The Pope's new best friend

Here's "bishop" Richard Williamson of the breakaway Society of St Pius X, a group of ultra-conservative Catholics which split from the Vatican when he and three others were consecrated as bishops by rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. He's sharing his considered views on the Holocaust - for example, "I believe there were no gas chambers."

Forget the plummy accent and the frock. Don't you think he'd look right at home in an SS uniform?

Williamson is in the news because he and his fellow "bishops" have been welcomed back into the bosom of the official church by special dispensation of Pope Joseph Ratzinger. Does that mean he's now a proper bishop? I'm not sure. But it does apparently mean that His Heiliness considers the group's submission to Vatican authority as rather more significant than his repulsive views. Holocaust denial, unlike saying boo to the Pope, is not an excommunicable offence - or even, it would appear, a sin. The Cardinal Archbishop of Paris is said to be delighted.

Needless to say, the action hasn't gone down quite so well with Jewish groups - and doesn't bode well for the former Hitler Youth member's planned visit to Israel in the spring. Many Catholics are unhappy, too. It's not as if the pope hadn't been warned about Williamson, whose links with the far right have been extensively documented. But "paternally sensitive", in the words of the document "to the spiritual unease manifested by the interested party", he decided to go ahead anyway. He is, we're told, very committed to Catholic unity. He's also quite keen on building bridges with the Russian Orthodox church, currently meeting to elect a successor to the ghastly patriarch Alexy. Beyond that, it gets a bit hazy.

Damian Thompson, editor of the Catholic Herald and waspish commentator (and, in his Counterknowledge persona, a champion of reason) seems to be struggling with cognitive dissonance on this one. One of Ratzinger's greatest fans and cheerleaders, he has long been using his Telegraph blog to taunt and undermine his detractors among the English Catholic bishops. Encouraging Anglo-Catholics to defect Romewards the other day, he urged them to "remember that, if they become Roman Catholics, they will be joining a Church led by Pope Benedict XVI, not some grey-shirted placeman from Eccleston Square." Yet his hero has now welcomed back a shameless old anti-semite and his colleagues, whose views seem almost as questionable.

Alas, poor Damian, especially since the Catholic Herald has in the past been particularly active in exposing Williamson. Here's what the Herald told its readers last March:

A senior bishop of the Lefebvrist Society of St Pius X (SSPX) has endorsed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that enjoys widespread currency in neo-Nazi circles.

Richard Williamson, one of four bishops ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, told The Catholic Herald that the document - which supposedly reveals a Jewish plot to dominate the world - was authentic.

He is also on record as saying that the Jews are fighting for world domination "to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem". The SSPX has refused to condemn English-born Bishop Williamson and says it has "no policy" on the authenticity of the Protocols, a Russian Czarist forgery that has been described as "a manual in Hitler's war to exterminate the Jews".

The Society's support for Williamson - who also believes that the Americans planned 9/11 - is likely to end any chance of full reconciliation between the SSPX and Rome.

Er - put that in the Anatole Kaletsky Book of Bad Predictions.

Just the other day, Thompson drew attention to the failure by "bishop" Bernard Fellay, leader of the Lefebvrist faction, to distance himself from Williamson's views. He noted that "Catholics and public opinion throughout the world will be appalled if the Pope does not address this matter before any action [to lift the excommunication] is taken", adding that "I do not wish to belong to the same Church as Williamson - or ... Fellay."

Well now apparently he does, along with around a billion other Catholics. So what's he going to do about it? Come round to the idea, of course. In his first reaction yesterday, he admitted that it was "going to be a very hard sell for the Vatican PR machine" - as though that were the only important thing - but comforted himself with the thought that Williamson was "increasingly a loner inside the SSPX". This despite the other "bishops"' repeated failure to repudiate him or his opinions, of course. "I've been surprised by how many Catholics who are not fans of the SSPX believe that this is the right step to take," he adds, before lamenting that Ratzinger is "in some ways an isolated figure", surrounded by cardinals who "do not show him the loyalty he deserves".

A few hours later, Thompson was "beginning to think that the Pope's gamble will pay off". And in his final thoughts of the day, he was really tying himself in knots trying to justify the situation. Quoting Andrew Sullivan's comments that he was "truly, deeply ashamed of my church", remarks that "those would have been my reactions until about 24 hours ago, when - after reading several careful analyses of the situation - I finally understood why the Pope has lifted these excommunications".

Almost until the moment Ratzinger withdrew the excommunication, Damian was begging him not to. Now, however, it seems that the pope was right all along. Perhaps it's the operation of grace. Instead he wants us to turn our anger on "a man who yesterday signed a law preparing the ground for the killing of countless unborn babies." He means President Obama, who has lifted the Bush administration's ban on funding aid agencies that support abortion. Because that's the real Holocaust.


