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Richard Nelson Williamson, SSPX (born 8 March 1940) is an English traditionalist Catholic and a bishop of the Society of St. Pius X. Williamson opposes the changes in the Catholic Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He sees such changes as being unacceptably liberal and modernistic, and as being destructive to the Church.

Williamson was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1988 ipso facto with, i.e. as a direct and immediate consequence of, his unauthorized consecration as a bishop by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Holy See lifted the excommunication in January 2009. However, after reports accusing him of Holocaust denial attracted widespread media coverage, the Vatican declared that "in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, (he) will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted."

Early life

Williamson was born in Buckinghamshire, Englandmarker, the middle son of a Marks and Spencers buyer and his wealthy American wife. Williamson attended Winchester Collegemarker and then went to Clare College, Cambridgemarker where he received a degree in English literature. Upon graduating, he taught at a college in Ghanamarker for a brief period. In September 1965 he returned to England and from 1965 to 1970 taught at St Paul's Schoolmarker in London, where records show him to have been a popular teacher and speaker, involved with multiple extracurricular activities.

Williamson, originally an Anglican converted to Catholicism in 1971. After a few months as a novice at the Brompton Oratorymarker, Williamson left. He became a member of the Society of St Pius X a traditionalist Catholic faction founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 in protest of the liberalism of the second Vatican council, He entered the International Seminary of St. Pius X at Ecônemarker Switzerlandmarker, and in 1976 he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Priesthood and excommunication

Williamson's first appointment was as a professor at the German seminary of the Society in Weissbad, and after two years he was named to the St. Pius X International Seminary in Ecône, Switzerland. He subsequently moved to the United States where he served as the rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefieldmarker, Connecticutmarker from 1983, and continued in the position when the seminary moved to Winona, Minnesotamarker in 1988.

In 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate Richard Williamson and three other priests as bishop. Lefebvre did not have a pontifical mandate for these consecrations (i.e. permission from the pope), normally required by Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. The Vatican warned they would be excommunicated if the ordinations went ahead.

On June 30, 1988 Williamson and the three other priests were consecrated bishop by Archbishop Lefebvre, and the Vatican issued a statement declaring that the Lefebvre and the four others had been excommunicated Two days later, Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, in which he reaffirmed the excommunication, and described the consecration as an act of "disobedience to the Roman pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church", and that "such disobedience — which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy — constitutes a schismatic act".

Williamson denied the validity of the excommunication, saying that the consecrations were necessary due to a moral and theological crisis in the Catholic Church.

SSPX bishop

After his episcopal consecration Williamson remained rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary. He performed various episcopal functions, including confirmations and ordinations. In 1991, he assisted in the consecration of Licínio Rangel as bishop for the Priestly Society of St. John Mary Vianney after the death of its founder, Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer. In 2006, he ordained two priests and seven deacons in Warsawmarker, Polandmarker for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat.

In 2003 Williamson was appointed rector of the Seminary of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix in La Reja, Argentinamarker.



In common with his colleagues in the SSPX and with many other Traditionalist Catholics, Williamson opposes the changes in the Catholic Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He sees such changes as being unacceptably liberal and modernistic, and as being destructive to the Church. Among the changes he opposes are the Church's increased openness to other Christian denominations and other religions, and changes in the forms of Catholic worship such as the general replacement of the Tridentine Mass with the Mass of Paul VI. Williamson has criticised Pope John Paul II, to whom he attributed a "weak grasp of Catholicism". Williamson holds that the SSPX is not schismatic, but rather is composed of true Catholics who are keeping the "complete Roman Catholic apostolic faith".

Williamson is viewed as being located towards the hardline end of the traditionalist spectrum, though he does not go so far as to espouse sedevacantism. In the past, he opposed compromise between the SSPX and the Church leadership in Rome, accusing the latter of deceit and of being under "the power of Satan". He has been reported as viewing reconciliation between the SSPX and the Holy See as being impossible, and he has noted that some SSPX members might refuse to follow the Society in such a direction even if an agreement were reached.


Williamson holds strong views regarding gender roles and dress. He opposes women wearing of trousers or shorts, attending college or university, or having a career, and has urged greater "manliness" in men.

He supports authoritarian parenting style, denouncing the film The Sound of Music as "soul-rotting slush" and saying that, by putting "friendliness and fun in the place of authority and rules, it invites disorder between parents and children."

Williamson supports conspirary theories regarding the assassination of President Kennedymarker, and the World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theory, denying that the latter were terrorist attacks but were instead staged by the U.S. government.

Jews and holocaust denial

Williamson has expressed controversial views about Jews. He called them the "enemies of Christ" and urges their conversion to Catholicism. He claims that Jews and Freemasons have contributed to the "changes and corruption" in the Catholic Church. He has also stated that Jews aim at world dominion and believes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be authentic. Williamson has denied that he is anti-semitic,stating that he is following the New Testament, which includes harsh statements about the Jews, and noting that he also attacks other "enemies" of Christ such as Communists and Freemasons.

Since the late 1980s, Williamson has been accused of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial. Citing the pseudoscientific Leuchter report, Williamson has denied that millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps and the existence of Nazi gas chambers, and praised Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. During an interview on Swedish television recorded in November 2008, he stated: "I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler", and "I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers."

