Bishop Williamson & the Pope

Pope Benedict's efforts to bring back into the church four traditionalist bishops, excommunicated for their ordination by the rebel archbishop, Marcel LeFebvre, back in 1988, seems to have come to grief, especially when it comes to Richard Willamson, an Englishman to whom was entrusted the leadership of the American branch of what amounts to a schismatic church.

Of course, members of the Society of St. Pius X, as they call their organization, don't see it that way. In their minds they are the only real Catholics, the church at large otherwise having fallen into heresy, including all the popes since John XXIII, who began the Second Vatican Council, which in turn they consider to have marked the takeover of the church by the errors of "modernism" -- a term used by Pope Pius X to lump together all the progressive trends of thought which he condemned back in 1910.

Apparently Pope Benedict, who himself has gradually morphed from being the progressive young Bavarian theologian, Josef Ratzinger, into the markedly conservative Cardinal when placed in charge of the Vatican's doctrinal office, and now finally become pope, feels that if he could undergo a conversion of sorts, so can these ultraconservatives, even if they have so far rejected practically everything that has happened in the church since the council ended in 1965.  Several years ago he offered them a peace offering in the form of a "motu proprio" (meaning on his own initiative -- pretty much ignoring the wishes of most of the world's bishops) restoring the pre-conciliar form of the Latin Mass as an alternative to the Vatican II liturgical reform. But rather than meeting this gesture by backing down on some of their restorationist demands, it seems that the pope's concession only re-enforced most of these dissidents in their convictions that if they hang tough, Rome will eventually repent of the rest of its errors and see the folly of its ways.

The Williamson affair has pretty much exposed this illusion -- even if the misguided bishop's holocaust-denying opinions seem to have little or nothing to do with church teaching as such. But that is a misconstrual: while not all traditionalists are holocaust deniers, Williamson’s views are closely connected with the traditionalist rejection of the church's changed attitude (with was initiated by Vatican II and especially furthered by Pope John Paul II's overtures of reconciliation) toward Jews and Judaism.  Then there is as well the traditionalist rejection of ecumenism -- whether it be with other Christian churches, or the even broader outreach to people of many other religions around the world. Add to this the church's having any truck with the UN, its attempts to reach any kind of accommodation to evolutionary science; all of this is a betrayal of true Christianity in the traditionalists' eyes.

However, this latest incident has also exposed, even if unwittingly, another illusion, this one symptomatic of the Vatican's mentality itself. It is the illusion that either error (such as Williamson's denial) or truth (be it of the holocaust or of anything else) can somehow be established by a command or a decree. Williamson has already apologized for the stir he has caused, but only at the same time carefully stating that his respect for authority would not lessen his commitment to the truth as he sees it. He may be dead wrong in what he considers to be the truth. But one can only wonder if the church has really anything to gain if Williamson recants or renounces his error for the sake of his rehabilitation, but without really being convinced he was in fact wrong.

R W Kropf    2/4/09                                     Williamson.doc   09-02-04.html