Anonymous said…
I've responded to this on my blog - I can't cut and paste here and can't be arsed to copy out what I wrote. You have a point - but the Pope, for his own reasons, needed to lift the excommunications and didn't have a technical reason to exclude Williamson. He wasn't excommunicated for Holocaust denial. I did play a big part in exposing him and I'm glad of that. And I guarantee that the SSPX won't be reconciled with Rome if Williamson is still a serving bishop. The Vatican loathes him.
Ade said…
Speaking of mass revisionsim by the Media.

Some Interesting Research

Their New World Order for us Dummies.

What Jaq boots Smithy is really up to with her ID card scheme.

Of course we were warned about the Globalists.

and not just once either.

Do you really believe Oswald could arrange this

or this

or this

or this

What is this non specific 'Change' he keeps talking about, has anybody bothered to ask him.
Who Knows, but it's obviously not this :-
WeepingCross said…
I recall a conversation with a prominent Anglican friend about my own temptations in the ultra-traditionalist direction. He admitted to the same intermittently, but tried to cast his mind back to attending a Lefebvrist church in Paris and encountering not just spiritual conservatives who were fond of liturgical order and correctness, but essentially the Frente Nationale at prayer. 'They're just really objectionably nasty people', he went on. (I wonder whether they started out like that, or have just gone that way?) I can see all Papa Benny's reasons for wanting to reconcile the SSPX - his priority is restating Catholic essentials after all the post-Vatican-2 looniness, and that's fine. But was there any need to lift this excommunication two days before Holocaust Memorial Day? How can someone so clever be so stupid?
Anonymous said…
He does indeed have the look; it's a kind of long muscular pagan sort of face -

I remember Auberon Waugh writing about his admiration for Lefebvre in the New Statesman, in those long gone days when the NS could be read cover ot cover.

Agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph. Good for Obama and bad cess to the Pope.
Anonymous said…
To equate abortion with the Holocaust is a vile, shoddy and morally stunted argument. It is also a rather thin smokescreen for the fact than an ex-Nazi has just rehabilitated a Holocaust denier in the name of a God who supposedly incarnated himself as a Jew.

Counterknowledge was always a bad title. But perhaps calling the blog 'A Catholic Sneering At People Who Have Different But Perhaps Slightly Less Pernicious Delusions' would be a tad clumsy, if more accurate.
Olive said…
Williams believes there were no gas chambers? That's a fairly mental thing to believe, even by Catholic standards.
WeepingCross said…
"To equate abortion with the Holocaust is a vile, shoddy and morally stunted argument."

You can see how it arises: an attempt to make the point that abortion really is morally serious by characterising it in terms of something that the majority of people do seem to care about. But beyond that the two don't illuminate each other, and equating them gets us nowhere.
Anonymous said…
Father Weepingcross, I agree. The Holocaust led to trials and punishments. What do Catholics and other Christian anti-abortionists want to do with
a. women who seek terminations?
b. doctors who perform them?

Jail term? How long, I wonder, would a jury decide was a fit spell inside for a 12-year-old rape victim who couldn't bear to go through with the pregnancy?

If you repeatedly claim someone is a murderer, or an accomplice to murder, you have to put your money where your mouth is, morally speaking. But we hear nothing about penalties from the likes of Damian Thompson, only from the real ultra-crazies who think shooting doctors is a good thing.

This is why I get angry about the way the debate is conducted by the antis. The Thompsons and Widdecombes of this world are getting a 'free ride', constantly proclaiming their (supposed) moral superiority over the rest of us while never having the guts to engage with practical realities.
WeepingCross said…
Yes indeed. I don't want to get into a huge debate about abortion, but just want to point out another moral ambiguity. I am of course anti-abortion, in theory (very few people could ever be 'pro-abortion' as opposed to 'pro-choice'). But I know several women friends who strongly suspect they were pregnant, having missed a period, and then had an unusually heavy one. If, as we are told, one pregnancy in every three end in spontaneous miscarriage, why is there no Church rite for recognising this colossal loss of what are technically human beings? Why doesn't the Church hold funeral services for blood-soaked sanitary towels? Sorry to put it so brutally, but you see what I mean.
WeepingCross said…
I suppose you could claim some sort of coherence by denying any judicial punishment for anyone for anything: 'vengeance is mine, says the Lord'. But I don't see much intersection between Christian anti-abortionists and Christian anarchists.

Still the most terrible funeral I've conducted was for a miscarried baby, just below the legal abortion limit. Just me, the parents, and a little white box, not even a coffin. It struck me that, socially speaking, the moral status of this creature - whatever it was in the eyes of God - was entirely determined by its parents. For these two, it was a human being in which they invested love and hope. For another couple, it might have had the moral status of a tumour. Funny universe we live in.
Anonymous said…
Again, I heartily agree. If a couple want a child, losing it at any stage of the pregnancy is a terrible thing. Which is I suppose proof that we are to some extent made 'real people' by love, not law.

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