Pope Benedict recently lifted the excommunication of four bishops who had been consecrated without the required Vatican consent. All four are also members of the Society of St. Pius X, which some observers feel holds anti-Semitic views. One, Bishop Richard Williamson, has widely proclaimed his belief that no Jews were gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

(A few days after this announcement the Vatican clarified that Williamson will have to recant his anti-Semitic views, of which the pope was said to be "unaware." Williams has refused.)

The "automatic" excommunications each of these men incurred came through self-destructing violations as cited in Canons 1378, 1382 and 1398 of the Church's code.

"Crimes" punishable by automatic banishment from the church include:

1) Inappropriate consecration of a bishop;

2) Desecration of the Eucharist;

3) Killing the Pope;

4) Procuring an abortion.

In 1985, the Bishop of Providence publicly threw me out (or said I had removed myself) because of my work as the then-executive director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island and its abortion clinic. Even as those events fade, I cannot help but ponder the logic of undoing the sanctions against these four bishops.

Does Rome's new leniency signal a softening? Or do these four fellow clergy — heads of a group of 1.5 million renegade Catholics around the globe who may threaten Pope Benedict's ultimate authority — account for the Vatican turning the other cheek? If the pope didn't know all the facts, what is he doing?

It is doubtful an assassin of any pope or anyone disrespectful enough to desecrate the Eucharist — "the Body and Blood of Christ" in Catholic teaching — would be treated as gingerly by the curia

Certainly, anyone "procuring" an abortion — even the administrator of the clinic — is unlikely to receive Rome's pardon. Indeed, Boston's Bishop Sean O'Malley, on his blog, supported the pope's embracing of the four bishops as an act promoting "unity and reconciliation," while chastising President Obama for his pro-choice views.

Such reasoning concludes that bishops who publicly dismiss the slaughter of six million human beings — not fetuses, but actual living, breathing, documented men, women and children — can be forgiven. Bishops who say that the gassing of these millions did not happen are apparently innocent, despite evidence in diaries, books, scholarly research, and Nuremberg confessions to the contrary. Those who assist a woman in making a decision to abort a pregnancy at seven weeks toward gestation, conversely, remain unworthy of Rome's compassion.

In embracing one group of offenders, Pope Benedict and Bishop O'Malley reinforce Rome's message to Catholics of late: that Church rules and even God's law apply to those in the pews, while those on the altar may openly sin without consequence.

If life is precious, it is always precious. If we must respect life, we must respect all human lives. If all people are God's children, that includes Jews as well as Christians, women as well as men, and laity as well as clergy.

More that 1.5 million Catholics have probably left the Church because of Rome's hypocrisy and arrogance. We've yet to see movement to "unite" and "reconcile" with them.

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