The Case of Bishop Williamson

Published: 2009-02-14

On January 24th of this year news of Pope Benedict XVI lifting a ban of excommunication on four Bishops from the Society of St. Pius X was of little interest outside of certain segments of the Catholic Church. The Bishops were ordained by Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 without the authority of the Catholic Church ultimately resulting in the excommunication by John Paul II.

The official decree issued on January 21st read in part, “On behalf of the faculties expressly granted by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in virtue of the current decree, I lift the censure of excommunication latae sententiae to Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare null of juridical consequences, as of today, the decree released in the past.”

Almost immediately this act of reconciliation within the Catholic Church became an international news sensation as it was revealed that one of the four bishops, Richard Williamson had given an interview with Swedish television in which he questioned the orthodox Holocaust story. Williamson says in the interview which is posted on YouTube, “It is my understanding that according to the best scientific estimates, 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in National Socialist concentration camps, but none of them in homicidal gas chambers.” Williamson further explained, "I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers."

Jewish groups were quick to express their outrage. The usual suspects had statements published throughout the press and the internet with a concentrated effort to pressure the Vatican to change its mind on the excommunication or at minimum to distance itself from Williamson. Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee called the lifting of excommunication, “shameful.” Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles called the action an "astounding departure." Anti-Defamation League spokesman, Abraham Foxman bellowed, "Given the centuries-old history of anti-Semitism in the church, this is a most troubling setback."

Initially the Vatican stood strong. Israel's chief rabbinate then severed ties with the Vatican Israel’s highest religious authority sent a letter to the Pope expressing "sorrow and pain" at the papal decision. Finally, under what truly amounted to the pressure of international Jewry, the Vatican began to distance itself from Williamson. It issued a statement calling Williamson’s comments “unacceptable.” In a front-page article, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano stressed that Pope Benedict XVI deplored all forms of anti-Semitism and that all Roman Catholics must do the same. The Vatican also emphasized that that removing Williamson’s excommunication by no means implied that the Vatican shared Williamson's views.

With this crack in the foundation, various Catholics began efforts to outdo each other in denouncing Williamson. By the end of the week, the Catholic leadership in the German city of Regensburg banned Williamson from entering its churches. Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the Catholic bishop of Regensburg, said that Williamson would not be allowed to set foot in his cathedral or on any other church property. Next, even the Society of St. Pius X publicly dissociated itself from Williamson.

Less than a week into the firestorm, the Pope was forced to issue a statement on January 28th,

“While I renew with affection the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our brothers receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah leads mankind to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man. May the Shoah be for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism, because the violence against a single human being is violence against all. No man is an island, a famous poet wrote. The Shoah particularly teaches, both old and the new generations, that only the tiresome path of listening and dialogue, of love and of forgiveness lead the peoples, the cultures, and the religions of the world to the hoped-for goal of fraternity and peace in truth. May violence never again crush the dignity of man!”

Under pressure to relieve the pressure from the various Jewish groups, Williamson was forced to make a statement. His statement however fell significantly short of the full recantation that Jewish groups demanded. Essentially the statement was an apology to the pontiff for having caused "distress and problems" through his revisionist views on the Holocaust. Williamson noted that his remarks were “imprudent.”

The mob essentially went wild. Fifty Catholic members of the United States Congress wrote to Benedict to express their "deep concerns." They wrote, "We do not question your reasons for revoking the excommunication of Bishop Williamson or your right to do so, but we fail to understand why the revocation was not accompanied by an emphatic public rejection of his denial of the Holocaust."

The Regensburg District Attorney Guenther Ruckdaeschel said authorities were investigating whether Williamson’s remarks could be considered "inciting racial hatred," a crime in Germany, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Israel too would continue to exert its influence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying, "The reinstatement of a Holocaust denier by the Holy See offends every Jew, in Israel and around the world, and humiliates the memory of all Holocaust victims and survivors."

Enough was enough. By February 4th, the Vatican ordered Williamson to "distance himself" from his views "in an absolutely unequivocal and public manner." Williamson however still refused to recant. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Williamson said,

“Throughout my life, I have always sought the truth. That is why I converted to Catholicism and became a priest. And now I can only say something, the truth of which I am convinced. Because I realize that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must now review the historical evidence once again. I said the same thing in my interview with Swedish television: Historical evidence is at issue, not emotions. And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time.”

The pressure has failed to abate. Williamson has been condemned along with the Pope’s decision by Holocaust survivors, liberal Catholics, U.S. legislators, Israeli leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Jewish writer and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Legal charged have now been made against Williamson in Argentina. Argentinean officials said, “We are going to make a formal legal complaint and he may face up to three years in prison.”

The story of Holocaust revisionism’s latest martyr has not played out fully. Chester Himes, an African American author who was no stranger to controversy once wrote, “Martyrs are needed to create incidents. Incidents are needed to create revolutions. Revolutions are needed to create progress.” The progress of Holocaust revisionism – that is, getting to the truth of what did and what did not happen to Europe’s Jews during the Second World War cannot be stopped. There is no doubt that the present is a difficult time for Holocaust revisionists, but the future for the idea that is revisionism is remarkably bright. The truth cannot be jailed.

© 14 Feb. 2009; This article appeared in Smith's Report, No. 159 March 2009

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Author(s): Richard A. Widmann
Title: The Case of Bishop Williamson
Sources: Smith's Report, No. 159 March 2009
Published: 2009-02-14
First posted on CODOH: Feb. 12, 2009, 6 p.m.
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