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…