March 6, 2009

Commentary:

The Williamson Affair: Has Pope Benedict XVI Lost His Credibility?

By Patricio Rice

It is uncommon for a Catholic bishop to deny the Holocaust. It is even more of a rarity for a Pope to lift the ban of excommunication against a schismatic prelate who denies the horrific events of World War II, and then invites him to rejoin the Catholic community.

But this happened recently when the Vatican announced that Bishop Richard Williamson, a schismatic bishop who denies the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, would soon be recognized as a bishop in good standing by the Vatican.

This has resulted in worldwide protests from Jewish groups and has become a major embarrassment for the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI.

Soon after the Rome’s announcement, the Argentine government deported Williamson. He now resides in his native England.

Who is Richard Williamson? As a young British teacher in Africa in the late sixties he labored alongside Albert Schweitzer, and he confessed that he was so impressed by the conservative views of writer Malcolm Muggeridge that he converted to Catholicism in 1971. Consequently Williamson joined the schismatic French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905–1991) and his traditionalist and pro-fascist Catholic movement.

The Lefebrvrists reject all modernizing Church reforms introduced by Pope John XXIII during the sixties, specifically the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Lefebre ordained Williamson a priest in 1977 and later a bishop in 1988. He became one of Lefebvre’s chief assistants and was assigned to direct seminaries and formation programs.

Willaimson’s mysogenist views led him to oppose women attending universities and to urge greater “manliness” in men. He wrote: “A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman. Did she check her hairdo before coming into court? If she did, she is a distracted lawyer. If she did not, she is one distorted woman.”

Williamson always expressed controversial views about Jews calling them “enemies of Christ,” urging them to convert to Catholicism. He claims that Jews and Freemasons have contributed to the “changes and corruption” in the Catholic Church.

But denying genocide Williamson crossed the line. This led to international protests and Benedict’s demand that unless Williamson change his views, he could not serve as a bishop in communion with the Vatican.

The church insists that there is no place in Catholic teaching for Holocaust denial. But what about Williamson’s anti-liberal views? A turn-around will not be easy for Pope Benedict. After a promising start as a young theologian in the 1960s, the future Cardinal Josef Ratzinger began to backslide and eventually started attacking liberation theology, accusing it of succumbing to Marxism.

Pope John Paul II appointed Ratzinger as head of the Holy Office in 1981. During the 1980s Ratzinger silenced most Latin American theologians. He then turned on the liberals, those recurring enemies of Rome since the French Revolution. Benedict believes that liberalism renders basic ethics unviable and thereby destroys Western civilization.

Here he definitively espoused traditionalism and began to court the likes of Lefebvre and Williamson, despite their rejection of Church reform. The rollback from Vatican II was now going full speed ahead.

Surprisingly for most Catholics, Benedict later restored the full Latin rite to the Catholic liturgy including the controversial prayer for the conversion of Jews. Moreover, since his appointment as pope, he began to use papal dress discarded many years ago.

Finally, in January in a coup de grace to Vatican Council teachings, he lifted the ex -communication decree against the traditionalists bishops who were admitted once again to Church unity. Archbishop Lefebvre´s traditionalism had triumphed over John XXIII ¨s aggiornamiento.

Williamson appropriately celebrated the event by making his Holocaust denial statements public on the same day. But he had crossed the line. Catholics are now clearly saying “no” to Williamson and “no” to the Pope. The whole Williamson affair has, I believe, done lethal damage to Papal prestige.

It is difficult to believe Pope Benedict’s blasé defense of his actions, saying that he did not know of William-son’s opinions. Could it be that he now realizes there are limits to his power?

As a German, Benedict embraces traditional Bavarian Catholicism with its own brand of anti-Semitism, not very different from Nazism.

For Benedict XVI the future of the Catholic Church depends on its return to tradicional Catholicism even though we may have to become a minority sect in the process. By associating himself so closely with the likes of Lefebvre and Williamson, he has lost his credibility.

There is no easy return for Josef Ratzinger. He has clearly lost contact with mainstream contemporary Catholicism, and his papal leadership is seriously jeopardized. The most reasonable thing he could, but most certainly will not do, is resign the papacy. As lay folk the best we can do is to raise our voices of protest, pray that the Holy Spirit may enlighten him, but be prepared for further scandals.

Irish born Patricio Rice is an attorney who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Email: patriciorice@yahoo.com

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage