20 November 2010

The Perils of the Prelate-Press Interview, Part II [UPDATED}

[UPDATE: Rorate Caeli is reporting that Bishop Williamson has discharged his new attorney objected to by Bishop Fellay]

The second media flap of the day involves Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX. The story arises from the news is that His Excellency has switched lawyers for his defense against charges of Holocaust denial set for trial in Germany.

(N.B. Nothing I will write below changes the fact that prosecuting someone for speech, or one's own personal opinion, is absolutely repugnant and unconscionable. It is completely antithetical to a free society, if anyone was under the illusion that such a thing exists in Western Europe. One may as well prosecute someone who doubts that Washington crossed the Delaware, or that Leonardo da Vinci ever lived. It doesn't matter whether Williamson's assertions-- actual or imputed-- are true.)

Ordinarily the choice of one's legal counsel is not a controversial or newsworthy thing, but when it is it is usually because the lawyer hired or fired is of some renown. This time is no different.

You will recall that Bishop Williamson's interview with a Swedish television operation, which interview took place in Germany long before the Pope lifted the SSPX excommunications, were published just a few days before the Vatican's announcement, the timing of which was suspiciously convenient to embarrass the SSPX and the Holy Father, and which nearly sunk the whole deal. The unfair reporting of it made it impossible for the SSPX to shake charges of anti-semitism without finally casting Bishop Williamson into a forced sabbatical.

I wondered why Williamson, regardless of his beliefs on the subject, allowed himself to be interviewed for publication, in Germany no less, about a topic that has nothing to do with his vocation or mission within the Society. I know there are many in the press, and many "liberal" Catholics, who would love to sink any reconciliation of the SSPX. But that incident made me wonder if Williamson himself wasn't of the same mind.

Now here is the latest news: Bishop Williamson's new lawyer, Wolfram Nahrath, is a member of the National Democratic Party-- described in the press as a "far right" political party. Now, ordinarily, the press defining a party as far-right could encompass the Green Party, so I wouldn't get excited. But in this case the nature of the party is not doubted by the Society, and it has indicated it will take action.

In a statement from the SSPX itself, it states that this lawyer indeed has ties to neo-Nazi groups. Bishop Fellay has informed Bishop Williamson that he must reverse his decision or else he will be expelled. This is translation of the statement in French:

The Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has come to know through the press of Bishop Richard Williamson's decision, ten days before his trial, to replace the lawyer entrusted with his defence with a lawyer openly tied to the neo-Nazi movement in Germany and some of its groups.

Bishop Fellay has given Bishop Williamson a formal order to reverse this decision and to avoid allowing himself to serve as a tool of certain political theses which are entirely alien to his mission as a Catholic bishop at the service of the Fraternity of St Pius X.

Disobeying this order will result in Bp Williamson's incurring exclusion from the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X.

Menzingen, 20th November 2010
Fr Christian Thouvenot, Secretary General

Really, regardless of the underlying controversy and in light of the press beating the SSPX and the Holy Father took from it, there is no other option available to the Society than to issue this ultimatum. Not if it wishes to operate in Europe. Not if it wishes to have credibility enough to allow it to operate without censure. Not if it wishes to ever reach a reconciliation with Rome. Not if it wishes to attract souls to Christ without severe obstacles to being received in this day and age.

Williamson himself acknowledged the damage to the Society when he apologized for issuing his remarks last year. He basically invited Bishop Fellay to cast him into the sea, like Jonas, if it would protect the Society.

Again, Bishop Williamson's choice of a lawyer is his own. Fine. This choice doesn't bode well for his chance of legal success in Germany, but this assumes there could be a fair trial for a "crime" that shouldn't exist. All that being said, it is as though Williamson now begs Fellay to get rid of him. Perhaps he doesn't want to be a part of an SSPX rapprochement he sees as inevitable. Or perhaps he is just desperate to throw one more spanner into the works.

