Richard Williamson (bishop)

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His Excellency, the Most Reverend
Richard Williamson
Bishop Richard Williamson.jpg
Richard Williamson (1991)
Ordination 29 June 1976
by Marcel Lefebvre
Consecration 30 June 1988
by Marcel Lefebvre
Personal details
Born (1940-03-08) 8 March 1940 (age 78)
Buckinghamshire, England
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic
Alma mater Winchester College,[1]
University of Cambridge,[1]
International Seminary of Saint Pius X

Latin: "Fidelis Inveniatur"

English: "Found Faithful"
Coat of arms Richard Williamson's coat of arms
Ordination history of
Richard Williamson
Priestly ordination
Ordained by Marcel Lefebvre (SSPX)
Date of ordination 29 June 1976
Place of ordination The International Seminary of Saint Pius X, Écône, Switzerland
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecrator Marcel Lefebvre (SSPX)
Co-consecrators Antônio de Castro Mayer (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 Saint Pius X (SSPX), but was expelled from the society 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 ipso facto automatic excommunication.[2] The validity of the excommunication has always been denied by the SSPX, who argue that the consecrations 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.[3]

Immediately afterwards, Swedish television broadcast an interview recorded earlier at the SSPX's seminary in Zaitzkofen, Bavaria. During the interview, Williamson expressed a belief that Nazi Germany did not use gas chambers during the Holocaust and that a total of between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews were killed. Based upon these statements, the Bishop was immediately charged with and convicted of Holocaust denial by a German court. The Holy See declared that Pope Benedict had been unaware of Williamson's views when he lifted the excommunication of the four bishops,[4] and that Williamson would remain suspended from his episcopal functions until he unequivocally and publicly distanced himself from his position on the Holocaust.[5][1] In 2010 he was convicted of incitement in a German court in relation to those views; the conviction was later vacated on appeal[6] but then reinstated on retrial in early 2013.[7] He appealed again, but his appeal was rejected.

After a number of incidents, including calling for the resignation 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 in 2012.[8] After leaving the Society, Williamson affiliated himself with the SSPX Resistance, who oppose the Society's potential reconciliation with Rome. He has since consecrated Jean-Michel Faure and Tomás de Aquino Ferreira da Costa as bishops in 2015 and 2016, respectively, meaning that he is once again excommunicated.

Early life[edit]

Williamson was born in Buckinghamshire, England,[9] the middle son of a Marks and Spencers buyer and his wealthy American wife.[10] Williamson attended Winchester College before going on to study at Clare College, Cambridge, where he received a lower second-class[11] degree in English literature.[12] Upon graduating, he taught at a college in Ghana for a brief period.[9][10] 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.[10]

Williamson, originally an Anglican, was received into the Catholic Church in 1971.[13] After a few months as a postulant at the Brompton Oratory, he left.[10] He became a member of the Society of Saint 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.[9] Williamson entered the International Seminary of Saint Pius X at Écône, Switzerland, and in 1976 he was ordained a priest by Lefebvre.[12]

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.[12][14]

Williamson is fluent in English, French, German and Spanish.[15]

Consecration and excommunication[edit]

In June 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate Williamson and three other priests (Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and Alfonso de Galarreta) 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 June 17, 1988 Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent the four priests a formal canonical warning that they would automatically incur the penalty of excommunication if they were to be consecrated by Lefebvre without papal permission.

On June 30, 1988 Williamson and the three other priests were consecrated bishop by Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer. On July 1, 1988 Cardinal Gantin issued a declaration stating that Lefebvre, de Castro Mayer, Williamson, and the three other newly ordained bishops "have incurred ipso facto the excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See".

On July 2, 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".[16] 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."[17]

The SSPX denied the validity of the excommunications, saying that the consecrations were necessary due to a moral and theological crisis in the Catholic Church.[18][19][20]

Episcopal duties[edit]

After his episcopal consecration Williamson remained rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota.[14] 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.[citation needed] In 2006, he ordained two priests and seven deacons in Warsaw, Poland for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat.[21]

In 2003 Williamson was appointed rector of the Seminary of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix in La Reja, Argentina.[13]


Williamson celebrating Mass in 1991


In common with many other traditionalists, 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.[22][23][24] Among the changes he opposes are the Church's increased openness to other Christian denominations and other religions,[22][25] 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".[26] Williamson holds that the SSPX is not schismatic, but rather is composed of true Catholics who are keeping the "complete Roman Catholic apostolic faith".[22][23][24][27]

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.[28][29][30] In the past, he opposed compromise between the SSPX and the Church leadership in Rome,[31][32] accusing the latter of deceit[29] and of being under "the power of Satan".[22][30] 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.[12][32][33]


Williamson holds strong views regarding gender roles. He opposes women wearing trousers or shorts,[34][35][36] women attending college or university,[37] and women having careers.[38][39] He has urged greater "manliness" in men.[35][36]

He supports an 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."[10][40][41][42]

Williamson supports conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theory, denying that the September 11 attacks were foreign terrorist attacks and claiming they were instead staged by the U.S. government.[12][36][43] 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.[44]

Jews and Holocaust denial[edit]

Williamson condemns the Jewish religion.[45] He called them the "enemies of Christ" and urges their conversion to Catholicism.[46][47][48] He says that Jews and Freemasons have contributed to the "changes and corruption" in the Catholic Church.[49][50][51][46] He has also stated that Jews aim at world dominion[12][52] and believes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be authentic.[12] Williamson has denied that he is promoting hatred,[46][47] asserting that "I was attacking the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that includes Jews as well as Communists and Freemasons."[47] 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."[53]

