SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson certainly has no history of shying away from controversy. He insists that Adolf Hitler had put in place no policy of killing Jews during the Holocaust and no Jews were killed in gas chambers. He also has repeatedly argued that 9 / 11 was an inside job — making him a Truther like ex-Obama Administration official Van Jones.
Why does it matter?
In 1988, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (now deceased) — the leader of SSPX, a tradionalist Society of Apostolic Life that celebrated the Latin Mass exclusively — and Brazilian Archbishop Antonio de Castro Mayer announced their desire to consecrate four new traditionalist Bishops — French Father Bernard Tisset de Mallerais, Spanish Father Alfonso de Galarrata, Swiss Father Bernard Fellay, and British Father Richard Williamson.
The Vatican had reservations about Father Williamson, a recent convert from Anglicanism whose pastoral record was less than perfect. They asked Archbishop Lefebvre to seek out a more suitable candidate. Archbishop Lefebvre resubmitted the request to ordain those four particular priests. When the Vatican asked the Archbishop to delay the ordinations, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated all four without Vatican approval. This incurred an automatic excommunication against all six Bishops and launched SSPX into schism.
Pope Benedict is much more sympathetic to traditionalist impulses in the faithful than John Paul II. On January 24, 2009, he lifted the excommunication on SSPX. They remained in schism but, with the excommunication lifted, they were able to enter into dialogue with the Vatican geared towards reunion. However, the story that resulted from the outreach was that the Anti-Defamation League attacked Pope Benedict XVI for lifting the entire SSPX excommunication due to Bishop Williamson’s historical opinions on the Holocaust.
Although the lack of pastoral sensitivity that Bishop Williamson exhibits is breathtaking, his strange and far-fetched historical opinions do not in any way conflict theologically with the Catholic position. Furthermore, he is not representative of the entire SSPX in his view. In fact, the story drew a sharp rebuke and a gag order from Bernard Fellay, the SSPX Superior General, who removed Bishop Williamson from the seminary he oversaw.
In spite of the dust-up, Vatican and SSPX dialogue has progressed well. In fact, the Vatican has just issued a Doctrinal Preamble that defines all the dogma defined in Vatican II. SSPX on October 7 had a meeting of 3 of their Bishops (all except for Bishop Williamson) to consider the doctrinal preamble. If accepted and published, the Doctrinal preamble will be a benefit to the Church as Vatican II was the first Council that did not come out with a single creed or defining dogmatic statement (like the Nicene Creed from the Council of Nicea). The Doctrinal Preamble could help clarify the sometimes blurry line between the Vatican II pastoral decisions (which could be legitimately criticized) and the dogmatic definitions (which must be accepted by all believing Catholics). SSPX still has not made a public announcement whether they will accept the Doctrinal Preamble (after which Vatican officials indicate SSPX could be formed into a personal prelature like Opus Dei).
What could go wrong?
Enter Bishop Williamson — again.
The Archbishop published a blog post accusing the Pope of theological error (heresy). He said modern Jews by means of solidarity are collectively are guilty of deicide. He said that the Pope and the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs had spoken heresy. He cited Matthew 27: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” This, he maintains, calls down the guilt of Jesus’ death on the collective race of modern Jews (with exceptions).
Where to start?
Clearly, Bishop Williamson has a profound lack of understanding of basic Christology. Traditionalists often cite the Council of Trent (1545). Allow me to do the honor:
“Besides, to increase the dignity of this mystery, Christ not only suffered for sinners, but even for those who were the very authors and ministers of all the torments He endured. Of this the Apostle reminds us in these words addressed to the Hebrews: Think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God, as far as in them lies, and make a mockery of Him. This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews, since according to the testimony of the same Apostle: If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know Him, yet denying Him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him.”
Unlike his earlier historical beliefs, this shows that Bishop Williamson is guilty of defying Catholic dogma. Benedict XVI has just come down extremely hard (rightly so) on an Australian Bishop openly defying Church doctrine on the ordination of women. A reconciliation with Bishop Williamson looks close to impossible. Bishop Fellay earlier this month warned Bishop Williamson he may be forced out of SSPX.
It seems that Bishop Williamson is doing all he can to force Bishop Fellay’s hand.