Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bishop Richard Williamson

Bishop Richard Williamson was recently re-instated into the Roman Catholic Church after being previously ex-communicated. He and four other Roman Catholic priests had been consecrated bishops in an unauthorised ceremony in 1988. The penalty according to canon law for an unauthorised consecration is ex-communication. It seems Williamson and his three co-consecrated were from the conservative pro-mass-in-Latin wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Then, just this year Pope Benedict lifted that ex-communication reinstating Williamson and the three others as a gesture of reconciliation to the more conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church.

It could have just been that story, containing a few mildly interesting subplots, however what is both sobering and shocking is that Williamson is a 'Holocaust Denier.' Denying the Holocaust is both a small cottage industry and an ideological bent shared by a variety of groups and individuals from across the political spectrum. It is essentially the belief that the Holocaust never occurred, that the evidence was falsified and that is essentially a Jewish plot of some sort. Debrorah Lipstadt wrote the brilliant and thoroughly researched: Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, in which she critiqued a number of individuals including David Irving. He sued her for libel and took her to court in England. Essentially the Holocaust went on trial. The entire incident is worth reading about because it is a fascinating intersection of truth, anti-semitism and historiography. Needless to say Irving lost, was thoroughly discredited and the sad truth of the Holocaust upheld. Holocaust denial is also a personal issue, my wife's great grandmother and great aunt were Jews, killed in the Holocaust.


So I was disturbed to see that Bishop Williamson a thoroughly committed holocaust denier, had been re-instated as a leader in the Roman Catholic Church. Leadership is not merely limited to a narrow public role. Remember Clinton and Lewinsky: people argued "the personal and public are separate" a strategy that didn't seem to work for Ted Haggard! If people have struggle with something in one part of their life it will effect other parts of their lives, people are complete, holistic beings. So Williamson whose job description includes I imagine explaining and defending the good histgorical news of Jesus (the Jew) has trouble with historical truth? Unfortunately Williamson's reinstatement has far reaching political and theological implications.

[Update posted 5/2/09] In breaking news the Vatican has called on Williamson to recant his postion on Holocaust Denial.

14 comments:

Radagast said...

It's more complex than that. The 4 bishops were not actually excommunicated, as I understand it. Rather, in 1988 the Vatican declared they had excommunicated themselves by their actions. And just recently the Vatican declared that they hadn't, after all. The Vatican has also always recognised their ordinations as valid.

The 4 bishops were made leaders by that ordination, albeit of the SSPX splinter group.

The deeper issue here is with loony leaders -- do you bring them in the fold, hoping to control them, sharing in their condemnation, or do you publicly disown them, and let them run their splinter group as they see fit?

There are many analogous Protestant cases, of course.

Radagast said...
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Luke said...

Thanks for the clarification on the details.

It's tricky, how do we define loony? We're all damaged by sin, including all our leaders. However is there a 'red-line' in leadership and is Holocaust Denial one of those things that should deny someone leadership?

Radagast said...

I can't define "loony," but I recognise it when I see it.

Nate said...

I think that actively denying the turth - unrepentant lying - should in this case be a sufficient red line. This isn't looniness, it is deceit based in anti-Semitism.

More generally, however, it is important the church stand up for the truth, but I don't think they necessarily need to disown those who fail to recognise historical facts; nor for that matter scientific truths (assuming they are not biblically relevant, moral issues).

John Dekker said...

"Denial" in this context means saying
a) Only 300,000 Jews died
b) None were by the gas chamber

The Bishop wants to address the historical evidence, but it seems he is not allowed to, especially in Germany.

The thing is, he doesn't sound like a loon. He may be wrong, but in that case his arguments ought to be addressed.

- "The doors at Auschwitz are not airtight"
- "So are you saying the Holocaust never happened?"

Let's be very clear on one thing: Holocaust denial is not anti-Semitism.

Luke said...

I'll have to disagree with you John.

An apparent inconsistency should not be the basis for an entire alternative historical reality. He claims to be addressing the "evidence" but I reckon the deeper you dig the the hollwer this rhetoric would be!

Technically the definition of Holocaust denial doesn't include the pre-requisite to be anti-semetic. However they are so often found together, one often follows or accompanies the other. It's interesting that even from the brief you-tube interview excerpt I posted you see this hinted at, towards the end of the interview, where he says something along the lines of the Holocaust been created for money. This is often the pattern of Holocaust Denial, that is was created as part of some wider Jewish plot to get money, sympathy or help create the state of Israel. I reckon the more you dig into what Bishop Williamson says, the more you'd find this pattern, of blaming Jewish interests.

