The Williamson Affair
1 March 2009 

By now most Catholics know about the media furor over the news that on January 21, 2009 “Pope” Ratzinger lifted the “excommunications” of four SSPX bishops, one of these being Richard Williamson.  Although a native of Britain, he later served as a priest — and bishop –– here in the United States, and was virtually unknown outside traditionalist circles until last month.  Instant notoriety came after a television broadcast in Europe showed him questioning both the number of Jews killed by Nazis during World War II and how this was done.  For our purposes, his provocatively low figures are not as pertinent as the fact that he, citing revisionist historians, dared question the official version of this explosive topic.  Having legally denied the “Holocaust”, he could now, as he himself admitted, be arrested in Germany, where the interview had been filmed by a journalist for Swedish television –– back in November.  The fact that it was not shown until well into January, just in time for the official papal act, made the latter come off as a gesture of conciliation towards a now notorious “Holocaust denier”!


Reports of the “outrage” - as the New York Times calls it in their story for January 26 — are so fraught with media hype and contradiction as to be laughable, were not the implications so deadly serious for traditionalists.  The effects seem calculated to smear us all, and there are, to be sure, indications that the incident itself was staged.  According to Rorate Caeli, certain Italian journalists say that Fiammetta Venner, a French journalist (and avowed lesbian) with ulterior motives, told interviewer Ali Fegan about Williamson’s controversial opinions, thus prompting the question that started it all.  As for the timing of the broadcast, they suggest it was arranged by as-yet-unknown Vatican insiders who wanted to implicate their papal boss, as well as the SSPX.


Not that Benedict’s announcement regarding the SSPX came as any big surprise — not to traditionalists who kept tabs this past year or two on the comings-and-goings of Bishop Bernard Fellay and other bigwigs in the society.  Most of us figured it was only a matter of time, especially with the motu proprio of July 2007 that allowed for a greater use of the 1962 Latin Missal.  Obviously Ratzinger was courting traditionalists for his own motives, and whereas many went along with the show, others like us knew better than to trust an anti-pope. After decades of being ignored and virtually shut out by officialdom, we have become cynics, though admittedly we could not have envisioned the recent debacle.  Think about it.  Flawed or not, the Vatican announcement might have occasioned some honest publicity as to the traditionalist plight — but no.  Thanks to a contrived media charade, the real issues were distorted and obscured by a matter seemingly irrelevant: the Holocaust.


It just proves how nobody who feels victimized by Vatican II can hope to compete in the world-wide media — not with all those Jewish martyrs, living or dead, upstaging them.  Worse yet, against their will, traditional Catholics are now being given the roles of monsters in a cleverly crafted horror flick, prompting many, no doubt, to hide in the shadows lest they be exposed as  . . . Deniers!  Who exactly the latter might be, besides Williamson and cohorts, of course, no one in the media says, they only hint.  The Times, for instance, suggests in their story who they are not: the “moderates” who accept “the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.”  To these, the writer of the article asserts, “Benedict’s papacy has become increasingly hostile.”  Uh oh . . .  Benedict has, on the other hand, befriended the SSPX!  Does that make all Catholics who question the Conciliar “reforms” extremists who generate hostility, i.e. hate?


Is this or isn’t it a matter of guilt by association?


The Times’ tone towards traditionalists could be called hostile, of course, but nobody complains about that.  Echoing such sentiments only slightly more subtly, is John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.  In his article for January 26, he writes: “The historical association between some strains of traditionalist Catholicism and anti-Semitism run deep, intertwined with royalist reaction to the French Revolution in the 18th century, and, later, the Boulanger and Dreyfus Affairs in France (1886-1889 and 1894-1899).”


Do we dare ask how all this pertains to 21st century Americans like us — or, furthermore, how and why we should blame French Catholics of that time, and for what?  Should those ignorant of history presume to critique the players, whether individually or en masse?  Allen’s use of innuendo, we fear, fails miserably.  Indeed, it’s a total flop.  Turning to the current crisis in the Church, he cautions readers not to think “every Catholic attracted to the older Latin Mass or to traditional views on doctrinal matters is somehow tainted by anti-Semitism”.  But think about it.  By saying not all are, is he not implying that some are?  He also notes that not all traditional attitudes that seem “controversial theologically or politically” are necessarily anti-Semitic (emphasis ours).  Traditionalists, for instance, “often uphold a robust missionary theology, insisting that the church cannot renounce its duty to evangelize any group, including jews (sic).”


 In other words, some misguided souls still take literally the command to “Go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  They may even include the Jews in this, despite the fact that many Conciliar church authorities no longer regard such an interpretation of the gospel as kosher.  (Let us also note here that the failure to capitalize “jews” or “jewish” is Allen’s, lest we ourselves be accused of “anti-Semitism”, for which he does use a capital “S”)


Allen also quotes a statement put out by the SSPX in 2007 that “a Catholic cannot be anti-Semitic without destroying the origin and essence of his own faith.”  Exactly how they define terms, however, he doesn’t say; nor does he give his own definition before asserting that there is “also a track record in some traditionalist and Lefebvrite circles of open hostility toward jews (sic) and judaism (sic) that is anything but latent.”  For proof he cites a string of examples, mostly out of context.  He tells, for instance, how one Paul Touvier, a “fugitive charged with ordering the execution of seven jews (sic) in 1944,” was arrested in a “priory of the Fraternity of St. Pius X in Nice, France.”  Those giving Touvier asylum said they had done so as “an act of charity to a homeless man.”  When Touvier died in 1996, a SSPX church also offered a requiem Mass “in his honor.”


Sounds like they said a funeral Mass for the deceased.


So what’s the big deal?  Can requiem Masses not be said for sinners, even those who, like Touvier, served in the Vichy militia during the Nazi occupation?  After 50 years is it not possible for even a bad guy to repent? According to a New York Times obituary, Touvier said during his trial in 1994 that he had ordered the Jews slain “to appease the Nazis,” who had actually wanted a lot more executed in retaliation for an assassination.  Upon being convicted to life imprisonment, Touvier said he thought of the victims “every day, every evening.”


 He himself died two years later.


In the final analysis, is it not a bit presumptuous of a journalist like Allen to be ruling on what is or is not an unforgiveable sin?  Is there to be no mercy shown even in death towards those tainted by the Holocaust — or even for so-called Deniers who only presume to question the details?  Do we dare pray for Bishop Williamson, for instance, without bringing down the wrath of the National Catholic Reporter?


Nowhere does Allen tell readers how Archbishop Lefebvre, before taking up the traditionalist cause full time, served as head of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a missionary order to African natives.  This hardly fits the profile of a racist, and the standard Catholic definition of “Anti-Semitism” has, after all, been hatred for the Jews as a race, or nation.  Pius IX’s encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, while condemning the racial idolatry underlying Nazism, most assuredly did not advise we accept the Jews’ definitions of religious or historical truth; nor of “anti-Semitism,” which covers a multitude of issues.  There is, to be sure, a double standard here.  But Allen fails to note all this — and the fact that Lefebvre’s own father died in a Nazi prison camp during World War II!


Writing about the SSPX affair for Newsweek, George Weigel, another Novus Ordo “Catholic”, calls Archbishop Lefebvre a “man formed by the bitter hatreds that defined the battle lines in French society and culture from the French Revolution to the Vichy regime.”  Nowhere does he say how Lefebvre’s father was imprisoned under said regime for having aided Allied intelligence during the previous war.  No, he implies the son inherited a legacy of hate.  Similarly, Allen, assuming the role of psychiatrist, at one point in his article attributes to the archbishop a life-long “sense of antagonism” to “jews (sic) the Communists and the Freemasons.”


Why oh why must Allen insist on capitalizing the names for everyone but that particular people?  It’s so maddening, a Freudian might sense in him the source of a suppressed antagonism that he projects onto poor Lebebvre.  As proof of the latter’s life-long hostility, he cites an interview given to a French journal in 1991, one year before his death.  While we have not seen a copy, our writer insists Archbishop Lefebvre said therein that “Catholic opposition to a residence of Carmelite nuns at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp was being instigated by jews (sic).”


Let us point out that Allen’s use here of the term “Catholic opposition” is misleading, if not downright dishonest.  For there was none of that really, not initially, only eventual concession, or capitulation, in this long-lasting controversy centering on Auschwitz.  In light of the Williamson affair, it does warrant our renewed attention, though not for the reasons Allen gives, since it provides some background for understanding what is going on now.  Research shows that opposition to the convent was from the start primarily Jewish — and foreign.  According to an article posted online by Polish priest and theology professor Waldemar Chrostowski, when Carmelite nuns announced in September of 1984 their plans to occupy an old storage building adjacent to the former site of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, nobody in Poland objected.  Even the reactions of Polish Jews to the idea of nuns praying and expiating for the crimes committed there, he says, were “absolutely positive.”


Jewish elites outside Poland, however, did put up a fuss, to put it mildly.  According to Joseph Bellinger, author of “Auschwitz in the Shadow of the Cross,” Edgar Bronfman, Canadian liquor magnate and president of the World Jewish Congress, met with Poland’s Minister for religious affairs over the matter in December, 1985.  He saw the convent as an affront to the “uniqueness of the Holocaust and the murder of the Jewish people. . .”  A New York Times article for February 23, 1987, notes how the issue had provoked “emotional reactions” since January 1986, when the fund-raising effort to renovate the convent generated lots of negative publicity.


Pressure from Jewish groups in Western Europe and the United States led to a meeting on February 23, 1987 between Cardinal Macharski of Cracow, along with prelates from Poland, France and Belgium, and European Jewish spokesmen at the private chateau of Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Chambesy, near Geneva.  According to the Times, the prelates agreed to move the nuns to a “new site, at an interreligious center to be built a mile or so away from the camp.”  This was supposed to occur within two years.  The logistics of how an enclosed order of Carmelites would function in the midst of such ecumenical fanfare was not specified; nor how the project would be financed.


Hearing the news, other Poles balked, including Primate Jozef Cardinal Glemp, who had not attended the meeting in Switzerland.  The project seemed to founder.  When by the spring of 1989, the nuns weren’t moved, Jewish groups began demonstrating at the site. For particulars let us turn again to Bellinger, who in turn cites The Convent at Auschwitz by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Polish academic who headed the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies at Oxford.  On one occasion protestors from the Women’s International Zionist Organization waved Israeli flags and other placards, while shouting provocatively.  After a number of hostile incidents provoked by anonymous sources, the nuns began to get death threats.  So they had security locks installed.


But that didn’t stop Bronx Rabbi Avraham Weiss and six cohorts.  On July 14, 1989, dressed in striped prison-camp garb, they climbed over the convent fence and banged loudly on doors and windows while shouting at the nuns inside.  A group of Polish workers ran to the rescue, dousing the intruders with pails of water and forcefully removing them from the premises.  Two days later, Bellinger, again citing Bartoszewski, says, Weiss and friends demonstrated in front of Cardinal Macharski’s residence in Cracow.  To the front door they also tacked a note ordering him to “stop praying for the Jews who were killed in the Shoah; let them rest in peace as Jews.” (Let us also note that a Fall, 1991 review in Foreign Affairs called Bartoszewski’s book “frank” and “objective”.)


All this was too much for Cardinal Macharski, who, according to the New York Times of August 11, 1989, reported “that he was abandoning plans to construct a center for Christian-Jewish dialogue” — i.e. the ecumenical project — because of “recent demonstrations by Jewish groups against the continuing presence of a convent on the site.”  Calling the “timetable for removal of the convent ‘unrealistic,’” the Cardinal said delays had “made some Western Jewish centers stage a violent campaign of accusations and slander.”  The nuns’ dignity, peace and Christian faith had not been respected.  While expecting his own people to exercise self control, he added, “I regret that this was not understood by persons” holding responsible positions “in some Jewish organizations.”


