The Williamson Affair
Part II
9 March 2009
(Back to Part I)

Even after the Carmelite nuns’ departure, the controversy over Auschwitz continued, thanks to a huge cross, about 22 feet high, which had been erected in a gravel pit behind the convent in 1988. It remained, precipitating yet more Jewish ire. Cardinal Glemp insisted it should stay. As he said during the summer of 1998, it survived as a “mark of the sacrifice of love and suffering.” Moreover, “the right to this interpretation and to its defense belongs not only to the Episcopate but also to all those who, with their faith, accept this cross.”


In contrast, Jews mostly viewed the landmark in a negative light. In his 1989 piece for the New York Times, Leon Wieseltier said it greeted visitors to “the greatest charnel house in Jewish history.” Consequently, he concludes, “Its shadow, with all due respect, is sickening.” And Jacob Neusner, contributor to The Continuing Agony, is equally negative. “The cross stands to humiliate, to express hatred, to serve God by acts of hatred and contempt,” he writes. As for a possible solution to the problem, he cites one proposed by none other than Rabbi Weiss, who would have the entire site put “under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel,” thereby eliminating “any possibility of symbolic encroachments.”


For Weiss to say this after suing Cardinal Glemp over that homily is incredible, to say the least, because in his suit he said the prelate had falsely accused the protestors of threatening Polish sovereignty! So what was Weiss suggesting now? Could not his proposed “solution” of having Israel take over Auschwitz be construed as just that, i.e. of challenging the territorial rights of Poland, which had suffered repeated invasions over the years? Does this not, in retrospect, tend to justify Glemp’s remark?


But if this sounds wild, just listen to words spoken by Rabbi Menachem Joskawitz of Warsaw, Israeli citizen and Holocaust survivor. In The Continuing Agony he is quoted as saying over the radio in 1998: “(I don’t) care what Glemp says,” the cross must be removed “because we Jews cannot pray where there is a cross, as we can’t pray in the presence of idols.”


Here we see the fundamental problem dividing the sides. As Jewish writers readily admit, it’s not just a matter of symbols, but, rather, of underlying theologies. Traditionally the Jews have considered the doctrine of the Man-God on the cross, ie. Christ — and the Trinity — as idolatrous. The ecumenical rants of John Paul II only made it worse, Bellinger says. Calling Jews “our elder brothers in the faith” only irritated those like London Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen who saw such attempts to reconcile the faiths as “particularly offensive.” In the aftermath of the Holocaust, he considered the very idea of a New Covenant resulting from Christ’s redemptive sacrifice to be “an obscenity and an insult of the great proportions.”


Or, as the introduction to The Continuing Agony puts it, “The Holocaust, the most virulent expression of Jew hatred, fed by a long tradition of Christian theological anti-Semitism, reveals irrevocably the violence and brutality condoned by theological supercessionism.” Such words target, of course, the very foundation of Christianity, the claim to a New Covenant based on the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Traditionally this replaces, or “supersedes,” the Old Covenant that God had made with His Chosen People, whose place was assumed by the Church. There is no way of getting around it: such doctrines surrounding the triumph of the cross are repugnant to those Jews who reject Christ.


So what else is new?


The answer to this question rests in the revolutionary way the Holocaust is now being interpreted so as to replace the sacrifice of Christ. In a weird reversal of doctrine, the Jews seem to be implying that their own martyrdom supersedes in importance that of the cross. Such amazing chutzpah! We don’t dare replace them, but they will us! To repeat, the two doctrines in question, neo-Jewish and orthodox Christian, are mutually exclusive. No believer can accept both, despite talk about “parallel covenants,” meaning the new one is for gentiles, while the original remains good for Jews. That simply won’t work, despite what Alan Dershowitz suggests. “Would it not have been (and still be) better if Jesus were seen as the Christian Messiah, but not as the Jewish Messiah? Why must we both have one true Messiah, or one God?” he says in his book.


Sorry, sir, we do not believe in fabricating multiple gods, or messiahs — or covenants –– for the sake of convenience. Christ eliminated such options by teaching there was but One God and that He Himself was the Messiah. Since while on earth He, a descendant of King David, preached primarily to Jews, the idea that He wanted all to follow Him except His own people is absurd. Besides, as we have learned from Rabbi Cohen, while defending their own covenant, most orthodox Jews cannot abide the idea of a new one for Christians.


Thus our digression to Auschwitz. Putting that controversy in context helps to illuminate the parallels between then and now. In the light of the Williamson affair, we see a lot that we could not before, and the past, in turn, helps enlighten the present. The underlying issues are ongoing. Looking backwards, we continue to find clues to the present in a variety of places — and not just in Poland. In 1986, for instance, there was an episode of Bill Buckley’s Firing Line that focused on the Ukrainian Holodomor, the “famine” of 1932-33, as depicted in the award-winning documentary Harvest of Despair. Claiming that Stalin had in fact engineered the mass starvation of millions, it was regarded as “controversial,” and in the U.S., the three major networks refused to air it. The fact that it was later nominated for an Oscar, however, “seemed to give it legitimacy.”


Or so concludes John Corry, who, in a piece for the New York Times, describes how Buckley moderated a panel consisting of Robert Conquest, author of a book on the disaster; Harrison Salisbury, former Moscow correspondent for the Times; and Christopher Hitchens, columnist for the Nation. Salisbury, for one, told how Walter Duranty, Times correspondent to Moscow in the early 30’s –– and Pulitzer Prize winner — insisted “there was no famine” in the Ukraine, though he told people privately that 10 million had in fact died! In an interview recorded on the documentary, Malcolm Muggeridge, British writer who also reported on Stalin’s regime — and later converted to Catholicism — calls Duranty “the greatest liar of any journalist I ever met.”


In contrast, Hitchens came “close to suggesting that the Ukrainians had it coming to them,” Corry says. “Weren’t they anti-Semites? Didn’t they cooperate with the Nazis?” When Conquest noted that Ukrainian guerillas had fought both Soviet and German armies, Hitchens failed to be swayed. Instead he seemed “disturbed” when Buckley tried “to draw a comparison between Stalin and Hitler.”


Think about it. Would Hitchens have dared suggest that the Jews “had it coming to them?” Or is there a double standard here? Let’s fast forward to May 7, 2003, and a piece in National Review by Andrew Stuttaford, who starts out by saying we “will never know how many Ukrainians died in Stalin’s famines of the early 1930’s. As Nikita Khrushchev later recalled, ‘no one was keeping count.’ Writing back in the mid-1980s, historian Robert Conquest came up with a death toll of around six million, a calculation not so inconsistent with later research “the writers of the Black Book of Communism (1999) estimated a total of four million for 1933 alone.”


Stuttaford concludes: “Four million, six million, seven million, when the numbers are this grotesque does the exact figure matter?”


The answer is no, except when referring to THE Holocaust, the facts and figures for which have been set in stone. Even those who read the Bible most liberally –– or not at all –– insist the official version of this modern catastrophe be taken literally, if not ritualistically, as a matter of faith. Indeed, at the present time, it is the only sort of belief for which acceptance in public is enforced by law in many formerly Christian lands.


This writer began to sense the trend back in 1986 while viewing what I assume in retrospect was the above mentioned episode of Firing Line. Unlike Hitchens, host Bill Buckley did seem to accept the fact that as many as 10 million Ukrainians had died in a forced famine. While speaking of this, however, he had to add that of course it was not the same as THE Holocaust. His overall manner relayed to me the impression that the loss of all those Ukrainians did not equal that of six million Jews, because the latter disaster was somehow unique, indeed, sacrosanct.


Looking back, we can see how the official form of the doctrine was being sanctioned by key celebrities even then. The necessity for its acceptance by the public at large explains the furor over convent and cross, and the theme pervading the literature: who owns Auschwitz? To whom does it –– and the memory thereof –– belong? As Jewish leaders lay exclusive claim to their holy event, it would be ritualistically purified, purged of any Christian taint.


Thus the recent world-wide furor over Bishop Williamson’s remarks questioning said doctrine. By now the reasons for such a response should be obvious. Given this age of so-called free and scientific inquiry, it otherwise makes no sense. Nothing is sacred anymore, certainly no religion — except for the Holocaust. Were this not the exception, why not simply correct, or rebut a man, even a bishop, who errs in his facts? Whatever happened to free speech, the so-called “marketplace of ideas”? Why should only Denial of this version of history be such a crime?


The obvious answer is that it is a doctrine that must be universally revered — even by Roman Catholics and their official hierarchy, Catholic dogma not withstanding.


A close look at the Times story of January 25 reveals how the Williamson affair provided the venue for religious and political leaders to make demands of Benedict, the supposed head of the universal church. There was, as noted previously, the crucial element of timing. Linking the controversial broadcast with the lifting of the SSPX excommunications allowed critics to inflate the episode in a way they could not have otherwise. The ADL called it a “source of great tension between Catholics and Jews.” Rabbi David Rosen, director of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, proclaimed: “We urgently call on the Vatican to reiterate its unqualified repudiation and condemnation of all and any Holocaust denial.”


Did such a scenario just happen?


When the Chief Rabbinate of Israel announced it had cut official ties with the Vatican in protest over the decision to “reinstate a Holocaust denier,” it was all over the news. Quoted on The Raw Story, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial called it “scandalous that someone of this stature in the Church denies the Holocaust.” A spokesman also said they hoped Benedict would take steps to condemn such behavior in a bishop.


Nor were they alone. On February 3, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Benedict “to make clear the Vatican does not tolerate any denial of the Holocaust.” The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, she does not normally interfere with church matters. “But it is different if we are talking about fundamental questions,” she said, as if that justified her telling a pontiff what to do. “This is about the pope and the Vatican making very clear that there can be no (Holocaust) denial and that there must be positive relations with Judaism.”


Note how she bypasses any barrier between church and state in order to dictate policy to a pope. But did German bishops object? No, according to DW-World, Gerhard Ludwig, Catholic bishop of Regensburg, the diocese where the interview was taped, said Williamson, “would not be allowed to set foot in his cathedral or on any other church property.” (Though, why would the SSPX bishop even think of going to Germany and risk being arrested for the crime of Holocaust denial?) Furthermore, Reuters listed a string of other German prelates who not only condemned Williamson’s remarks, but also demanded from Benedict a policy of “full support for the Second Vatican Council and no concessions to the ultra-traditionalists.”


Note how traditionalists are emerging as pariahs?


Then on February 5, reported that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales “has taken the unprecedented step of condemning the Pope over his decision to lift the excommunication of a British bishop who denied the Holocaust.” In a letter to Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi, the Cardinal expressed his dismay at the effect of the Vatican decree and said he deplores Williamson’s words.


“His statement and views have absolutely no place in the Catholic Church and its teaching,” he said.


Last November, the Cardinal, Chief Rabbi and other British religious leaders had prayed together at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as “witnesses to the Holocaust that some still deny.” Now the rabbi, in his reply to the Cardinal, said “Your dismay and your understanding of the seriousness of Holocaust denial, matches the feeling of many Jews around the world who believe that great damage has been done to Catholic-Jewish relations.”


Fortunately old Murphy-O’Connor was to able to assure his rabbi friend that “the lifting of excommunication is only a first step towards reconciliation of the bishops concerned. None of them is yet able to exercise any office either as priest or bishop in communion with the Catholic Church.” This was because as of 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre and his society of priests were already operating without Vatican sanction. When he and Bishop Antonio de Castro-Mayer of Brazil proceeded to consecrate four bishops without a papal mandate, they and those they consecrated incurred ipso facto excommunication. The two elder bishops have both died. Now that the excommunications have been lifted for the others, they resume their former irregular status. Full rehabilitation is still a thing to be negotiated.


So let us now examine Benedict’s official statement of January 28. “While I renew with affection the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our brothers, receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah leads mankind to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man,” he said. “May the Shoah be for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism. . . The Shoah particularly teaches . . . that only the tiresome path of listening and dialogue, of love and of forgiveness leads the peoples, the cultures, and the religions of the world to the hoped–for goal of fraternity and peace in truth.”


Think about this. The “pope”, remember, professes to be not yet in “full communion” with the SSPX priests or others like them. Yet he expresses “full and unquestionable solidarity” with his unbaptized “brothers of the First Covenant!” No talk here of any Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, much less a New Covenant. It’s all Shoah, Shoah, Shoah, like some catchy refrain! Wunnerful, wunnerful! Such a warm and fuzzy way to think and dream and act! The Shoah leads, it teaches, it warns. It’s the source of wisdom, leading us down the path towards ultimate peace — not in Christ, however. No, there is no mention of Him — nor of the Father, nor of the Holy Spirit. Nor of conversion, nor baptism and all that. On the contrary, the peoples, cultures and religions of the world appear to travel their separate ways towards the “goal of fraternity.”


Whatever else, one thing is clear: this “fraternity” cannot be Christian in any orthodox sense. So what does that make Benedict? Does he really believe such stuff, or is he just play-acting like his Polish predecessor? And what does it say about Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the SSPX? Through all the furor he seems fixed on his goal of reconciliation with Rome. But at what price? Isn’t there a need to guard the integrity of the SSPX and, despite media distractions, not forget the original issues?


Ironically Lefebvre never considered the excommunications to be valid in the first place. Who in the mainstream media ever mentions that? As Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, one of the four bishops in question, explains in a recent interview for Catholic Family News, Lefebvre consecrated them “due to a case of necessity,” which is “considered valid in canon law.” This in their view rendered any so-called “excommunications” null and void. So why bother petitioning Rome at all? Lebebvre himself had wavered on the papal question. While he continued to criticize the Conciliar popes, and to ordain priests using the old rite without Vatican approval, he nevertheless saw them as technically valid. Not until nearly three years before his death did he go so far as to consecrate four bishops against papal orders.


So what now? With him gone, how do we interpret this move towards reconciliation with Rome? Does it represent a trend towards compromise? Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, who heads the SSPX seminary at Econe, says no, they are still standing firm, that their intent is, rather, to “lead Rome towards our positions.” But how feasible is such a goal? A 2006 interview of this same bishop by Stephen Heiner for The Remnant makes us wonder. Tissier spoke candidly, indeed, provocatively, on a number of issues, and even his definitions clashed with those in vogue. He said, for instance, that it was absurd to talk of not being in “communion” with the pope!


“Communion is nothing, it is an invention of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “The essential thing is that these people (the Novus Ordo bishops) do not have the Catholic Faith. ‘Communion’ does not mean anything to me — it is a slogan of the new Church.”


Tissier also brought up a topic he deemed “essential”: the strange beliefs of the current pope. The bishop said that “this pope has professed heresies in the past! He has professed heresies! I do not know whether he still does.” Furthermore, “he has never retracted his errors.” Asked by Heiner to be specific as to when and how, Tissier replied. “When he was a theologian, he professed heresies, he published a book full of heresies.”


Pressed for still more detail, the bishop gave the title of Ratzinger’s 1968 book: Introduction to Christianity. “It is a book full of heresies. Especially the negation of the dogma of the Redemption.” He insisted that according to Ratzinger, Christ did not atone for our sins on the cross. In further denying even the necessity of satisfaction, Tissier said, Ratzinger went way beyond Luther. “It is worse than Luther, much worse,” he said.