Neither is that evidence he cites very compelling, it's probably from the 'Leuchter Report', a report from an American engineer given at the trial of a Holocaust denier in Canada. The report was found to be extremely dodgy. While it's good to ask about evidence it's another thing to turn confusing or contradictory information into an entire theory. For example of the things the bishop raises in the youtube clip above is the required height of the chimneys. I'm sure they'd be an explanation that wouldn't require a denial of the entire Holocaust. A similar unfortunate pattern emerges with 9/11 conspiracy theorists who claim based on the odd way the twin towers collapsed and the lack of footage at the Pentagon that the 9/11 terrorist attack was actually a conspiracy by George Bush and Co to invade Iraq. (Interestingly Bishop Williamson also believes this, the plot thickens indeed.)

Radagast said...

I think JD is right, that the response to these people has to include an explanation of *why* they are wrong. Otherwise many people will assume they are right. It's the same with people who deny the moon landings...

Luke said...

Quite the debate; it's the Dekker tag-team! (I should be memorising Hebrew (Oh the irony.) vocab but I can't resist.) I don't mind of course, I relish the chance to discuss things with you both.

I'm not sure what JD is right about! I'll agree with you both that we should never suppress questions and always be willing to explain ourselves but I heartily doubt the bishop's questions are genuine explorations for the truth. I could be wrong, he could have genuinely not read; for example Martin Gilbert's history of the Holocaust or followed Irving versus Lipstadt.

Neither am convinced JD is clear when he says "Holocaust denial is not anti-Semitism." I may personally resist the label "Calvinist" but my beliefs end up putting me in that camp anyway. The bishop may deny he denies the Holocaust but the company he keeps in his persistent "questions" about the evidence certainly push him into that camp.

Luke said...

Regarding the so-called "moon landing hoax!" When is a theory worthy of a response? Six billion people in the world with 6 billion theories, God made them all, they all deserve respect, does that extend to addressing every single theory for every single historical event? Some argue that Holocaust Denial shouldn't even be addressed, however I think that it should it and each alleged inconsistency dealt with. The same with the 9/11 thing, but the moon landing, maybe not. I don't know where that line is exactly, maybe my readers do?

Radagast said...
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Radagast said...

I'm happy to see that someone has put together a solid response to Williamson here.

Calling Williamson an anti-semite may be *true*, but it's an ad hominem argument that won't stop some people being taken in by him. Demolishing his stupid arguments is much more effective.

A good response to the "moon landing was faked" nutters exists on Wikipedia here.

If enough people are taken in by an idea, it's worth refuting, no matter how foolish it seems...

Oh, and all the best with the Hebrew vocab!

John Dekker said...

Luke, the fact that this is a personal issue for you means you need to be all the more careful that your reasoning is clear and logical.

he says something along the lines of the Holocaust been created for money.

No, he says nothing of the sort. He says that "there has been an exploitation" and that Germany has paid out billions because the Germans have a guilt complex on the issue. He's clearly talking about the results of the Holocaust theory, (I don't know of any other way I can phrase that) rather than the motivation behind it.

I may personally resist the label "Calvinist" but my beliefs end up putting me in that camp anyway. The bishop may deny he denies the Holocaust but the company he keeps in his persistent "questions" about the evidence certainly push him into that camp.

Do you see the subtle shift in your analogy? On the one hand, you talk about your beliefs, and on the other hand you talk about the company the bishop keeps.

Anyway, the link to Lipstadt's blog is interesting - the first comment complains that the interviewer doesn't shred Williamson's argument, "as it so richly deserves to be shredded." That was my reaction too, though I fail to see any evidence of anti-semitism.

Luke said...

"Do you see the subtle shift in your analogy? On the one hand, you talk about your beliefs, and on the other hand you talk about the company the bishop keeps."

I didn't mean to shift the analogy I meant to keep it in the realm of ideas, I have no idea who he personally keep company with, but those who share his holocaust denial ideas tend not do so because they have legitimate questions but an anti-semetic axe to grind. (Correlation not causation.) Perhaps I am guilty of having an axe to grind against Holocaust deniers!

Yes, I agree it's good to be clear and logical, but again neither is it as clear as you make it out to be.

"he says something along the lines of the Holocaust been created for money."
"No, he says nothing of the sort. He says that "there has been an exploitation" and that Germany has paid out billions because the Germans have a guilt complex on the issue. He's clearly talking about the results of the Holocaust theory, (I don't know of any other way I can phrase that) rather than the motivation behind it."


Your taking the bishop again at face-value. He claims to be only seeking the "facts", questioning the theory etc. However he's being disingenuous, to know of the dodgy cyanide-in-the-bricks-report you'd have in all probability encountered evidence proving the Holocaust. Then with that in mind he first claims to question the Holocaust and then claims it's being exploited. He laves the question hanging, who was doing the exploiting? People from Greenland? The Jews. So it's misleading to claim he's being clear John, he's being disingenuous.

Thanks for the links Tony.
John, yes I like the fact she sent him an email and I hope all is well in Kansas.