By Greg Erlandson
Lefebvrist Bishop Richard Williamson is living proof that episcopal consecration, licit or not, does not preserve one from stupidity.
Williamson is now the center of a storm of controversy after his excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 21. It turns out that the 68-year-old convert to Catholicism, despite his patrician bearing, is a garden-variety Holocaust denier.
Williamson was one of four bishops excommunicated by Pope John Paul II after being illicitly ordained by schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. You may not know, if you have relied only on secular news reports, that the lifting of the excommunication by the pope does not affect the illicitness of their ordinations as bishop. In fact, the Vatican says big questions remain about the status of the bishops, the society and its priests. The move is one more effort by Pope Benedict to heal the rift with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.
What Pope Benedict's actions are most assuredly not is an endorsement of the wacko personal views of Bishop Williamson. This is a nuance lost in most of the secular news reports on the subject, because the lifting of the excommunication decree coincided with the broadcast on Swedish television of an interview with Williamson in which he denied (again) the Holocaust.
The Holocaust, or Shoah, is the extermination of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany.
"I believe," Williamson told the interviewer, "that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
He went on to say, "I believe there were no gas chambers." Instead, only 200,000 or 300,000 Jews died in concentration camps, "but not one in a gas chamber."
He cited an infamous Holocaust denier's "research" that the Nazis did not have the technical capacity for such mass death camps. When asked, he did not explicitly deny that he is an anti-Semite, coyly arguing that "if anti-Semitism is bad, it's against truth. If something is truth, it's not bad."
Williamson's outbursts led Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Society of St. Pius X, to discredit his claims and ask for forgiveness "for the dramatic consequences of this act."
Williamson's interview was redolent with all of the classic pseudo-historical revisionism of self-styled scholars of the Holocaust denial movement.
If you are so unlucky as to have had contact with any of their literature or websites, you know that the trick of the deniers is to repeat a lie enough times, and soon some people will start to believe. It is the heart of any con, and this is a most devilish con.
There is in such denial literature a constant invocation of the historical record -- as Williamson himself repeatedly did in the Swedish interview -- along with a studied rejection of that very record: the testimonies are all false, the trials all staged, the photos misinterpreted, the memories faulty. It is a kind of dark Gnosticism that now slithers about the more reptilian corners of the Internet.
Of course, graphic testimonies exist of what the camps actually did, and it is important that the world remembers. One good book to read is called "Holocaust Denial," by Kenneth Stern, which examines closely the arguments of the deniers.
Every Catholic should also read "The Anguish of the Jews" by Father Edward H. Flannery, a classic work on anti-Semitism.
The Holocaust continues to haunt us because it challenges our most optimistic modern assumptions about ourselves. This is why Pope John Paul called Auschwitz the "Golgotha of the modern world." In a world filled with horrors, it was a bloody milestone of man's inhumanity to man. We forget it at our peril.
And if anyone still doubts that Williamson does not have both oars in the water, wait till you hear what he has to say about 9/11. It turns out the planes did not bring down the towers or strike the Pentagon. It was actually demolitions. Where did he learn that? On the Internet, of course.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.