Bishop Richard Williamson - Will no one rid us of this turbulent priest?
It was with no little surprise that I received the entreaty of Your Grace to communicate on the vexatious episcopate of Richard Nelson Williamson, formerly of his jurisdiction but now fallen in a strange and unhappy manner under that of the Bishop of Rome, where he has no rivals, yeah, not even Your Grace in his attacks on the office of ye Pope. To which he doth add, attacks most grievously personal.
Much information on the sad history of the decline and fall of Bishop Williamson can be found on my website Catholic Church Conservation, so what I say now is in the form of commentary on the latest developments.
Williamson is forgetful what it really means to be a Bishop as he has busily, indeed very busily constructed his own reality at the margins of the Catholic Church. And like anyone who wishes to do this, he has not been wanting for those who he wishes to suck into his world. While as a Catholic, I would be slightly more extensive on the meaning of episcopacy, a good reference point serves as the service for the consecration of Bishops in the Church of England.
What is the point of holding episcopal office if you elevate private and indeed eccentric opinions on the Holocaust to a neo-dogma and a touchstone for religious life? If your whole dialogue as a bishop does not directly concern the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour, such a life in a profound sense is a waste of time and effort.
I heard the Bishop once preach in the glorious Church of St Joseph in Brussels. Ironic indeed, that he dwelt on the Last Judgement and implied that the faithful who have given so much for this church could have been wasting their time, if that dread day was coming as soon as the Bishop thought it was. All too often indeed, those that despair of the Papal office in the Catholic Church become obsessed with prophecies of the end of the world. Williamson’s only rival as a prophet of doom is Al Gore, he who has had the whole world wasting time worrying about global warming.
He scares the faithful with talk of the Last Judgement and is not himself able to accept the judgement of a secular court which has convicted him of inciting racial hatred. He is so keen to appeal not just against the level of the fine but also the judgement itself that he has gone to the extreme of retaining a neo-Nazi lawyer. This lawyer comes from a whole family of neo-Nazis- father and grandfather before him. He is the “in-house” lawyer of the extreme right in Germany and rushes to the legal defence of every odious character who ever perpetrates some vile crime on behalf of this movement. Williamson’s first lawyer was a member of the Green Party, the most anti-church party in Germany. According to his religious order, Williamson is in the process of selecting a third lawyer and will inform the Regensburg court of his decision "as soon as possible." The damage has, however, already been done. Williamson’s change of lawyer has probably saved him, at least pro-temp, from being degraded as a bishop and ultimately stripped of the right to practice as a priest.
Indeed, he took with him when he converted to the Catholic Church, anti-Catholic Church beliefs. His respect for the person and office of the Pope if anything diminished. The Pope was accurate when he said that Williamson never had the experience of living in the wider church and was not a Catholic in the proper sense. A truly Catholic theology lives in the Golden Mean, not at the extremes of heresy or politics.
It was very good to hear the Pope saying that the excommunication ban on Williamson should never have been lifted. It is a pity that this was not clear at the time but the management of the crisis probably demanded it.
One of the problems for the Curia however was that three of the Society of Saint Pius X’s bishops are in good faith. Indeed, it is possible that Williamson’s speculations on the Holocaust were a deliberate attempt to destroy the growing rapprochement between the main traditionalist body and the Papacy. Jewish organisations especially tended to make no differentiation between Williamson and other traditionalists. There are undoubtedly anti-semites in the traditionalist movement - they generally are laity, who do not understand the nuances of theology, and who should be avoided like the plague because they pollute everything that they touch, not least of course, the preaching of the Gospel.
Williamson would do well to listen to the teaching of St Ignatius of Antioch on the silence of bishops.
For Ignatius, God is the true bishop of all (Letter to the Magnesians 3.1). Ignatius pays homage to the Bishop of Philadelphia who “accomplished more through silence than others do by talking” (Letter to the Philippians 1.1). Ignatius insisted “the more anyone observes that the bishop is silent, the more one should fear him. For everyone whom the Master of the house sends to manage his own house we must welcome as we would the one who sent him” (Letter to the Ephesians 6.1).
The dissonant noises, ultimately signifying nothing, of Williamson on matters political has brought mockery on him and worse to the whole Christian Church.
Williamson is part of a wider political problem.
The Holocaust, if not in extent, then in evil intent was the greatest crime committed in world history. Those who deny it are unworthy of a place at any dining table. They have separated themselves off from civilised society. Hitler nearly destroyed a whole civilisation from which, in God’s good providence, Christianity took its roots. And without Christianity, the world will have no chance of civilisation. Hitler unstopped would have destroyed Christianity.
Further, worrying the world and the church with anti-semitism is a complete distraction from the real religious issue of our day, which is the large and growing Muslim populations in the great cities of Europe.
The anti-semitic right is one of the greatest barriers to political progress in Europe. Desperate conservatives danced with this devil in Germany in inter-war years. In our times, conservatives at home and abroad are fighting against the formation of a European super-state with dictatorial powers, not least in economics, as the Irish are finding out. We shall not win this or any battle by partnering with those whom we most fear and whose solutions would include our own political ruin.
An imperative for the conservative right in Europe is a Declaration of Civilisation which any politician of good will and humanity can sign and which would specifically condemn anti-semitism and holocaust denial. This would separate the sheep from the goats among the potential European allies for UKIP and the British Conservatives. This would make for a true ecumenism in matters political.
If these true friends cannot be found, we will find ourselves alone fighting for the freedom and prosperity of our great country. And this fight, my Lord Archbishop of all people, knows is well worth having.