Thousands of white-hot words have been written concerning the controversy surrounding Bishop Richard Williamson: some in his defense, more in his condemnation. In my opinion, there is only one issue on which the bishop can be defended. That is not to say the only issue on which he should be defended, but the only one on which he can be defended.
You find the occasional mention of this issue in the mainstream media, buried among the frequent and far-ranging criticisms of Williamson, the pope, the SSPX, traditionalist Catholics, and even the Roman Catholic Church in general. An op-ed piece in the 2/11/09 issue of The Virginian Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) serves as an excellent illustration.
The piece is headlined “What was the pope thinking?” and drags out all the usual clichés about the “renegade sect…founded by ultra-right-wing…Marcel Lefebvre” and “their rejection of the second Vatican Council.” To set the stage for why the pope should serve Williamson’s head on a platter to those demanding it, the author even dredges up such historical anti-Catholic gems as “when popes had armies, Christians blamed Jews for the death of Jesus” [perish the thought!] and the old Catholic “heresy” that “the Earth orbited the sun.” In other words, if you’re a traditional Catholic, SSPXer or otherwise, you – and people like Williamson – are simply out of step with the times.
And of course the greatest of the holdover “crimes” of the traditional Catholic Church is the one that actually brought the wrath down on Williamson: spoken or implied he stands accused of anti-Semitism. Why? Because he dared to question the veracity of certain aspects of that most untouchable of untouchables, the most holy of holies, the Jewish holocaust, or as it is becoming increasingly known, the Shoah.
Which brings us to the sole issue on which I think Williamson can be defended. Snuggled in the body of the op-ed piece is the following: “[Williamson’s] comments set off a firestorm of outrage and disgust, particularly in the pope’s native Germany, where denying the Holocaust is a crime.” (Emphasis added.) It is this criminalization of thought and speech, this abrogation of one of civilized man’s most fundamental liberties, that offers a platform on which to defend against the blatant anti-Catholicism that is at the heart of the Williamson storm.
Obviously, focusing on “freedom of speech” as the prime topic for his defense seems to dodge any direct refutation of the “Holocaust denier” charges, as well as ignore the ecclesiastical elements of the controversy. For good reason. It’s my firm belief that attempting to argue against the “facts” of Jewish holocaust propaganda that have been ingrained in the public mind around the world over the last 70 years is a strategy for failure. And to try to defend and/or explain the position of traditional Catholics, whether the “renegade sect” of SSPXers or otherwise, is equally futile.
Here are a few arguments in support of that assertion. First, there’s about as much chance of convincing people that the world is flat as there is of convincing them that the Jewish holocaust didn’t necessarily happen the way the “official” version says it did. The rather sizeable number of scientists and scholars, learned men all, who have tried it in the past either wound up in prison, in exile, or, at the very least, suffering the scorn and ridicule of the “true believers.” Moreover, the number of supposedly “free” or “democratic” countries around the world that impose criminal sanctions for even the most innocuous questioning of the holocaust seems on the rise. As of this writing, no fewer than three countries have pending (or contemplated) legal action against the bishop.
Even a cursory look at the driving forces below the surface of this two-headed controversy, i.e., holocaust denial linked to traditional Catholics, reveals a certain commonality. Long before the Bishop Williamson interview on Swedish television called attention to the SSPX, it was a target of a notorious anti-Catholic organization known as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
And in view of the heat and light the bishop has attracted, resurrecting traditional Catholics – not just SSPXers, but the rest of us as well – now poses even greater challenges. One clue to the problem is the term “the rest of us.” We’re a scattered, rag-tag bunch, with no cohesion and no leader. For many, Rome is not home. And for those who still think it is, even they, in fact, are not welcome there.
More to the point, the Jewish-run SPLC initiated its anti-Catholic campaign in late 2006 with a bigoted tirade against a number of Catholic individuals and groups that they lumped under the heading “The Dirty Dozen.” Not surprisingly, the SPLC not only branded them all as anti-Semites, but also accused a number of them of being – you guessed it – holocaust deniers.
