Bishop Richard Williamson is in danger of becoming this year's Max Mosley. So I apologise to anyone who is heartily sick of hearing about the Holocaust-denying, woman-hating palaeo-Catholic wacko; but I have a number of updates to the story, some of which are (almost) exclusives.
1. Williamson has been prevailed upon to resign - or, according to another version, been summarily sacked - as director of the Seminary at La Reja in Argentina. A statement on the SSPX's website (French) notes that he "does not wish to do anything that would harm the work of the Society". Like continuing to serve in an official capacity. Where this leaves his status within the wider Catholic Church, to which he was re-admitted along with three other irregularly consecrated Lefebvrist bishops last month, is unclear.
2. He is currently holed up in La Reja, refusing requests for interview. Reuters' Hugh Bronstein reported the other day that - following the Vatican's instruction to publicly accept the reality of the Holocaust - he had gone down with a camera crew to capture the moment on film. Instead, "the seminary gates were locked and a young priest said Williamson still had nothing to say. Another seminarian passed by, jogging in black robes and long pants despite the intense midday sun. He did not want to speak to us either, leaving us to wonder what goes on behind the barbed wire fence around the seminary.
3. He has, however, answered some questions put to him (long distance) by Der Spiegel. In this interview Williamson excused his gas chamber remarks (made on a Swedish TV programme) by saying he had read the Leuchter report, a revisionist account dating from the 1980s, and that it "seemed plausible" to him at the time. It is rather in the nature of Holocaust denial, however, that only people predisposed to disbelief in the reality of Nazi genocide seek out such sources in the first place. So it might validly be asked why Williamson was so interested in the subject.
He also promised to look again at the evidence; he has, he said, ordered a copy of Jean-Claude Pressac's Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, generally regarded as authoritative. He doesn't promise to believe it, however. His formulation is in fact rather ambiguous:
The Society has a religious mission that is suffering because of me. I will now examine the historic evidence. If I do not find it convincing, I will do everything in my power to avoid inflicting any further harm on the Church and the Society.
He was, he declared, merely "a tool" in a wider media-liberal conspiracy and "Germany's leftist Catholicism" to destabilise Ratzinger's papacy. There may, of course, be some truth in that. Liberal and reformist Catholics have never liked the current pope - and incidents such as this one go some way as to demonstrating why. Ratzo's opponents may have jumped at the chance to associate him with a crackpot Holocaust-denier; but it wasn't they who lifted the excommunication.
4. The SSPX is not disowning Williamson. Far from it. In its latest statement the society's PR department notes that Williamson "does not refuse to revisit the propositions that he maintained during the television interview" but merely "does not wish to affirm anything of which he is not convinced." Referring to his new Holocaust homework, the statement urges people to give him the time and space he needs to process the new information:
Far from being a final non-acceptance, or even a delaying tactic, Mgr Williamson's move shows a willingness to inform himself objectively, by studying the theory contrary to that which he has held up until now... Should we prefer Mgr Williamson to adopt an anti-revisionist position on demand? The sincerity of such a position would be more than suspect in everyone's eyes.
5. On the other hand, they have removed the archive of Williamson letters from their website. The letters are, however, still available on the website of the seminary in Winona, Minnesota which he used to run.
The letters are a goldmine for connoisseurs of crackpot ideas. Williamson's amusing views about the Sound of Music and women's dress - quoted here last week - represent merely the small change of his lunacy. The bishop espouses the entire grand conspiracy narrative of the New World Order, in which the world is controlled by the secret machinations of Freemasons, Jews and bankers.
It's a world-view held to by various fringe groups and Internet philosophers: by David Icke, for whom the conspirators are actually extraterrestrial lizards, to fundamentalist Protestant Christians, for whom they are agents of Satan and include the Catholic Church. But whatever the theological or metaphysical position of the believer, the elements making up the vast conspiracy are the same: the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, the Iraq War, the banking collapse, etc. In any major news event, the hand of the evil manipulators can be detected. International bankers, usually Jewish, are invariably supposed to be plotting to institute worldwide socialism - despite having been, until recently, the chief beneficiaries of capitalism.