Sounding a bit confused, Heiner asked the big question: was Tissier saying Ratzinger “is a heretic?” To which the bishop replied, “No. But he has never retracted these statements.” Then would he use the words “suspicious” “questionable” or “favoring heresy?” No, Tissier said, “it is clear. I can quote him.” So he proceeded to read a passage from Ratzinger’s book that rejects the notion of “a God whose inexorable justice required a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son.”


“And we flee with horror from a justice, the dark anger of which removes any credibility from the message of love,” Ratzinger also wrote.


But that wasn’t his sole instance of heresy. No, Tissier alluded to “many others” as well, including doubts regarding the divinity of Christ and the “dogma of the Incarnation.” Indeed, Ratzinger the theologian “re-reads, re-interprets all the dogmas of the Church” according to “the new philosophy, the idealist philosophy of Kant.” Strong words, to be sure. So Heiner, coming close to the obvious conclusion, remarked: But yet, the Society is not sedevacantist. . .


“No, no, no. no. He is the Pope,” Tissier insisted, even as he went on to say again and again what he had already repeated over and over: that Joseph Ratzinger “has professed heresies.”


Nor has he apparently ever retracted them.


Also significant was Tissier’s reaction to the question as to how the SSPX would interpret Vatican Council II. Back in 1988, Lefebvre said they would do so “in the light of Tradition.” Was this still the case? “Absolutely not. Not any more,” Tissier said. “No, we would read the Council in the light of the new philosophy, the only way it can be read. You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work. It is based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.”


And he really thinks he can steer Rome to his way of thinking?


Bishop Bernard Fellay, who heads the SSPX, remains optimistic about this. In a letter to his followers dated January 24 he notes that, thanks to Rome’s recent gesture, Catholics “attached to Tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the Faith of their fathers.” He goes on to quote from a recent letter he wrote to the Vatican in which he expresses his faith in Church doctrine, and in the Primacy of Peter. As loyal Catholics, he says, he and his fellow SSPX priests, accept the teaching of all the Church councils “up to the Second Vatican Council, about which we express some reservations.” In all this, he is “convinced that we remain faithful” to the principles set down by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.


In a follow-up interview with the Swiss daily Le Temps, Fellay was asked about yet another assertion that he soon hopes to examine, together with higher-ups in Rome, the deeper causes of the “unprecedented crisis” afflicting the Church. What exactly were these causes? And, in his opinion, was Vatican II responsible for the crisis? In reply, Fellay said the crisis “is caused by a new approach to the world, a new view of man, that is, an anthropocentrism which consists of an exaltation of man and a forgetfulness of God. The arrival of modern philosophies, with their less precise language, has led to confusion in theology.”


As for who is responsible, he said, “Not all comes from the Church. But it is true that we reject a part of the Council. Benedict XVI himself condemned those who claim the Spirit of Vatican II to demand an evolution of the Church in a break with its past.” Oh really? That’s fortunate, considering his plans to negotiate in the names of the SSPX. Regarding these, he said, “I am confident. If the Church says today anything that is in contradiction with what it taught yesterday, and if it forced us to accept this change, then it must explain the reason for it. I believe in the infallibility of the Church, and I think that we will reach a true solution.”


Nice words, to be sure — but confusing. And are they accurate? Note how they tend to contradict those of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais. While alluding to false philosophy, Fellay ties it to no one in particular. Unlike Tissier, he names no names, not even Immanuel Kant’s. As for Benedict, ignoring any murky past, Fellay suggests they currently think alike on key issues. With his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, has this pontiff not promoted a wider use of the 1962 Missal? Fellay brought that up in his recent letter to the Vatican. If there is a catch to this, meaning those “in communion” with Rome will also have to accept the “Ordinary Form” of the Mass, i.e. the Novus Ordo, Fellay does not say.


No, he prefers to tell traditionalists that all is well, even as, thanks to the current crisis, all hell is breaking loose and they are being blamed.

(Click here for Part III)

Copyright by Judith M. Gordon 2009