I feel sorry for the Holy Father. He will get it from all sides now. Watch for the Church's enemies to push for excommunication again. However, the holding of heterodox history opinions isn't listed as a ground for that penalty in the Code of Canon Law.

To be a fly on the wall at Econe...


X said...

"Yet no man spoke openly for him, for fear of the Jews."

Anonymous said...

X said...
"Yet no man spoke openly for him, for fear of the Jews."

Then why don't you, "X" and not be afraid to sign your name?

Rory said...

X suggests that fear of the Jews is the underlying motive for why his fellow bishops and priests seem uninclined to speak out for Bp. Williamson. There is no question that a public figure who says the slightest word which can be interpreted as anti-semitic can be safe in doing so. There may be fear of being falsely smeared as anti-semitic, but I am not persuaded that this is the probable motive.

As parishioner of an SSPX chapel who has had the pleasure of dining with and taking Bp. Williamson to the airport, I confess without fear of the Jews, that I think he may be right about the Holocaust. The SSPX is not saying any of us have to believe in gas chambers or a certain number of dead. It cannot be an article of faith. The SSPX is saying that if we would be imprisoned or martyred, it should be for preaching the doctrines and morals of the Catholic faith. That a bishop would be so committed to a teaching of diminished, merely natural value, is confusing to outsiders. There must be no mistaking to the outside world that the SSPX is committed to any school of thought regarding Hitler's final solution. This is not for the Church or the Society to say. That is why, believing in my own and Bp. Williamson's rights before God and the Catholic Church to believe in a diminished Holocaust if we should be so inclined individually, I also support the prudence of the Church's (and the SSPX's) disassociation from a bishop who would not submit to public silence on such a relatively unimportant, but politically explosive question.

It is a testament to the insanity of German society when a foreigner can be prosecuted and imprisoned for denying that Germans killed as many Jews as the Jews say they did! It must be some kind of psychosis to insist as the grandchildren of the operators of the Concentration Camps do (against their own grandfathers), that a particular historical claim against their people needs to be defended with the arm of the law. But it is also very questionable for a Catholic bishop, whose duty is the salvation of souls to be publicly involved with this question.

I don't know how many Jews were killed and I don't know if they were gassed. But the claims of the Jews and the grandchildren of their German persecutors sure seem suspicious when the "facts" require the force of law. There is no question that throughout history, different groups have grossly exaggerated criminal behavior for the purpose of political and religious propaganda. An American Catholic needs look no further than the so-called "Boston Massacre" or Foxe's Book of Martyrs to see how ideological enemies hyperbolize "facts" to gain mileage for their ideas.

Given the hullabaloo, I tend to lean to Bp. Williamson's position. But a Catholic bishop should be martyred for supernatural truth if anything, not for doubtful historical conjecture, and not even for such a relatively unimportant principle as academic freedom. His vocation is the salvation of souls, and the distraction from this paramount task is the reason why Bp. Fellay is threatening to be rid of what appears to be a continuing commitment to the distraction. Without fear of the Jews, I believe Bp. Fellay is making the prudent, charitable move, supernaturally motivated by a concern for lost souls.


thetimman said...

Excellent comment, Rory.

Love Jewish said...

I think that the Bishop being tried for his thoughts is absolutely ludicrous. It really doesn't matter if he disagrees that millions of Jewish people were given gas in chambers. Most of them were starved and died of illness from malnutrition. If it is so very important, then I suggest instead of arresting Williamson, put forth the evidence to disprove his point. Oh, I guess there actually isn't any concrete evidence, is there?

Williamson should apologize and just go about being a bishop. His opinion won't change anything, but it does embarrass the Church, who must live with all the sheeps' outrage.

StGuyFawkes said...

I get nervous when anyone thinks holocaust denial is anything other than an indirect assault against natural law. Historical truth like natural truth, or the truths of reason applied to nature, is founded on faith in the senses (as Aquinas would say)and natural reason's ability to make sense of phenomena.

