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Scott P. Richert

Bishop Williamson Apologizes

By January 30, 2009

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In the wake of the firestorm caused by his remarks on Swedish TV (see "Does the Pope Need a Lesson in P.R.?"), Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has written a formal letter of apology to Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, who has managed the day-to-day details of the negotiations with SSPX to lift the excommunications of the four bishops and, eventually, to end the schism.

The apology is dated January 28, 2009, and the text below is from the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli:

To His Eminence Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos

Your Eminence

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12:

"Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."
Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.

Sincerely yours in Christ

+Richard Williamson
In the words of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, "He manned-up." To be honest, given Bishop Williamson's history of such remarks, I did not expect such an apology, and I have suspected that, when a final reconciliation between SSPX and Rome occurs, that Bishop Williamson might not accept it.

I am very happy, as every Catholic of good will should be, to have been shown to be wrong about the first part (the apology), and I hope that all readers will join me in a Devout Exercise for the Unity of the Church in the hopes that I will be proved wrong about the second, and that the Society of Saint Pius X, whole and entire, will reenter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work changes in men's hearts.

January 30, 2009 at 2:13 pm
(1) Yiftach says:

With all due respect, Scott, this “apology” isn’t worth the paper (or whatever medium) it was written on. Williamson didn’t retract his statements, he merely expressed regret that his lunacy caused the Pope and the Cardinal (and the Church, I guess) such a headache. That isn’t “I’m sorry I denied the Holocaust,” it’s “I’m sorry I got caught.”

January 30, 2009 at 3:35 pm
(2) Dr. Gerry Leisman says:

This apology is akin to an errant husband apologizing to his wife for an affair in order to keep the peace. This is not even a matter of poor scholarship. This idiot is plainly wrong, historically, morally, and ethically challenged and he is offering comfort as a pastor?

The function of religion is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comforted”

The General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered as many pictures and films to be taken as possible, because, as he said at the time: “The day will come when some son-of-a-bitch will say ‘this never happened’”

Eisenhower called it right, for the good now-”rehabilitated” Bishop.

Shame on the Bishop and shame on his church.

January 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(3) Howard says:

What’s happening with the comments? There were several that have disappeared — not inflammatory ones, either. Is the update to the web page stable, and this is problem, or does this happen whenever the format is tweaked?

January 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

this “apology” isn’t worth the paper (or whatever medium) it was written on

Yiftach, what sort of an apology did you expect? Do you believe that, after years of holding these views, Bishop Williamson would suddenly find, over the course of one week, that the scales have fallen from his eyes and he no longer believes them?

He apologized for the damage that he caused, and there’s no charitable reason to doubt that he is, indeed, sorry for that much.

But here in the United States, we’re so used to politicians and entertainers and sports figures making offensive remarks, getting caught, and then going on television, crying, declaring not simply that they are sorry for the damage that they have done by saying something offensive, but going on to claim that they don’t believe those things; they’ve never believed those things; and they’ve always hated any other person who would say such things. And so we’ve come to believe that this is the way such matters should be handled.

And yet we know that, in almost all such cases, the latter part of the apology is not an apology at all, but a lie. The politician or entertainer or sports figure might actually be sorry for having offended people–that much may be true–but no one really believes that he or she doesn’t hold the views that were expressed in his or her remarks.

In other words, we’ve come to believe that the proper thing to do in such cases is to lie. And that’s what Bishop Williamson would undoubtedly be doing if he said, “I don’t believe what I said I believed.”

So, here’s the question. If, as you claim, “this ‘apology’ isn’t worth the paper (or whatever medium) it was written on,” what would you suggest Bishop Williamson do? There are really only three options:

1. He could lie and claim that he no longer believes something that he almost certainly still does.

2. He could refuse to apologize for the damage he has done, even though he seems actually to be sorry for it, until such time as he comes to believe that he was not only wrong to say the things that he said, but that he was wrong to believe them.

3. Or he could do what he did–apologize for that which he can honestly apologize for, and then shut up. (He’s aided in that, of course, by the fact that the Superior General of SSPX has ordered him to remain silent on such topics until informed otherwise.)

Nothing good is accomplished by either 1 or 2. Some good may be accomplished by 3–the course that Bishop Williamson took. And not just some sort of public-relations good, but spiritual good for Bishop Williamson himself, because for the first time in 21 years, he has humbled himself before his ecclesiastical superiors.

That is what I meant when I wrote that we should never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work changes in men’s hearts. Rather than dismissing this apology because you don’t think it’s good enough, why not pray that it is, in fact, a step in the right direction, which might result in greater things down the road?

January 30, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

Howard, I haven’t seen any comments that have later disappeared. Are you sure that you’re not confusing this comment thread with the one on “Does the Pope Need a Lesson in P.R.”?

January 30, 2009 at 10:33 pm
(6) Guy Abano says:

If he is truly sorry, let him apologize to the Jewish people. His words pave the way again to Dacau and Auswitcz because he makes Jews liars adding insult to injury. I would believe his sincerity if he does that. Otherwise, I don’t believe a word he says.
His lapse in charity is horrible. And if he becomes a bishop, he makes the Lord Jesus look like a monster. I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the man.
I’ve learned about the polgroms, the Crusades & all the inhumanities that Catholic laymen have inflicted on the Jewish people. The least I can do now is oppose this with all my strength and say this is not acceptable for a bishop.
Shame on those who consecrated this man to be a bishop! Shame on those who would treat him like one.

January 31, 2009 at 12:04 pm
(7) Scott P. Richert says:

Guy Abano, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Yiftach: What should he do? Read my comment, and then answer the points I raised in it.

Regarding the Crusades, you need to go back and reread your history. The Crusades were an attempt to recover the Holy Land and to protect the Christian sites therein—as well as the Christians who were living there—from the Muslim conquerors, who oppressed the Jews living there as well as the Christians.

January 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm
(8) Disgruntled Catholic says:

Scott, you forgot option #4.

This addled bishop could be even more honest, as you say. He could realize the damage to the reunion of the SSPX and the Church that his presence as a potential member of the Church hierarchy could cause. He could resign as a bishop (or asked to be relieved of his duties), and fade into obscurity, never to be put into a position of teaching authority.

Perhaps a public grassroots outcry among Catholics would help the cause.

January 31, 2009 at 8:37 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Disgruntled Catholic, those of us who have been watching this particular case for years have never believed that Bishop Williamson would ever find himself in a position of authority should a reconciliation of SSPX occur. His silencing, I think, is a clear signal that that assessment is accurate.

Combine that with the reliably sourced rumors that Bishop Williamson is dying of cancer, and I think that you’ll see your solution occur de facto.

But even a resignation would need to be accompanied by one of the three actions that I discussed above, so this isn’t really a fourth option, but another step after choosing one of 1-3.

February 3, 2009 at 5:54 am
(10) guyabano says:

Williamson can do due diligence & search for the truth. He needs to realize that as a bishop his opinions on every matter has a greater impact on others. He needs to do penance & make up for defiling the memory of those who have suffered & died starting with prayers. He needs to request to be laiacized because he has caused scandal & his current office is a continued affront to the living Jewish brethren whom he contemptously accused on profitting from a painful tragedy.

February 3, 2009 at 7:00 am
(11) Zaphod says:

It is fascinating how the topic of what was done to the Jews during World War II is not open to critical discussion.
Any suggestion that there may be historical inaccuracies in the accepted account does not lead to an open discussion, but abuse.
If someone, such as Bishop Williamson, goes further and says that there is some evidence to prove or disprove certain happenings, the abuse gets ballistic.
Stop all the high and mighty posturing and try rational discussion.
If the Bishop is saying things that are wrong, then present evidence in a rational manner that proves he is wrong. Don’t abuse, don’t threaten jail, don’t say he is wrong because ‘everyone knows’ what happened…
In some European countries it is illegal to call into question any of the findings of the Nuremberg trials, even the findings that are demonstrably wrong. That sort of nonsense does no one any good. The truth should be defended by rational discussion, and honest opinion should be allowed to be heard and discussed, even when it is unpopular.
It is pretty ironic that someone is abusing Bishop Williamson for his statements, then making statements about the Crusades and such like that are as inaccurate as he claims the Bishop’s statements to be.
We are all so knowledgeable, so perfectly right all the time?

By the way, since someone brought up the question of financial dealings to do with the holocaust, does any one know how much Germany is paying to Israel per year in compensation and how many years they have been doing so? I have only heard rumours, nothing specific.

February 3, 2009 at 8:39 am
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

Zaphod, we’re not going there. I’m letting your comment stand, but I’ve just deleted one that went even further afield, and I’ll keep doing so.

“The truth” is not a defense in a case like this. Setting aside for the moment the fact that what Bishop Williamson was not “the truth,” Christians have an obligation to pursue the truth in charity. In a wonderful little pamphlet entitled Sins of the Tongue, Father Bélet writes that there are times when we should not say even that which we know to be true (much less simply believe to be true, which is clearly the case here):

Now you might object, “Do you mean to say I can’t tell the truth?” No, my friend, it is not permitted, unless you can do so without harming your neighbor.

Bishop Fellay, in silencing Bishop Williamson, was absolutely correct: This is not an area a prince of the Church needs to be discussing at all.

February 3, 2009 at 8:59 am
(13) Scott P. Richert says:

Guy Abano, you’re on the right track, but still overreaching. “Due diligence” and “search for the truth”–absolutely. And now that Bishop Williamson has been silenced, he’ll have even more time to dedicate to such pursuits.

But until he has realized that he is in error, he cannot “do penance & make up for defiling the memory of those who have suffered & died.” The most he can do at the moment is do penance and make up for the damage that he clearly sees he has wrought–that is, the damage to the Church in general, and to the Holy Father and SSPX in particular.

Let’s assume, though, that the scales do drop from his eyes and he does realize that he was wrong, not simply in the effects of his statement, but in the details. Are you seriously suggesting that he can never be granted forgiveness? If not, then why (assuming he recognizes his error and repents) should he seek laicization? Are his remarks, as despicable as they are, like the sin against the Holy Ghost, which can never be forgiven?

February 4, 2009 at 8:25 am
(14) guyabano says:

It is like letting loose a pillow full of feathers. If Williamson repents & sees the error of his ways, then he can serve as a bishop provided that he repairs the damage that he has done and pick up all the feathers that have been spread.

February 4, 2009 at 6:08 pm
(15) Scott P. Richert says:

Folks, this is not a forum to debate the Holocaust, nor is it a forum for publicizing your own books. I’ve deleted three posts so far today for straying from the discussion at hand. If this keeps up, I will close all comments on this post.

February 4, 2009 at 9:05 pm
(16) Scott P. Richert says:

Strike 2.

February 4, 2009 at 11:02 pm
(17) Zaphod says:

Okay, Scott. This is not area that a prince of the Church needs to be discussing.
When a prince of the Church strays into an area that they do not need to be discussing, we should quietly and respectfully suggest this to them. Whether we think they are right or we think they are talking through a hole in their heads, we should not become disrespectful, obnoxious, abusive or arrogant in our speaking to them or about them.

As for the point you make about not being allowed to tell the truth “unless you can do so without harming your neighbor”, there are times when the harm of telling the truth has to be weighed against the good that will be done.
Now subjectively speaking, what is the difference between something you know to be the truth and something you believe to be the truth? When a person believes something to be true, they would say they know it to be true. Objectively they may be wrong, but subjectively they know it to be right. Your comment suggesting the difference between knowing and simply believing is a pretty shaky distinction when it comes to speaking out.
Thanks for your comments and your column, now I must get back to my essays on Practical Ethics and on Viking Religion, what fun…

February 5, 2009 at 6:09 am
(18) Scott P. Richert says:

Zaphod, thanks for your comments. Regarding the proper respect for bishops, I agree with you that “Whether we think they are right or we think they are talking through a hole in their heads, we should not become disrespectful, obnoxious, abusive or arrogant in our speaking to them or about them.” That’s why, if you look back at all that I’ve written in my two years running this guidesite, you won’t find any such comments about any bishops, including Bishop Williamson.

You write, “there are times when the harm of telling the truth has to be weighed against the good that will be done.” But I don’t see how that is different from Father Belet’s point. If telling the truth harms your neighbor, then we’re not talking about good that will be done.

Finally, you misunderstood my point about knowing something to be true versus simply believing it to be true. I’m not at all attempting to make a objective/subjective distinction here, especially since I agree with the Catholic historian John Lukacs that the subject/object distinction is mistaken, and all knowledge is personal and participatory.

All I meant in that comment is that sometimes we know something to be true because we experienced it or witnessed it. That firsthand knowledge is not arrived at by study or reasoning; rather, the knowledge is much more direct. But when we haven’t experienced or witnessed something directly, we can indeed become convinced that something is true–believe it to be so–even when it is not. As you say, from a “subjective” standpoint, we may regard that as the same thing as knowing it to be true, but it isn’t.

And that’s more proof that there’s a fundamental flaw at the very core of the subject/object distinction. And that’s a subject for another essay, in another venue. (Which, interestingly enough, I happen to be working on at the moment–a review of John Lukacs’ latest book, Last Rites.)

February 5, 2009 at 11:04 pm
(19) Scott P. Richert says:

Two foul balls. I’m afraid strike 3 is on its way . . .

February 6, 2009 at 4:17 am
(20) Zaphod says:

I agree that there is something wrong with the whole objective/subjective discussion. Actually, that was part of my point. When I stood in front of an RCIA group and pointed out the Church teaching on artificial contraception, I had a chorus of three priests say, “That’s the objective teaching but what about the subjective…?” and they proceeded to undermine the clear teaching of the Church.

Have you ever met Bishop Williamson, Scott? I once had the opportunity to do so and had a good talk with him. I found him to be a very intelligent and interesting man with a good sense of humour. I think I detected that sense of humour quietly bubbling in the background in his apology to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

February 6, 2009 at 7:28 am
(21) Scott P. Richert says:

Zaphod, I’ve never met Bishop Williamson (nor, for that matter, any of the bishops of SSPX). I have a friend who has, on a number of occasions, and has spoken with him at length. He is a traditionalist himself, but his assessment of the bishop is somewhat different from yours. I have no desire to go into details, because as you and I agreed above, there is a proper respect that we owe to bishops by virtue of their ordination that is not diminished by any particular views that they hold (short, of course, of heresy, though even there, it takes a Saint Nicholas, rather than a layman, to slap Arius).

February 6, 2009 at 9:39 am
(22) Bob Hirschfeld says:

Despite Bishop Williamson’s insistence that he is not an antisemite, his denial of the Holocaust, coupled with his belief that the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” authentic, and not merely a vicious forgery, suggests otherwise. Has he retracted his views? Not at all. Is he obligated to do so? Is it even possible for him to do so? I would say, no. Under those circumstances, what should be the response of the Church? I think that someone with such views–to say nothing of the opinions her has expressed about women–should not be a bishop, or even a priest, statuses that give these indefensible opinions a gravitas they do not merit. All of us, Bishops, Roman Catholics in general, and everyone else, are entitled to hold whatever views they choose. But actions carry consequences, and a man who has expressed and continues to hold the beliefs of a Bishop Williamson should NOT be allowed to maintain a position of authority by the Church, not if the Church wants to be regarded as a credible voice for morality and ethics.

February 6, 2009 at 12:02 pm
(23) Eric says:

Williamson must apologize not only to the pope but to the people he scandalized the most: the Jews. He must also recant all his statements unambiguously. The pope’s decision to lift the excommunication was certainly a poorly thought judgment. He was way too eager to hasten their reconciliation without considering if these people are indeed ready to make such a commitment. What he did was to undermine all the good work of his predecessor who made progress in promoting peace and unity in the world. If the Society is sincere in their efforts, then they should remove Williamson in his active duty as bishop because he has lost his credibility to function as a benevolent pastor for his people.

February 6, 2009 at 1:42 pm
(24) Scott P. Richert says:

Sorry, folks, but I’m tired of policing the comments on this post. On the one hand, I’ve got Holocaust revisionists ignoring my repeated statements that this is not the forum to discuss their views; on the other, I’ve got people continually restating points that I covered up in comment 4 without taking into account what I wrote there.

Since nothing is being accomplished other than causing unnecessary work for me, I’m shutting down the comments on this post. Please continue your prayers for strength and guidance for the Holy Father, and for unity among all Christians.

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