Heidi Beirich, the SPLC’s notorious anti-Catholic hatchet lady, joined the onslaught against Williamson with a February 5, 2009 posting on the group’s website in which she rants about the “SSPX’s clear record of anti-Semitism.” She goes on to say, “The SSPX is a font of anti-Semitic propaganda,” and tells us where we can find videos of Williamson expressing his “extremist views.”
The site name gives a clue to the SPLC worldview. It’s entitled “Hate Watch (Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right).” And the Williamson article is posted under the heading “Holocaust Denial, radical traditional Catholic.” Any doubt where we stand with Heidi and her pals? (And you can bet the SPLC is leading the charge for the “hate crimes” bills now moving through Congress. It was laws like these that helped make “anti-free speech” police states out of places like Canada, where SSPX materials were banned following a speech by Williamson.)
Other Jewish advocacy groups and individuals – those who, with impunity, deny the true 2000-year-old Holocaust – jumped into the fray immediately, calling for everything from the bishop’s (re)excommunication to the pope’s resignation. There were even demands that Williamson visit Auschwitz, apparently as some sort of purifying ablution.
But, given the breadth of forces that are arrayed against him, there is no way Bishop Williamson can be “rehabilitated.” Because no one really wants him rehabilitated. Certainly not the 50 nominally Catholic congressmen who wrote expressing their “deep concerns with [the pope’s] decision to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson to communion with the Catholic Church.” Certainly not the Jews. And certainly not the many who agree with them, including most modern (Novus Ordo) Catholics and even many SSPXers. And our Protestant brethren couldn’t be happier at the news of grief within the ranks of the Church, even though they don’t really know a “traditional Catholic” from a hole in the wall. To them we’re all just “pope-lovers” and we deserve whatever we get. Believe me I know, I was a Protestant for most of my life.
Newspaper editors and op-ed writers take apparent glee in referring to traditionalists as “the Roman Catholic Church looking backward…stuck in the Dark Ages.” And even segments of the traditional Catholic press have seen fit to abandon the bishop to the wolves. Which, of course, is their prerogative. But it is hard to reconcile how Williamson could be vilified editorially on the one hand without even a mention of his God-given right to speak his mind – unpopular though some may find that speech. Can these writers not make the connection between the thing they profess to abhor (i.e., victimization for your beliefs) and Bishop Williamson’s predicament?
Yet, there do seem to be some, likely Catholic and otherwise, who are willing to push back. Responses to Internet articles reveal some hardy souls who, though some may take offense at comments like Williamson’s, nevertheless bemoan the loss of his freedom to make such comments. Hence I’m convinced that ultimately the general public’s fear of losing its right to free speech (at least in the U.S.) can trump the insidious attempt to force us all to submit docilely and quietly to the “party line.”
Another encouraging sign is that even the most powerful special interest groups in the country have remained silent on the “free speech” aspect of the controversy. Why? Because they know it is an argument they can’t win. The right to free speech is as sacred to Americans – for the time being at least – as “the six million” imagery is to the most fervent Jewish holocaust supporter.
By their silence they have hoped to obscure this most fundamental issue with clouds of smoke concerning “holocaust denial” and “radical, anti-Semitic” traditional Catholics.
But by so doing they have instead left it to us to frame the discussion and choose the ground on which to fight. So, why not wage the one battle where there’s the best chance of winning?
No amount of persuasion can restore Bishop Williamson to acceptability, even if he were to prostrate himself on the altar of political correctness and recite a million mea culpas. He is tarnished goods. He has committed the unforgivable.
But there is still that one argument to be made in his favor. You don’t even have to agree with the good bishop, but who among us – friend or foe – can in good conscience deny his right to speak his mind.
Also see Dr. Thomas Droleskey's excellent pieces that reinforce the above, such as: