Embarrassment for the Catholic Church: Bishop Williamson Unrepentent in Holocaust Denial
Controversial Bishop Richard Williamson continues in his denial of the Holocaust, embarrassing both the Society of St. Pius to which he belongs and the Vatican. But the SSPX is becoming increasingly powerful despite the controversy and is attracting more and more supporters.
Richard Williamson's complaints begin when he looks out the window of his office in Saint George's House, the London headquarters of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Just past the garden, at the base of a small hill in verdant Wimbledon Park, are a pond, golf course, croquet club and, most famously, the tennis courts.
But Williamson would not be true to form if he didn't smell damnation in even the noblest of spectacles. The outfits worn by female tennis players, the bishop says indignantly, "hardly reach past the middles of their thighs." Williamson has noticed female fans wearing even shorter skirts. "Aren't there are any men left who tell their daughters, sisters, wives or mothers that this sort of outfit is only meant for the eyes of their own husbands?"
The world has become a smaller place for the notorious bishop. Since he denied the existence of the Holocaust on television more than a year ago, causing serious problems for Pope Benedict XVI and almost triggering a revolt against Rome by the Catholic faithful, the ultra-conservative SSPX has kept him in virtual quarantine at its Wimbledon headquarters. Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the SSPX, likens Williamson to uranium: "It's dangerous when you have it," he says, but you can't "simply leave it by the side of the road."
'A Huge Lie'
Fellay knows what he is talking about. Williamson has no intention of revising his views on the gas chambers. When Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld sent him a book about the history of the Holocaust last year, he set it aside, unread. "The fact is that the 6 million people who were supposedly gassed represent a huge lie," he wrote recently to his fellow members of the SSPX, noting that "a completely new world order was built" on this "fact." The Jews, he added, "became ersatz saviors thanks to the concentration camps."
Williamson, after refusing to pay a fine of 12,000 ($16,800), faces charges of inciting racial hatred in a trial in the southern German city of Regensburg set to begin on April 16. Although it is unclear whether he will appear at the trial in person, the bishop has already assembled a legal team that includes German lawyer Matthias Lossmann and the British attorney who once represented former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in his fight against extradition.
Both the obstinate bishop's refusal to abandon his preposterous Holocaust theories and the trial in Regensburg are as embarrassing to the SSPX as they are to the Vatican, which is currently in direct talks with the fundamentalists. During the monthly meetings, three theologians from the SSPX sit, almost as they were participating in another Vatican council, across from three papal theologians in the Palace of the Holy Office, which is home to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica. This is as close to the Vatican as it gets. Left-leaning and liberal theologians like Hans Küng have spent their lives dreaming in vain of such an encounter.
The 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, whose reforms helped to modernize the Catholic Church, is high up on the agenda of the members of the SSPX, who want to see it reversed as much as possible. For them, ecumenism is the stuff of the devil, the recognition of Judaism is a source of contention and the modern form of the liturgy is an impossible act of assimilation to the zeitgeist.
Their goal is to be recognized in Rome again after 22 years. The Vatican also wants to put an end to the division within the Church. But Williamson, who has been a thorn in the side of those seeking rapprochement, isn't going away.
If a fundamentalist bishop like Williamson were to become unaffiliated, he would have the potential to divide the church once again. He could consecrate new priests at any time or establish his own, even more radical movement. This would be inconvenient for both Benedict and the SSPX, which is why Williamson is being tolerated.
'These Men Are Rats'
The bishop has a reputation for being unpredictable. Sometimes he gives the staff instructions to tell visitors that he is not home, but on one occasion he sat down next to a Christmas tree for an interview with a video blogger. An interview with SPIEGEL, which had been scheduled for some time, happened to fall on a bad day. Williamson was only willing to appear on a stair landing, and even then, all that was visible of him were one of his arms and his hand wearing his bishop's ring. His voice was easy to recognize, but he refused to speak directly with his interviewers, leaving Lindström to run up and down the stairs, delivering the questions and answers.
Later, Williamson decided to continue the interview with SPIEGEL by e-mail -- even though he was only in the next room. The visit had made him very angry. "We are at war," he raged, "and you are on the wrong side." German liberal intellectuals are as distasteful to him as short skirts on the tennis court. "These men are, at least objectively, rats," he wrote in a reference to SPIEGEL journalists.
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