A long and (even for Williamson) impressively mad rant from September 2002 is entitled State of the Nations: Three Layers of Lies. In it, he maintains that "politicians are controlled by public opinion, which is fabricated by the media, which are tightly controlled by a handful of Judeo-masons, the people who also control finance and the governments." The Judeo-Masons, he goes on, caused the two world wars and the Russian Revolution and "established the Masonic United Nations". They were also responsible for 9/11:
By lies, Judeo-Masonry is preparing for the Third World War. As the Depression of the 1930's necessitated WWII, triggered for the US by the supposed treachery of the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, so we see all the conditions created for another much worse Depression in the US, with the supposed treachery of Arabs last year against the Twin Towers in New York already igniting American public opinion to go to war against Afghanistan and now Iraq. And as we now in 2002 know with certainty that our governments and media told us far from the complete truth in 1941 as to who was truly responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, so we will eventually know that those truly responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers were certainly not those primarily held up as being responsible by our governments and media.
Pigeon-holing Williamson as a "Holocaust denier" is in one sense too easy, for it enables the excuse to be made that he is simply misinformed - and that once he reads Pressac's book his eyes will be opened to the facts of history.
But the Holocaust-denial is simply the most egregious (and socially damning) aspect of his eccentric world-view. As far as I have been able to establish, he hasn't been ordered to recant his view of Freemasons, or his view of Muslims as the "scourge of God" who are permitted to win victories over Christians to punish them for lapses in faith, or Twin Tower "troofism".
Ever since the Holocaust-denial scandal broke, Williamson's colleagues have attempted to portray him as an isolated figure and the society as being in the mainstream of Catholic traditionalism, a view the pope himself appears to share. Yet the other SSPX leaders have (presumably) known about his well-publicised opinions for many years, but it is only yesterday that they saw fit to remove his poison-pen letters from their archive. In truth, Williamson is far from alone. The SSPX is the Catholic Church's equivalent of extreme Protestant sects such as the Westboro Baptist Church. It is, and always has been, a bolt-hole for inadequates and obsessives.
Indeed, the SSPX's founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, shared (and may well have inspired) many of his protegé Williamson's opinions. In 1985, for example Lefebvre was quoted in the French far-right periodical Présent as endorsing National Front leader Jean Marie Le Pen. Here he is, writing towards the end of his life in 1990, in a spiritual testament still available on the website:
At the close of a long life (for I was born in 1905 and I now see the year 1990), I can say that it has been marked by exceptional world events: three world wars, that which took place from 1914 to 1918, that which took place from 1939 to 1945, and that of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.
The disasters caused by these three wars, and especially by the last of them, are incalculable in the domain of material ruins, but even more so in the spiritual realm. The first two paved the way for the war inside the Church, by facilitating the ruin of Christian institutions and the domination of Freemasonry, which has become so powerful that it has deeply infiltrated the governing body of the Church with its Liberal, Modernist doctrine. ...
Lefebvre refers to Gaullism as "the victory of Freemasonry against the Catholic order of Petain" and "the invasion of the barbarians without faith or law! " Petain's Catholic order, it need hardly be said, involved collaborating with Nazi rule and packing French Jews off on trains bound for Auschwitz and its non-existent gas-chambers.
He describes modernising tendencies within the Catholic church as "an open war against the Church’s past and Her institutions". He writes that the Vatican authorities "since John XXIII and Paul VI, have made themselves active collaborators of international Jewish Freemasonry and of world socialism". Pope John Paul II comes in for particular opprobrium as
a communist-loving politician at the service of a world communism retaining a hint of religion. He openly attacks all of the anti-communist governments and does not bring, by his travels, any Catholic revival.
