement conviction by a German court, Williamson hired attorney Wolfram Nahrath, who had also actively defended other neo-Nazis and was identified as the former leader of the Wiking-Jugend (Viking Youth), a German neo-Nazi organization.(5)
In response to John Fund’s article, I would say that while he may be right in his assertion that being a celebrity does not give one license to “be a jackass,” neither does it prohibit that celebrity from having or expressing their own personal opinions. There’s an idea, a principle expressed in our constitution, a little thing we like to call “Freedom of Speech.” If Susan Sarandon sees the Pope’s actions (and inactions) as being indicative of the type of behavior that was espoused by the Nazis, then she is rightfully entitled to express those thoughts.
Now, we all know that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party leadership were elitists who believed their way to be the only way, with no “highway option.” One could also argue that Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have engaged in this same type of behavior. I would draw my fine young readers’ attention to a 2007 statement by the Pope that labeled Orthodox churches as “defective,” and all other denominations of belief as not true churches, but simply “ecclesial communities.” Simply stated, according to the Pope there’s only one way, and that’s the Catholic way. No highway option.(6)
In closing, Josef Ratzinger is not doing the office of Pope or the Catholic Church any favors, or lending himself any credibility in the way he’s executing the office, especially in his handling of all the recent scandals buzzing around the Catholic Church, like moths around a streetlight on a hot summer’s night. For someone who is supposedly God’s “spokesman” on Earth, I think he might be bringing a lot of this on himself. Susan Sarandon and her personal opinions are the least of the Vatican’s worries right now.