Since the late 1980s, Williamson has been accused of Holocaust denial.[46][50][51][54][55] Citing the Leuchter report,[53] Williamson has denied that millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps and the existence of Nazi gas chambers[13][56][57] and praised Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel.[46][47][50][51] 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",[57] and "I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers."[13][56][58]

Lifting of the excommunication[edit]

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.[55][56][59] The decree was signed on 21 January 2009, the same day that the interview on Swedish television was broadcast.[56][60][61] The decision stirred widespread outrage,[56] particularly in Germany, where the interview was conducted and where Holocaust denial is illegal and punishable by imprisonment of up to five years.[62] 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 Williamson.[63] 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.[64]

Pope Benedict XVI stated that he deplored all forms of antisemitism and that all Catholics must do the same.[65] 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",[66] and condemned the denial of the Holocaust.[67][68] Vatican officials stated that they had not been aware of Williamson's views prior to the lifting of the excommunication;[69][4][70] as a result, in a July 2009 Vatican reorganization, the Pope tightened control and supervision over reconciliation efforts with SSPX.[71]

Williamson sent the Pope a letter expressing his regret about the problems that he had caused, but did not retract his statements.[72][73] 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.[74][75] Williamson responded that he would do so only after looking at the historical evidence for himself.[76] 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.[77][78] 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 consensus opinion about the Holocaust.[77] 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."[15]

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.[79] 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.[80] 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."[15]

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."[5][1]

In Argentina[edit]

Williamson was removed as the head of the seminary in La Reja, Argentina[57] and Bishop Fellay stated that if Williamson again denied the Holocaust, he would be excluded from the society.[65][81]

In February 2009, the government of Argentina asked Williamson to leave the country over irregularities with his visa, and stated that his recent statements about Jews "profoundly offend Argentinian society, the Jewish people and all of humanity".[82] 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.[53][83][84][85]

Criminal investigation in Germany[edit]

On 4 February 2009, German prosecutors announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the statements.[86] In October 2009, a German court, using an "order of punishment" fined Williamson €12,000 after finding him guilty of Holocaust denial.[87][88] Williamson denied the charges and appealed, paving the way for a full hearing that Williamson need not attend.[88][89] He did not attend the trial, on orders from his society, on charges of inciting racial hatred in Regensburg, Germany on 16 April 2010, and was found guilty. The court reduced the fine to €10,000.[90] The fine was appealed by lawyers from both sides; the lawyer Williamson hired was the former leader of the Wiking-Jugend, an outlawed Neo-Nazi group.[91] The Society of St. Pius X ordered Williamson to find a new lawyer under threat of expulsion.[91][92] This delayed the appeal[93] 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 Williamson's financial circumstances.[94][95] On 22 February 2012 the higher court dismissed this conviction, finding that the initial charges against 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.[6] 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,[96] but his appeal was dismissed.[97]

Expulsion from SSPX[edit]

In August 2012 Williamson administered the sacrament of confirmation to about 100 laypeople 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, Father Christian Bouchacourt, protested against his action on the SSPX website, saying that it was "a serious act against the virtue of obedience."[98] 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.[8][99] On October 4, 2012 the Society expelled Williamson in a "painful decision" citing the failures "to show respect and obedience deserved by his legitimate superiors".[8][100]

SSPX Resistance[edit]

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!"[101] 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."[102] 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.[103] 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".[104] The network of SSPX splinter groups is now collectively known as SSPX Resistance.

On 19 March 2015, Williamson ordained Jean-Michel Faure, a former member of the SSPX, as a bishop in a ceremony in Nova Friburgo, Brazil. Faure had, like Williamson, opposed reconciliation discussions between the Society and the Vatican. As this was without papal mandate, both Faure and Williamson (again) have incurred a latae sententiae excommunication.[105] The SSPX condemned the consecration as "not at all comparable to the consecrations of 1988" and as proof that Williamson and Faure "no longer recognize the Roman authorities, except in a purely rhetorical manner."[106]

Exactly one year later, Williamson consecrated Tomás de Aquino Ferreira da Costa as a bishop in Brazil. This consecration also took place without papal approval.[107] It was announced that Williamson intended to consecrate a third bishop, Gerardo Zendejas, on May 11, 2017. The consecration was held at St. Athanasius Church in Vienna, Virginia.[108]


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  4. ^ a b "Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre (March 10, 2009)". La Santa Sede. 2009-03-10. Retrieved 2018-08-27. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. 
  5. ^ a b Magister, Sandro (2009-02-04). "Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication". L'espresso. Retrieved 2018-09-11. 
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  49. ^ National Catholic Reporter, 30 March 2001, quoting a 3 October 2000 letter by Williamson.
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  51. ^ a b c McAteer, Michael (14 April 1989). "Chief Canadian bishop denounces clergyman's anti-Jewish comments". The Toronto Star. pp. A11. 
  52. ^ 1 February 1991 Letter Archived 6 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
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  92. ^ General House Press Release
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  101. ^ Eleison Comments CCLXXVI ― 27 October 2012.
  102. ^ Eleison Comments CCLXXVIII ― 10 November 2012.
  103. ^ Catholic Herald, 9 November 2012, p. 2, "Expelled bishop urges network of 'Catholic resistance'"
  104. ^ The St. Marcel Initiative
  105. ^ Glatz, Carol. "Bishop Williamson is excommunicated after illicitly ordaining a bishop", Catholic Herald, 19 March 2015
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  108. ^ "Statement from the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge on the Consecration of Father Gerardo Zendejas, Member of an Independent Church". Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington. May 19, 2017. Retrieved January 23, 2018. 


  • The Rural Solution: Modern Catholic Voices on Going Forward to the Land (2003, with P. Chojnowski, W. Marx, W. Nutting, C. McCann)
  • Letters from the Rector by Bishop Richard Williamson
    • 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)

External links[edit]