The ocean of facts and testimonies surrounding the mass murder of the Jews drenches any coy "theses" as to whether the holocaust happened differently, or not at all. Historical revisionists, like His Excellancy Williamson are being willfully obtuse and are asserting that facts and reason are disconnected.

Having said all that, yes I agree, if someone wants to maintain these Mickey Mouse "theses" they should not be persecuted or pursued in law.

Rory has the whole thing almost right. It's a scandal for a priest to be getting himself involved in matters so un-priestly.

However, the French statement says that Bishop Williamson should "revenir sur cette décision et de ne pas se laisser instrumentaliser par des thèses politiques totalement étrangères à sa mission d’évêque catholique au service de la Fraternité Saint-Pie X."

I translate "these" to mean "argument" not "thesis." The statement is subtle in as much as it may be read as saying that the "holocaust denial" arguments are totally foreign to the mission of the Church.

That means either the whole "revisionist" line of thought is a sideshow having no religious meaning, or it might be thought to at least imply that the whole line of thought is "contrary" to the mission of the Church in as much as the viewpoint is "foreign" or "alien" to Catholicism.

In a Church which espouses the possiblility of a Catholic Humanism whereby all the liberal arts and sciences, History included, are but partners with Catholic Doctrine and not "alien" to it, this statement hints that Williamson's "thesis" might be just a little suspicious on religious grounds.

I think that the letter suggests that Bp. Williamson's thesis on the Holocaust is "alien" to Catholicism in the way that the novels of Mary Gordon may be literature, and may be "catholic" but are certainly not "Catholic" in their being anything but "alien" to the mission of the Church.

I'm reading a lot into a statement which I credit with great subtlety.

St. Guy.

Anonymous said...

St Guy,

Good thoughts. The statement says to me that his superior is imploring him to review his decision and not to let himself become an instrument of these political theories/claims which are completely foreign to the mission of a Catholic bishop in the service of SSPX.

So, his superior is warning Bp. Williamson not to allow himself to be a tool of the holocaust deniers. Such a decision is abhorrent on its own, plus it really takes him outside of the mission and responsibilities of a Catholic bishop to get involved in such matters.

Rory states the situation rather well also.

X said...

This just in... King Henry the VIII, head of the Catholic Church of England, so far as the law of God allows, has threatened the criminal Sir Thomas More with expulsion from the Church of England should he persist in allowing himself to be represented in the Kings Court by a known and seditious traitor, i.e., himself.
In other news the pursuit of truth is never unpriestly.
Nor is the "Holocaust" relatively unimportant. It is in fact the chief myth of the various mythologies of W.W.II which are the very foundations of the so-called morality of the Western World Order today, such as it is. This can be seen by merely observing the ferocity of Williamson's attackers, and indeed anyone who dares challenge this facade.
While there may be an "ocean" of testimonies concerning the gassings there isn't even a tear drop of facts. I can bury you with facts and figures, logic and reasoning as to why mass gassings could not have happened. But answer me this, why would the Germans use gas chambers as their chosen method of execution? You cannot devise a more inefficient, inconvenient, costly, labor intensive, dangerous and ultimately improbable method of mass execution. One only has to study the disastrous history of the gas chamber in America to see what an epic failure it was on all levels. In fact the only reason one would ever use gassing would be for humane purposes but even in this it failed. As Father Brown said, I can accept the impossible but not the improbable.
You see, as always, has not God made foolish the wisdom Of The World?

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. Look, I am quite aware that Jews were about half of the estimated number of people mass murdered by the Nazi regime. Got that. And I don't think the Soviet "work" camps were any less barbaric and deathly than Nazi prison camps. Both are quite evil.

Yet, I can't get my head around the idea that there are Catholics who really entertain the idea that the Holocaust of Jews and other targeted populations in Europe was complete fiction? Or wasn't an important or awful event in 20C history.

Do some Catholics really believe that the targeting of Jews by Hitler complete fiction? I understand that there may be over-estimates and sometimes an sense that no other people suffered so. But how does one extrapolate from these views to minimizing these events and the belief that the whole thing was fiction?