Richard Williamson (bishop)
|Bishop of the Society of St. Pius X|
Richard Williamson (1991)
|Installed||30 June 1988|
|Term ended||24 October 2012|
|Ordination||29 June 1976
by Marcel Lefebvre
|Consecration||30 June 1988
by Marcel Lefebvre
8 March 1940 |
Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
|Coat of arms|
|Ordination history of Richard Williamson (bishop)|
|Ordained by||Marcel Lefebvre (SSPX)|
|Date of ordination||29 June 1976|
|Place of ordination||The International Seminary of Saint Pius X, Écône, Switzerland|
|Principal consecrator||Marcel Lefebvre (SSPX)|
|Date of consecration||30 June 1988|
|Place of consecration||The International Seminary of Saint Pius X, Écône, Switzerland|
Richard Nelson Williamson (born 8 March 1940) is an English traditionalist Catholic bishop who opposes the changes in the Catholic Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He was originally a member of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), but was expelled from the SSPX in 2012.
In 1988, Williamson was one of four SSPX priests who were illicitly ordained as bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, for which they incurred automatic excommunication. The validity of the excommunication is disputed by the SSPX who say that the ordinations were necessary due to a crisis in the Catholic Church. The excommunications, including that of Williamson, were lifted on 21 January 2009, but the suspension of the bishops from the exercise of ministry within the Catholic Church remained in force.
Immediately afterwards, Swedish television broadcast an interview recorded earlier in Germany in which Williamson made statements for which he was charged with Holocaust denial. The Holy See declared the pope had been unaware of Williamson's views when he lifted the excommunication of the four bishops, and that Williamson remains suspended from his functions as a bishop until he unequivocally and publicly distances himself from his position on the Shoah.[dead link] In 2010 he was convicted of incitement in a German court in relation to those views; the conviction was later vacated on appeal but then reinstated on retrial in early 2013. He appealed again, but his appeal was rejected.
After a number of incidents, including calling for the deposition of Bernard Fellay as the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, his refusal to stop publishing his weekly email and an unauthorised visitation to Brazil, Williamson was expelled from the Society.
Williamson was born in Buckinghamshire, England, the middle son of a Marks and Spencers buyer and his wealthy American wife. Williamson attended Winchester College before going on to study at Clare College, Cambridge, where he received a lower second-class degree in English literature. Upon graduating, he taught at a college in Ghana for a brief period. In September 1965 he returned to England and from 1965 to 1970 taught at St Paul's School in London, where records show him to have been a popular teacher and speaker, involved with multiple extracurricular activities.
Williamson, originally an Anglican, was received into the Catholic Church in 1971. After a few months as a novice at the Brompton Oratory, he left. He became a member of the Society of St Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic faction founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 in protest against what Lefebvre saw as the liberalism of the Second Vatican Council, Williamson entered the International Seminary of Saint Pius X at Écône Switzerland, and in 1976 he was ordained a priest by Lefebvre.
Williamson subsequently moved to the United States, where he served as the rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefield, Connecticut from 1983, and continued in the position when the seminary moved to Winona, Minnesota in 1988.
Williamson is fluent in English, French, German and Spanish.
Consecration and excommunication
In June 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate Williamson and three other priests as bishops. Lefebvre did not have a pontifical mandate for these consecrations (i.e. permission from the pope), normally required by Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. On 17 June 1988 Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent Williamson a formal canonical warning that he would automatically incur the penalty of excommunication if he were ordained by Lefebvre without papal permission.
On 30 June 1988 Williamson and the three other priests were consecrated bishop by Archbishop Lefebvre. On 1 July 1988 Cardinal Gantin issued a declaration stating that Lefebvre, Williamson, and the three other newly-ordained bishops "have incurred ipso facto the excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See".
On 2 July 1988, Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, in which he reaffirmed the excommunication, and described the consecration as an act of "disobedience to the Roman pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church", and that "such disobedience — which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy — constitutes a schismatic act". Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, head of the commission responsible for implementing Ecclesia Dei, has said this resulted in a "situation of separation, even if it was not a formal schism".
After his episcopal consecration Williamson remained rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota. He performed various episcopal functions, including confirmations and ordinations. In 1991, he assisted in the consecration of Licínio Rangel as bishop for the Priestly Society of St. John Mary Vianney after the death of its founder, Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer. In 2006, he ordained two priests and seven deacons in Warsaw, Poland for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat.