This will come as news to many people, not just in Poland, who look upon the late pope as having played a significant part in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. But I suppose that was all part of his sinister communist plot.
This then was the man who, dissatisfied with the way things were going in the Vatican, effectively set up his own church. Williamson describes him as being "like a window on the interests of God", and in a letter from March 2000 recalls that
Archbishop Lefebvre used to say that we have little idea of all that the Freemasons and their collaborators inside the Vatican are plotting and contriving in order to deliver the Catholic Church bound hand and foot into the power of Christ's enemies, but God has obviously known every detail from all eternity.
It's not surprising, then, to discover that Williamson's opinions are shared by other prominent SSPX members. Perhaps the most significant of these is Fr Franz Schmidberger, who was appointed by Lefebvre personally in 1982 as the first SSPX Superior General. Immediately after the storm broke, Schmidberger, who now heads the Germans section of the Lefebvrist faction, distanced himself and the SSPM from Williamson's views on the Holocaust. However, in a letter written last year, circulated to Catholic bishops in Germany and published (in German) on an SSPX website Schmidberger wrote that "We look on with sorrow as Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI go into a Jewish synagogue". He also maintained that:
With the death of Jesus on the cross, the old covenant is abolished. The Church now encompasses all peoples, cultures, races, social classes. With that, not only are the Jews of our days not "our elder brethren in faith," as the Pope maintained in a visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986. They are, rather, guilty of the murder of God, insofar as they do not embrace the divinity of Christ and accept baptism, the only actions that would distance them from the guilt of their forebears. But Vatican II maintains, wrongfully, that the sufferings of Jesus cannot be attributed either to the Jews of His days nor to the Jews of our days.
In France, links between the SSPX and former members of the Vichy regime run deep. In 1989, for example, Paul Touvier, a former Petainist official, was arrested in the SSPX priory in Nice. The SSPX stated at the time that Touvier had been granted asylum there as "an act of charity to a homeless man". In 1994, Touvier was sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering the execution of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape in 1944, allegedly in reprisal for the French Resistance's killing of the Vichy minister Philippe Henriot. On his death in 1996, a Requiem Mass for Touvier's soul was offered for him by Father Philippe Laguérie, the priest then in charge of the SSPX church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris.
It seems fairly safe to say, then, that there is a strong overlap between membership of the SSPX and far-right views and belief in global conspiracies. That is not to say that all, or indeed most, SSPX worshippers are crypto-fascists - but such people find a more natural home there than they would in say the Quakers.
It's not clear what the future holds for Williamson. Unexpectedly for someone who once wrote a letter entitled "Computers in education cause collapse of ideas, words and thought", Williamson is a keen blogger, calling himself "Dinoscopus". Reuters' Tom Henegan suggests he might have a future as a cyber bishop. For the moment, he seems to be in a world of his own, offering the world his thoughts on Beethoven's Third Symphony - written, he says, on the request of "a dear friend". Is it over-interpreting to read into his account of the Eroica's first movement some coded message about how he sees himself and his current situation? You be the judge:
Really the whole symphony is heroic...the revolutionary expression of Beethoven’s ardent hopes for a heroic new age of mankind to emerge from a tired old order of kings and cardinals...
Leaping into action with two E flat major chords, the hero strides forth with his main theme, the first subject, built solidly out of that chord. The theme goes to war. A valiant re-statement precedes several new ideas of varying rhythms, keys and moods until moments of calm come with the classically more quiet second subject. But war soon returns, with off-beat rhythms and violent struggle, culminating in six hammering chords in two-time cutting right across the movement’s three-time...
Upheavals and calm alternate for the rest of the movement...Notable in the Coda is the fourfold repetition of the hero’s triumphant main theme, climaxing with inexorable logic in a blaze of glory. Lord, grant us heroes of the Faith, heroes both tender and valiant, heroes of the Church!