The Times report next turns to Rabbi Weiss, who “led the protest last month onto the grounds of the convent.”  Calling the Cardinal’s statement “repugnant”, the rabbi is also quoted as saying it could “lead to a ‘tragic rupture’ in Catholic-Jewish dialogue.”  Oh really?  While failing to note how he and has cohorts had unlawfully scaled the convent fence and harassed the nuns, he castigates the Cardinal for complaining about it, turning the prelate’s defense into an offense.  Weiss further says that Macharski has “in almost classical anti-Semitic terms, chosen to portray Jewish victims as aggressors.  It was not we who beat Polish Catholics.  It was Catholic Polish workers of the convent who assaulted us, as the nuns and a priest looked on in silence.”


Thus spake the New York Times.


But if this sounds harsh, it was mild compared to the reaction to Cardinal Glemp’s homily at the Jasna Gora Monastery on August 26 of that year. In his book The Holocaust and the War for Ideas, Edward Alexander, an orthodox Jew and retired English professor, says Glemp accused Rabbi Weiss and friends of “assaulting and intending to kill the nuns, and also of assailing the sovereignty of the Polish nation.”  The Cardinal, he goes on, specified that “a squad of seven Jews from New York launched an attack” on the convent.  Strong words, to be sure.  The New York Times’ version of the quote, which appeared in an article dated September 5, is slightly muted, but not much.  Reportedly the Cardinal admitted that “it did not happen that the sisters were killed or the convent destroyed, because they were apprehended.  But do not call the attackers heroes.”


According to Alexander, Glemp also said: “Do not talk with us from the position of a people raised above all others.  ...  Your power lies in the mass media that are easily at your disposal in many countries.”  Repeating the quote in a New York Times piece for September 3,  Leon Wieseltier also slams the Catholic Church for having oppressed Jews so long.  While admitting his own mother, a Holocaust survivor, “owes her life to the courage of a Polish family,” he still asserts the “Jews of Europe were almost completely exterminated by Christians who called themselves Christians.”


And the neo-pagan believers in survival of the racially fittest?  He fails to blame them, only old-fashioned Christians.


Of the above writers, only Bellinger, citing Bartoszewski, includes a quote that brings up an important logistical point: the name “Auschwitz”, as commonly used, also includes the camp of Birkenau, where mostly Jews were confined.  In fact, a sizeable number of Polish Catholics died at the other “Auschwitz” site — the saintly priest Maximilian Kolbe for one.  Thus Cardinal Glemp’s words: “Let us differentiate between Oswiecim-Auschwitz, where mainly Poles and people of other nations perished, from Brzezink-Birkenau a few kilometers apart, where most of the victims were Jews.  Let us differentiate next between the secular and the theological levels.  Let the new doctrine on the presence or absence of God at the place of sacrifice be explained and clear to all those believing in God, and let it not become a political tool in people’s hands, particularly of non-believers.”


 What he means by “the place of sacrifice” is not entirely clear, but let us recall that in the Old Testament a “holocaust” was a sacrifice, or “burnt offering.”  Also, by the time of our story, the United Nations had designated Auschwitz an “international monument to martyrdom.”  It would appear that most Jews interpret this in a strictly Jewish sense, i.e. to their own advantage.  In his book Chutzpah, Alan Dershowitz calls Auschwitz “an international historical site, not to be disturbed.”  That means no praying nuns — and no daily Sacrifice of the New Covenant offered for the sins of men by a priest, though Dershowitz ignores this.  Instead he echoes Elie Wiesel in suggesting the convent symbolized a “systematic effort” to “de-Judaize” the Holocaust.  He castigates the practice of “equating the genocide of all Jews with the selective killing of some Polish adults.”  Nowhere does he hint at any contrary tendency on his part to “de-Christianize” the atrocities.  Nor does he ask, as Bellinger does, whether any of the non-Jewish dead might not also qualify as “martyrs”.