In common with his colleagues in the Society of St. Pius X, Williamson opposes the changes in the Catholic Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He sees such changes as being unacceptably liberal and modernistic, and as being destructive to the Church. Among the changes he opposes are the Church's increased openness to other Christian denominations and other religions, and changes in the forms of Catholic worship such as the general replacement of the Tridentine Mass with the Mass of Paul VI. Williamson has criticised Pope John Paul II, to whom he attributed a "weak grasp of Catholicism". Williamson holds that the SSPX is not schismatic, but rather is composed of true Catholics who are keeping the "complete Roman Catholic apostolic faith".
Williamson is viewed as being located towards the hardline end of the traditionalist spectrum, though he does not go quite so far as to espouse sedevacantism. In the past, he opposed compromise between the SSPX and the Church leadership in Rome, accusing the latter of deceit and of being under "the power of Satan". He has been reported as viewing reconciliation between the SSPX and the Holy See as being impossible, and he has noted that some SSPX members might refuse to follow the Society in such a direction even if an agreement were reached.
Williamson holds strong views regarding gender roles and dress. He opposes women wearing trousers or shorts, attending college or university, or having a career, and has urged greater "manliness" in men.
He supports authoritarian parenting style, denouncing the film The Sound of Music as "soul-rotting slush" and saying that, by putting "friendliness and fun in the place of authority and rules, it invites disorder between parents and children."
Williamson supports conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of President Kennedy, and the World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theory, denying that the latter were terrorist attacks but were instead staged by the U.S. government. He has also said that the 7 July 2005 London bombings were an "inside job" and propagated rumours about the likelihood of a nuclear attack on the London Olympics in 2012.
Jews and Holocaust denial
Williamson condemns the Jews. He called them the "enemies of Christ" and urges their conversion to Catholicism. He says that Jews and Freemasons have contributed to the "changes and corruption" in the Catholic Church. He has also stated that Jews aim at world dominion and believes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be authentic. Williamson has denied that he is promoting hatred, asserting that "I was attacking the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that includes Jews as well as Communists and Freemasons." He argues that "Anti-Semitism means many things today, for instance, when one criticizes the Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. The Church has always understood the definition of anti-Semitism to be the rejection of Jews because of their Jewish roots. This is condemned by the Church."
Since the late 1980s, Williamson has been accused of antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Citing the Leuchter report, Williamson has denied that millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps and the existence of Nazi gas chambers and praised Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel. During an interview on Swedish television recorded in November 2008, he stated: "I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler", and "I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers."
Lifting of the excommunication
Wishing to heal the rift with the SSPX, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the declared automatic excommunications of the four bishops Marcel Lefebvre had consecrated, as they had requested. The decree was signed on 21 January 2009, the same day that the interview on Swedish television was broadcast. The decision stirred widespread outrage, particularly in Germany, where the interview was conducted and where Holocaust denial is illegal and punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. Reaction from the State of Israel and much of the worldwide Jewish community was strongly negative, and Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote to Cardinal Walter Kasper in order to express his opposition to any ecclesiastic re-integration of Bishop Williamson. In January 2009, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel suspended contacts with the Vatican. The Chief Rabbi of Haifa told the Jerusalem Post that he expected Williamson to retract publicly his statements before any dialogue could resume.
Pope Benedict XVI stated that he deplored all forms of antisemitism and that all Catholics must do the same. The Pope expressed his "unquestionable solidarity" with the Jewish people, and stated his hope that "the memory of the Shoah will induce humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of hate when it conquers the heart of man", and condemned the denial of the Holocaust. Vatican officials stated that they had not been aware of Williamson's views prior to the lifting of the excommunication; as a result, in a July 2009 Vatican reorganization, the Pope tightened control and supervision over reconciliation efforts with SSPX.
