Why was Bishop Williamson expelled from SSPX?

Engraved in stone over the entrance of a grade school on Long Island, New York, that was built at the turn of the twentieth century are the words: “Let those who dare to teach never cease to learn.” 

In 2009, after a television interview was broadcast in which Bishop Richard Williamson denied the gravity of the Holocaust, the Society of St. Pius X dismissed him from his position as rector of its seminary in Argentina and forbade him to speak publicly on historical matters. Having no position of authority in the Society (he was not even Superior of a house), the irrepressible English bishop commandeered a British Traditionalist Catholic blog and used it as a launching pad for regular Internet attacks against Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Bernard Fellay. His insubordination was not merely verbal but also tactical, including a “Tradileaks” incident last summer: pre-emptive strikes against the General Superior through the publication of sensitive internal documents of the SSPX. Repeated warnings in 2012 from the authorities in Menzingen went unheeded, and an official ultimatum was given in October. But Bishop Williamson would not learn.

On October 24, 2012, the General House of the Society of Saint Pius X issued the following communiqué:

Bishop Richard Williamson, having distanced himself from the management and the government of the SSPX for several years, and refusing to show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors, was declared excluded from the SSPX by decision of the Superior General and its Council, on October 4th, 2012. A final deadline had been granted to him to declare his submission, after which he announced the publication of an “open letter” asking the Superior General to resign.

This painful decision has become necessary by concern for the common good of the Society of Saint Pius X and its good government, according to what Archbishop Lefebvre denounced: “This is the destruction of authority. How authority can be exercised if it needs to ask all members to participate in the exercise of authority?” (Ecône, June 29, 1987)

Menzingen, October 24th, 2012

Earlier this month, during a wide-ranging interview with the German Catholic publication Kirchliche Umschau [Ecclesiastical Review], Fr. Niklaus Pfluger, First Assistant General of the Society of St. Pius X, commented on the then-precarious position of Bishop Williamson:

Bishop Williamson has been given fair warning. This is a sad moment in the history of our Society. If he continues his Internet campaign against the Society and its Superior General, then his expulsion from the Society cannot be avoided. Besides his false ideas, he has plotted under cover. The veritable tragedy is the fact that for years he has not accepted the authority of the Superior General, but has assigned to himself a God-given mission. Before the General Chapter [in July 2012], he rallied priests and faithful to rebellion. For a Catholic bishop, this is very serious.

It must be emphasized that the conflict between Bishop Williamson and his former superiors was not over doctrine but about policy. The recalcitrant bishop was disciplined for pertinacious behavior unworthy of a member of a priestly society of apostolic life.

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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.