Take Maximilian Kolbe: doesn’t he count?  Or Edith Stein, the Jewish nun, who also died at Auschwitz?


Not quite.  By converting, Edith Stein had alienated her fellow Jews.  As for Father Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, one of the few other facts about him to be found in The Continuing Agony is that many Jews objected to his canonization because he had edited an “anti-Semitic” journal before the war.”  Why he was imprisoned by the Nazis is not discussed, much less the fact that he and his religious order had provided shelter for about 3,000 war refugees, of whom two-thirds were reportedly Jewish.  Apparently, for hard-core critics, any activity deemed “anti-Semitic” undermines all further efforts made during the course of a lifetime.  (Though in Kolbe’s case, it is generally conceded that a chapel replete with candles, crosses, etc., in his honor is apropos, so long as these remain within the confines of his “death cell.”)


 Thus the case of Sister Teresa, Mother Superior of the convent at Auschwitz, who as a child had “risked her life in order to provide food to starving Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.”  Any credit for this was neutralized by an interview with a Polish American correspondent during which she asked “why Jews reacted so violently to the presence of a convent since nuns also offered prayers for those victims of Auschwitz who were Jewish.”  Wow!  Had no one told her?  Did she not know how the Jews really felt?  As Edward Alexander writes regarding the nuns, “If they were doing penance, was this not because they had a great deal to do penance for?”


Worse yet, she complained in her interview about all the “accusations of Polish anti-Semitism” coming from Jews, and the fact that Israel got billions of dollars from the U.S., even after they had mistreated the Arabs!  “Greater anti-Semites are hard to find,” she concluded.  Uh oh.  Had no one taught her how to define such terms?  She also described the “post-war Communist regime in Poland as being totally dominated by the Jews who had devastated the country” and closed the Churches.


Alan Dershowitz quotes her as saying the Polish government under Stalin “consisted of 75% Polish Communist Jews,” appointed in order to “introduce atheism into Poland.”  Edward Alexander says she asked, “Why do Jews want special treatment in Auschwitz only for themselves?” And: “Do they still consider themselves the chosen people?”


 That did it.  While our Harvard law professor might write in praise of chutzpah, there was no way he could take such sass from Sister Teresa.  No, he called her an “unreconstructed anti-Semite” who needed to pray for her “own bigoted soul.”  Or so Bellinger quotes him.  Not that he would bother suing a mere nun.  He was out to get her boss, who had inspired Yitzhak Shamir to say Poles “suck (anti-Semitism) in their mother’s milk.”  After Glemp’s “outrageous comments” about Rabbi Weiss hit the news, the latter asked Dershowitz to represent him in a defamation suit against the cardinal, and while an advocate of free speech, the lawyer had to take exception here.


“Accusing me and the students of wanting to kill nuns is a modern-day version of the blood-libel,” Rabbi Weiss explained.


The way Dershowitz describes it, Weiss and friends had engaged in a peaceful “pray-in” that fateful day at the convent.  After climbing over the fence, they “put on their prayer shawls, and began to pray,” only to be “attacked by several bystanders, beaten and sprayed with water and urine.”  There was no excuse for Glemp not to know it was purely a non-violent “pray-in”, because the press had reported it as such.  Thus the Primate knowingly lied.  No one, Dershowitz says further in his book, could be so stupid as to believe that a rabbi and several students would plan to kill defenseless nuns, not even Glemp!  No, Dershowitz viewed the prelate’s diatribe as “the culmination of a lifelong history of anti-Semitism.”


(Sounds like the Cardinal needed his own hot-shot Harvard lawyer.  Do you suppose Glemp ever thought of suing?)


 In a letter on September 5, 1989, Dershowitz accused Glemp of having maliciously defamed his client by saying the peaceful protestors meant to kill the nuns and destroy the convent.  The fact that the Cardinal resided in Poland did not matter, for it just so happened that he was planning a trip — his very first –– to the United States.  Thus Dershowitz could write the Cardinal that upon arrival in this country he would be “served with a complaint and required to appear in court” to answer charges.


 When Glemp announced he was cancelling his trip, Dershowitz, declared a “great victory for decency,” — yet still tried to get Glemp.  Assisted by two Polish-Jewish Americans who had befriended a Polish senator with ties to the Primate, they maneuvered from afar to elicit a retraction from him — and nearly succeeded.  The way Dershowitz tells it, their plans were foiled by two busybodies from the American Jewish Congress, no less, who, upon meeting with Glemp in person, told him Rabbi Weiss had, by acting irresponsibly, contributed “to anti-Semitism in Poland!”


Boy, it’s lucky they weren’t sued!


Unfazed, Rabbi Weiss, accompanied by Dershowitz, journeyed to Poland during the summer of 1990 in order to file suit against the Primate.  While they failed –– not just once, but twice –– the pressure on Glemp mounted.  Bellinger says he engaged in a number of “dialogues” with prominent Jews and Catholics before issuing a statement of regret for having suggested in the controversial homily that the demonstrators “had intended to harm the nuns.”  The New York Times story on the subject for August 24, 1991, also says he proclaimed anti-Semitism to be evil and “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.”  Whether the Cardinal defined his terms, however, it does not say.


While a rabbi representing the American Jewish Committee said the action helped to “close a painful chapter in Catholic-Jewish relations,” others were more cautious.  As the Times reports, the ADL, for instance, wanted Glemp to deliver another homily, one that would “forever erase the blemish of his 1989 remarks.”  The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations as well called for “further clarifications.”


Calling Glemp’s reversal an “historic event,” Alan Dershowitz said it was “probably the first time in history that a primate, a prince of the Catholic Church, has, in effect, apologized and retracted an anti-Semitic statement.”  According to the Times, he added, “But it’s not enough.”  He wanted assurance that Glemp’s apology would be widely disseminated in Poland.


When the Cardinal did journey to the United States the following month, Dershowitz and client were ready and waiting.  According to an article by David Scott in Our Sunday Visitor, Rabbi Weiss told reporters covering Glemp’s visit to Albany “that the Vatican built the convent as part of its ‘hidden agenda’ to ‘Christianize’ the Jewish Holocaust.”  Does this sound like a conspiracy theory?  For his part, Dershowitz “said Catholics ought to be ashamed to have ‘a bigot’ like Cardinal Glemp among ‘the princes of the Church.’”


While in Albany, Dershowitz, acting for Rabbi Weiss, also tried to serve papers on the Cardinal but somehow failed.  They wouldn’t give up, however.  The following April, although Glemp had left the country, they filed suit again, this time in the Bronx, but that too was dismissed by the judge.  Not to be deterred, the rabbi and counsel would try yet another time way out West in Seattle — as late as May, 1994.


According to Bellinger, the Cardinal finally “caved in” — not directly to Jewish pressure, however.  Curiously it was the Polish “Pope” who, rather than defend his compatriot, ordered him to move the convent.  For a clue as to why, let’s return to Chutzpah, wherein Dershowitz reveals that “the pope disliked Glemp, as did the archbishop” of Cracow, Cardinal Macharski.  In contrast, “Glemp was a protégé of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski,” the former Primate, and “a notorious anti-Semite.”  As for Glemp, he, like his mentor, was an “old-fashioned anti-Semite,” says Dershowitz.


Unlike Wyszynski, whom the Communists imprisoned, Karol Wojtyla, we hear, was allowed to travel freely.  As John Paul II he would be the first so-called “pope” to attend a service at a synagogue, and also to recognize officially, and to visit, the State of Israel.  On December 30, 1993, the Vatican and Israel signed a document agreeing to establish full diplomatic relations.


Earlier that year the nuns had finally left Auschwitz.

(Click here for Part II)

Copyright by Judith M. Gordon 2009