Williamson sent the Pope a letter expressing his regret about the problems that he had caused, but did not retract his statements. On 4 February 2009 the Vatican Secretariat of State issued a note stating that Williamson would have to distance himself unequivocally and publicly from the opinions that he had expressed before he would be permitted to act as a bishop within the Church. Williamson responded that he would do so only after looking at the historical evidence for himself. On 26 February, he formally apologized for the offence that had been caused by his comments, but did not indicate that he had changed his views. The Vatican rejected his apology, stating that he needed to "unequivocally and publicly" withdraw his comments. Some Jewish groups have expressed disappointment at the ambiguity of his apology, because he failed to address the factuality of the Holocaust. He subsequently repeated the denial to followers, stating that "The fact is that the 6 million people who were supposedly gassed represent a huge lie."
Bishop Fellay of the SSPX initially denied responsibility, stating that Williamson's statements were his alone and that the affair did not concern the SSPX as a whole. However, he subsequently forbade Williamson from speaking out publicly about historical or political matters, and asked Pope Benedict for forgiveness for the damage done by Williamson's statements. In a subsequent interview he likened Williamson to uranium, asserting that "It's dangerous when you have it," but you can't "simply leave it by the side of the road.
The Vatican declared that "in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, (Williamson) will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father (i.e., the Pope) was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted."[dead link]
In February 2009, the government of Argentina asked Williamson to leave the country over irregularities with his visa, and stating that his recent statements about Jews “profoundly offend the Argentinean society, the Jewish people and all of humanity". On 24 February 2009 Williamson flew from Argentina to London, where he was met by Michele Renouf, a former model known for her antisemitic views, with whom he had been put in touch by holocaust denier David Irving.
Criminal investigation in Germany
On 4 February 2009, German prosecutors announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the statements. In October 2009, a German court, using an "order of punishment" fined Williamson €12,000 after finding him guilty of Holocaust denial. Williamson denied the charges and appealed, paving the way for a full hearing that Williamson need not attend. He did not attend the trial, on orders from his society, on charges of inciting racial hatred in Regensburg, Germany on April 16, 2010, and was found guilty. The court reduced the fine to €10,000. The fine was appealed by lawyers from both sides; the laywer Williamson hired was the former leader of the Wiking-Jugend, an outlawed Neo-Nazi group. The Society of St. Pius X ordered Williamson to find a new lawyer under threat of expulsion. This delayed the appeal which was held on 11 July 2011. At appeal the lower court's decision was upheld but the fine was reduced to €6,500, reportedly due to Bishop Williamson's financial circumstances On 22 February 2012 the higher court dismissed this conviction, finding that the initial charges against Bishop Williamson had been inadequately drawn, having failed to specify the nature of his offence, or at what point his filmed comments came under German jurisdiction, or in what sense he could be held liable for failing to prevent their publication in Germany. On 16 January 2013, he was prosecuted and condemned again, but this time with a much reduced fine of €1,600, because of his "unemployed state". He refused to pay the fine and appealed again, but his appeal was dismissed.
Expulsion from SSPX
In August 2012 Williamson administered the sacrament of Confirmation to about 100 lay people at the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, during an unauthorized visit to the State of Rio de Janeiro. The society's South American district superior, the Very Reverend Father Christian Bouchacourt protested his actions on the SSPX website saying that it was "a serious act against the virtue of obedience." In early October the leadership of the SSPX gave Williamson a deadline to declare his submission, instead of which he published an "open letter" asking for the resignation of the Superior General. In October 2012 the Society expelled Williamson in a "painful decision" citing the failures "to show respect and obedience deserved by his legitimate superiors".
In the first issue of his weekly blog after his expulsion, Williamson wrote: "Hang tight, everybody. We are in for one 'helluva' ride. Let's just make that a ride to Heaven!" And later he wrote: "For myself, I shall attempt to follow [God's] Providence in the ordaining of priests – or in the consecrating of bishops. God's will be done." He called for the establishment of a loose network of what he called "Catholic Resistance" to any proposal by the Society to drop its opposition to Rome. A .fund-raising initiative "for all purposes of the Catholic Resistance patronized by His Excellency Bishop Richard Williamson" was set up under the title "The St. Marcel Initiative".
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- Volume 1: The Ridgefield Letters covering 1983–1988 (2007)
- Volume 2: The Winona Letters Part I covering 1988–1994 (2008)
- Volume 3: The Winona Letters Part II covering 1994–1999 (2009)
- Volume 4: The Winona Letters Part III covering 2000–2003 (2009)
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