The discussions directed towards reconciliation between the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the Holy See, which were noted here a while back, seem to have reached an impasse for now. There appears to be significant opposition within SSPX to Bishop Fellay’s work toward normalizing the status of the SSPX, not least ending its effective schism from the Church. Much of that opposition centered on Bishop Williamson, who gained notoriety by denying aspects of the received history of the Holocaust.
For this and other reasons it was no great surprise when the SSPX expelled him on 23 October. The question that everyone pondered was what the rogue bishop would do now. Few thought he would slink away into quiet retirement. A vigorous man with intellectual gifts sadly not tethered to a full sense of reality or perspective, he has rarely been a team player as a SSPX bishop. While one admires, even prays for, a bishop with a strong and active commitment to the Faith, a good bishop needs also a proper sense of his role within the universal Church, and the discretion and prudence with which to fulfill it. These qualities Williamson demonstrably lacks
It seems Williamson has now played his hand. A website has been launched to support his new St Marcel Initiative. There is not much to the page thus far, and it would only be fair to allow that there is more to come. Yet this page is public, and it is already deeply disturbing.
The name itself is bemusing. The ostensible reference appears to be to St Marcel the Centurion. However he is more commonly known as St Marcellus of Tangier, or St Marcellus the Centurion. The fact that he has chosen to render the name Marcel surely must imply an allusion to his own beloved Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the SSPX and episcopal consecrator of Williamson. There is the whiff here of Williamson canonizing the late Archbishop. Not a good start.
This maverick, I’ll-do-it-my-way approach, all part of the stance he has adopted of Williamson contra mundum et ecclesiam, receives apparent confirmation on this simple web page. First, after barely a paragraph of introduction (disturbing in itself, of which more below), Williamson asks for money. His request is not subtle and he offers several ways of donating. Indeed, raising money seems to be the main purpose of the website. Not that there is anything wrong per se with asking for donations to help in a religious work. However, some works are legitimate and others not. That is one difference between donating to the Church and donating to a cult.
What is this work for which Williamson asks money? This is the second point which seems to confirm that Williamson has set up his own ecclesial community (or “the True Church” as he would no doubt term it). What does Williamson say?
IT SEEMS THAT, today, God wants a loose network of independent pockets of Catholic Resistance, gathered around the Mass, freely contacting one another, but with no structure of false obedience, which served to sink the mainstream Church in the 1960’s (sic) and is now sinking the Society of St. Pius X…. For myself, once my situation stabilizes, I am ready to put my bishop’s powers at the disposal of whoever can make wise use of them.
So he has discerned, it would seem through private revelation (a central element of radical Protestantism), that God now does not want either the Church or the SSPX (those evil “structure[s] of false obedience”), but a loose network of resistance cells. Williamson is selflessly (!) offering himself as bishop at large to La Résistance.
What should be made of this? Simply, that Williamson has ceased to be Catholic in any but the technical sense deriving from his Baptism. He has abandoned any concept of the organic development of the Church and seeks to replace its “structure of false obedience” (the hierarchy, the curia, and the diocesan system one presumes) with resistance cells. He has ceased to conceive of the role of the bishop as always and everywhere at the service of the universal Church by bonding to it the local Church that he serves. Being the bond of communion for resistance cells, following their own version of the Gospel, is not the same. In time I expect Williamson’s rhetoric will involve references to the primitive Church, served by the peripatetic St Paul, to whom we will all be invited (implicitly at least) to compare him.
Williamson is now bishop-for-hire: has mitre, will travel. He now embodies the very radical Protestantism he would affect to despise. Worse, he is setting himself up as an episcopal prostitute.
We can only pray for him, and those souls that he might lead astray, that he might come to his senses and reconcile himself with Christ’s Vicar, and so too Christ’s Church. The Church’s earthly mantle is, and always has been and will be, dirty and a little ragged. Yet it still adorns the Body of Christ. Williamson’s self-manufactured substitute will not suffice to replace. Horrible to think what body it might adorn.
PS For some insightful recent commentary of Williamson, written before the his Initiative was revealed, see Brian’s blog.