Dissent: Unfounded Criticism

The readmission of Williamson has nothing to do with the Holocaust

It is shameful that Bishop Richard Williamson’s historical errors have become the excuse for others to distort the historical record, ignore basic facts of canon law, and libel the Pope as they go. The true story is straightforward. On July 1, 1988, the Vatican published a decree stating that the four new bishops of the Society of St. Pius X had incurred an automatic excommunication for being consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre against the will of Pope John Paul II. In response to their numerous requests for the removal of their excommunication, Pope Benedict XVI issued a formal retraction of that decree last month. The very point of the Pope’s action has been ignored.

What is at stake juridically is the canonical result of consecrating bishops without a papal mandate. The bishops of the SSPX wished to show that they had not acted out of contempt for the authority of the Pope, but out of their wish to preserve Catholic tradition. The Pope’s intention is to foster an internal continuity between the Catholic Church and its neglected traditions. But a grave matter has intervened.

The views expressed by Bishop Richard Williamson are disgusting. Yet they are simply not, under any possible reading of canon law, the point on which communion with the Catholic Church is decided. The Catholic Church states that communion requires belief in Catholic doctrine, association with one’s fellow Catholics, and submission to the Roman Pontiff.

Bishop Williamson has met these conditions, and so the Pope has restored him to his canonical rights. He may be silenced or prevented from exercising his episcopal office, but his communion with Rome is not in question. A false view on historical fact does not incur excommunication. Will those who demand Williamson’s “re-excommunication” now also enforce the Catholic Church’s policies against advocates of legal abortion?

The reaction of the Catholic Church is already clear. Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the SSPX, has silenced Bishop Williamson, forbidden him from making further public statements, and removed him as rector of the SSPX’s South American seminary. The Pope, too, has clearly stated that Holocaust denial is unacceptable. Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone has issued a statement requiring Bishop Williamson to renounce his views before assuming any episcopal jurisdiction.

Given such dramatic and public steps, it is outrageous to use Bishop Williamson’s views as an occasion to condemn the pope’s more traditional direction for the Catholic Church. The two are not connected. The pope has repeatedly made clear his wish that the Catholic Church’s reforms of the last generation be in continuity with what came before. This intention alone motivated the Pope’s move. It is an intention of great historical significance.

To associate the Pope’s act of mercy with his so-called enrollment in the Hitler Youth is an indefensible failure of judgment. The Pope was unwillingly drafted—formally, automatically, and with no choice of his own. He was unenrolled upon joining the priesthood that the Nazis so despised.

But now that these McCarthyite tactics of guilt by association are returning to favor, perhaps we should remember innocence by association as well. After all, the pope’s dear cousin was killed by the Nazis. So, too, was Rene Lefebvre, father of the SSPX’s founder. He died at the Sonnenburg concentration camp in 1944, two years after his arrest by the Gestapo for participating in the French resistance. While pronouncing on the evils of historical forgetting, it would be wise for us not to be guilty of it ourselves.

Christopher B. Lacaria ’09, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history concentrator in Kirkland House.

DISSENTING OPINIONS: Occasionally, The Crimson Staff is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting staff members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.