[Editor’s Note: The following comment was received by me yesterday. It is with regard to an article written about Bishop Williamson by Michael Paulson. Please read with an open heart and mind. Brother Juniper.]
Recently I was quoted by Michael Paulson in his article for the Boston Globe on Richard Williamson, one of the four Society of Saint Pius X bishops recently relieved of an excommunication incurred in 1988.
As to my experiences of Bishop Williamson – inaccurately reported in the article – I will mention only this: what truth he has to say – and he has a great deal of truth to impart – has often been damaged by an expression injurious to the common good of his order, indiscrete remarks not only on Jews and historical revisionism, but a great deal else besides. At our last exchange in 1986 I told him none of these things – his personal hobbies – are connected to the immediate responsibilities of a Catholic priest. Assuredly, the beleaguered bishop does not represent the Church in its complex relationship to Judaism. Or blacks, or women (in pants or out), or men who cook, or wives to their husbands, or anything else in the amazingly comprehensive Williamsonian canon as to what needs careful surveillance, rooting up, putting down, debunking, whatever. What the world needs is more conversion to the Lord Jesus.
After an international, grotesque embarrassment to his brotherhood at a very delicate juncture with the Holy See – a moment having ramifications far wider than Bishop Williamson’s limited purview – his superiors finally silenced him. Prudence is also part of Tradition. The Holy Ghost has now provided the erstwhile bishop time to meditate – at length – the value of this cardinal virtue in human conduct. Laus tibi, Christe.
More to the point, the main concern I expressed to Paulson in our telephone conversation was that Bishop Williamson does not represent the Society of Saint Pius X as a whole or the good they desire to contribute to the Church. That good is the very thing Pope Benedict wishes to recover to a full and integrated confluence with the Church in her mission for souls.
Bishop Williamson is, however, just now, a fantastic and opportune lightening rod for punishing the Pope for his actions promoting an integration of the Church with its own past. This is everywhere apparent and expressed by public, scandalous, outrageous disrespect for the Pope’s person and office. This is loudly trumpeted – and far more widely than Williamson in any of his venues – by the real enemies of religion, outside the Church, and alas, very much from within. Christianity’s real enemies do not include the SSPX bishops. But the Church’s enemies do find most willing collaborators in story-hungry reporters from the mass media. Hence my concern when this article loomed into my life.
The priest is called to act as a leaven of truth and Christian reconciliation in a world where charity grows colder by the day. This does not require his compromise with error, but certainly calls for tact sufficient to not alienate instantaneously those with whom there is obvious disagreement. From another angle, an authorized opening towards the Society of Saint Pius X (and other groups, though legal, considered equally unacceptable) does not give justification for shocking Papal disapprobation. Among such practitioners are the strident, predictable, voices clanging for liberal change.
But there is more. To anything touching on Williamson’s Society of Saint Pius X is invariably lumped the old Latin Mass. The two are not one, but in the worldwide uprising against a palpable continuity in the Church with her past – a context within which the venerable Mass is an indivisible element – the two are rarely distinguished by their common enemies. Nor is the old Mass automatic sanctuary to the rejection of Vatican II, active participation in worship, responsibility in personal conduct and so much else. But what matter? It is all glibly lumped together and cast disparagingly onto the garbage heap of all things preconciliar. And so Bishop Williamson on his favorite subjects has now become a wondrous rallying point for many to bash the Church.
How about some unexpected input from Jewish quarters? Rabbi Yehuda Levin, head of 800 Orthodox rabbis in North America, recently dismissed accusations leveled against the Holy See for not sufficiently distancing itself from Bishop Williamson’s remarks on the Holocaust. Regarding the Pope’s lifting the penalty against the four bishops he said, “I support this move because I understand the big picture, which is that the Catholic Church has a problem. There is a strong left wing that is doing immeasurable harm to the faith. I think it very important to not fill the pews with cultural Catholics and left-wingers who are helping to destroy the Catholic Church and corrupt its values. This has a trickle down effect to every single religious community in the world. The Pope is trying to bring traditionalists back because they have a lot of very important things to contribute to the commonweal of Catholicism.” A statement rather inconvenient, one should imagine, to those righteously grabbing at Williamson’s locutions against Jewry as excuse for blasting the Pope’s efforts at reintegrating traditional streams of thought into Catholic Christianity. The rabbi bypasses the smoke and mirrors about Richard Williamson and cuts to the chase on what is crucial to serious religion the world over: real Catholicism.
The main point of my interview with Paulson did not feed into the shark bait he wanted for print. My thoughts converged with those of Rabbi Levin. Here was my main point, cited from Paulson’s own notes: “I rejoice that these excommunications have been lifted, because WHAT IS AT THE HEART OF THIS MATTER IS MUCH LARGER THAN A POPULARIST UNDERSTANDING OF ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE OR RICHARD WILLIAMSON. THE STAKES ARE THE RE-EMERGENCE OF AN AUTHENTIC SELF-UNDERSTANDING OF CATHOLIC CHRISTIANITY AS A LEAVEN FOR GOOD IN A VERY GODLESS AND SECULAR SOCIETY.”
It is a shame the reporter did not include this whole statement in his article since it would have lent the thing some substance. Instead what appeared was more bait for another spate of Catholic bashing, one more source of sensational infobites snatched from context and publicized the world over to outrage – and further damage the authentic mission of the Church of Christ.
Bishop Williamson is not the issue. With the devil so active in our midst can we not admit the need each has for turning ever more sincerely to the Lord?
Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, CRNJ
Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem