Southern Religion

The Lefebvre movement’s troubled relationship with Judaism

The four Catholic bishops whose excommunication was lifted by the Vatican on Jan. 21 are members of the Lefebvre movement, whose long, troubled relationship with Judaism the National Catholic Reporter documents today.

John L. Allen Jr. writes:

A troubled history with Judaism has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — beginning with Lefebvre himself, who spoke approvingly of both the World War II-era Vichy Regime in France and the far-right National Front, and who identified the contemporary enemies of the faith as “Jews, Communists and Freemasons” in an Aug. 31, 1985, letter to Pope John Paul II.

That helps explain in part why a man with the extreme views expressed by Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies the Holocaust, can find a home there. Other Lefebvre followers have taken similarly extreme positions, as Allen documents:

In 1997, one of the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre in 1988, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, said, “The church for its part has at all times forbidden and condemned the killing of Jews, even when ‘their grave defects rendered them odious to the nations among which they were established.’ … All this makes us think that the Jews are the most active artisans for the coming of Antichrist.”

Nor has their record been confined simply to making statements. In 1989, Paul Touvier, a fugitive charged with ordering the execution of seven Jews in 1944, was arrested in a priory of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in Nice, France. The fraternity stated at the time that Touvier had been granted asylum as “an act of charity to a homeless man.” When Touvier died in 1996, a parish church operated by the fraternity offered a requiem Mass in his honor.

We can perhaps accept that Pope Benedict XVI’s action in no way canonized such views, but rather acted to promote church unity and avoid schism.

We can accept that all that happened was that the four had their excommunications lifted. As far as the church is concerned, all four remain suspended.

We can accept that any further restoration will be part of a long process.

Yet the Lefebvre movement’s anti-Semitic views and sometimes actions and the associated history loom over every aspect of the Vatican’s action.

As Allen concluded:

Early returns, however, suggest that in the court of broader public opinion, disentangling the pope’s logic from the taint of association with anti-Semitism will be a tough sell. The chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, sounded despondent on Monday about where things will go from here.

“I don’t know what kind of resolution there can be at this point,” Di Segni said.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , , | 3 Comments

When faith’s dictates result in a child’s death: Redrawing the legal line

From tragedy comes a likely landmark legal conflict. Kara Neumann, 11, died of treatable juvenile diabetes after her Wausau, Wisconsin, parents chose to pray for her recovery rather than take her to a doctor. Now they’re facing criminal charges which may redraw the line of church/state separation.

Dirk Johnson of the International Herald Tribune wrote:

Kara Neumann

Kara Neumann

About a month after Kara’s death last March, the Marathon County state attorney, Jill Falstad, brought charges of reckless endangerment against her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann. Despite the Neumanns’ claim that the charges violated their constitutional right to religious freedom, Judge Vincent Howard of Marathon County Circuit Court ordered Leilani Neumann to stand trial on May 14, and Dale Neumann on June 23. If convicted, each faces up to 25 years in prison.

Kara’s parents beliefs are clear. Click here to read a testimonial by Kara’s mother, Leilani, on

For believers and nonbelievers alike, the debate is inescapable and it whipsaws across the legal and ideological landscape.

Those who defend the Neumanns see the legal action itself as an unacceptable intrusion on religious liberty.

At David Eells writes:

Neumanns defend your rights now, very soon when Christians refuse the microchip in their hand and forehead and are not able to pay for meds or doctors they will have to trust God. However, then they will be deemed negligent and their children taken away, just as the prophets have seen. You who know what Revelation 13:15-17 means, think about this. Read the laws carefully.

Among those who have read the laws carefully and come to a different conclusion is Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc., which describes itself as,”a non-profit national membership organization established in 1983 to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect. CHILD opposes religious exemptions from duties of care for children.”

Yet CHILD treats the religious issues involved with respect, for example addressing religious attitudes on corporal punishment from a Biblical perspective.

The extreme opposite view from the Neumanns and their defenders in this debate is instead well-represented by Pharyngula, who argues for the legal establishment of a new principle:

Prayer doesn’t work. Enshrine it in the law — prayer is not a helpful action, but rather a neglectful one. Teach it in the schools — when the health class instructs students in how to make a tourniquet or do CPR, also explain that prayer is not an option. Faith in prayer kills people.

The quiet question at the legal core of the intense issues raised is well-explained at Get Religion, where tmatt writes:

The question is where courts draw the line on religious freedom, especially in limiting the rights of parents. As a rule, the limits are defined in terms of fraud, profit and clear threat to life.

But what is a clear threat? That’s the issue. Is practicing Christian Science or being a Jehovah’s Witness a clear threat? Courts tend to say no, especially since those groups tend to have good lawyers. The big question is what to do in precisely this kind of case.

This case does promise to begin rewriting the definitions of the law in ways that make it easier to bring legal force to bear on believers like the Neumanns.

That’s unfortunate, because as you can see the case is awash in distracting emotional intensity, and thus what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was talking about when he said “bad cases make bad law.”

What outcome is the right outcome?


The police report is here [.pdf].

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Crime, Religion | , , , | 3 Comments