Lifting of the excommunication

Wishing to heal the rift with traditionalist Catholics, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the four bishops Lefebvre had consecrated. The decree was signed on January 21 2009, the same day that the interview on Swedish television was broadcast. The decision stirred widespread outrage, particularly in Germanymarker, where the interview was conducted and where Holocaust denial is illegal and punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. On 4 February 2009, German prosecutors announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the statements. Reaction from much of the Jewish community was strongly negative, and Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote to Cardinal Walter Kasper in order to express his opposition to any ecclesial re-integration of Bishop Williamson.

The Catholic Church authorities made a number of statements on the matter. Pope Benedict XVI stated that he deplored all forms of anti-semitism and that all Catholics must do the same. The Pope expressed his "unquestionable solidarity" with the Jewish people, and stated his hope that "the memory of the Shoah will induce humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of hate when it conquers the heart of man", and condemned the denial of the Holocaust. Vatican officials stated that they had not been aware of Williamson's views prior to the lifting of the excommunication; as a result, in a July 2009 Vatican reorganization, the Pope tightened control and supervision over reconciliation efforts with SSPX.

Williamson sent the Pope a letter expressing his regret about the problems that he had caused, but did not retract his statements. On 4 February 2009 the Vatican Secretariat of State issued a note stating that Williamson would have to distance himself unequivocally and publicly from the opinions that he had expressed before he would be permitted to act as a bishop within the Church. Williamson responded that he would do so only after looking at the historical evidence for himself.On 26 February, he formally apologized for the offense that had been caused by his comments, but did not indicate that he had changed his views. The Vatican rejected his apology, stating that he needed to "unequivocally and publicly" withdraw his comments. Some Jewish groups have expressed disappointment at the ambiguity of his apology, because he failed to address the factuality of the Holocaust.

Bishop Fellay of the SSPX initially denied responsibility, stating that Williamson's statements were his alone and that the affair did not concern the SSPX as a whole. However, he subsequently forbade Williamson from speaking out publicly about historical or political matters, and asked Pope Benedict for forgiveness for the damage done by Williamson's statements. Williamson was sacked as the head of the seminary of in La Reja, Argentina and Bishop Fellay stated said that if Williamson again denied the Holocaust, he would be excluded from the Society.

On February 19, 2009, the government of Argentinamarker gave him 10 days to leave the country voluntarily or he would be expelled. Interior minister Florencio Randazzo said that the irregular presence in the country of someone who had "deeply offended Argentine society and humanity with antisemitic statements" was "intolerable". On 24 February 2009 Williamson flew from Argentina to London, where he was met by Michele Renouf, a former model known for her anti-semitic views, with whom he had been put in touch by fellow holocaust denier David Irving.

Episcopal succession


  • The Rural Solution: Modern Catholic Voices on Going Forward to the Land (2003, with P. Chojnowski, W. Marx, W. Nutting, C. McCann)
  • Letters from the Rector by Bishop Richard Williamson
    • Volume 1: The Ridgefield Letters covering 1983–1988 (2007)
    • Volume 2: The Winona Letters Part I covering 1988–1994 (2008)
    • Volume 3: The Winona Letters Part II covering 1984–1999 (2009)
    • Volume 4: The Winona Letters Part III covering 2000–2003 (2009)


  1. Apostolic Letter 'Ecclesia Dei'
  2. Press release on the lifting of the excommunication, with full translation of the decree remitting it
  3. Apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988). Accessed 2008-01-01.
  4. SSPX FAQ Question 11 (29 June 1987). Accessed 2008-01-01.
  5. The 1988 consecrations: a theological study (July & September 1999). Sì sì no no via Accessed 2008-01-01.
  6. The 1988 consecrations: a canonical study (November 1999). Sì sì no no via Accessed 2008-01-01.
  7. Ein Damenbesuch und andere unbekannte Seiten des Papstes
  8. Lefebvrist bishop says no reconciliation with Rome
  9. SSPX bishop sees little hope for agreement with Rome
  11. Robert G. Weisbord and Wallace P. Sillanpoa: The Chief Rabbi, the Pope, and the Holocaust (Transaction Publishers 1991 ISBN 0887384161) p. 194
  12. National Catholic Reporter, 30 March 2001, quoting a 3 October 2000 letter by Williamson.
  13. 1 February 1991 Letter
  14. Robert G. Weisbord and Wallace P. Sillanpoa: The Chief Rabbi, the Pope, and the Holocaust (Transaction Publishers 1991 ISBN 0887384161), p. 202
  15. CBCP News, Vatican: Bishop's Holocaust statements 'strongly rejected' by pope
  16. Reaktioner i Tyskland - redan före sändning!
  17. CNN: Vatican: Bishop must recant Holocaust denial
  18. ADL To Vatican: Do Not Rehabilitate Holocaust Denier Bishop
  19. Pope tries to heal rift with Jews over Holocaust denier
  20. Pope denies feeling alone over Holocaust-denying bishop
  21. Bishop Williamson apologizes for 'imprudent' Holocaust remarks
  22. Bulletin of the Press Office of the Holy See, 4 February 2009
  23. "I Will Not Travel to Auschwitz." Spiegel Online. 9 February 2009.
  24. ZENIT article
  25. The Remnant
  26. SSPX Head on Holocaust Denial
  27. IHT:Argentina expels Holocaust-denying bishop
  28. La Nación report on expulsion from Argentina (in Spanish)
  29. La Prensa report on expulsion from Argentina (in Spanish)
  30. Holocaust-denying bishop leaves Argentina for Britain after airport scuffle The Times. 24th February, 2009.
  31. "Holocaust-denying bishop lands in UK after expulsion from Argentina", The Guardian, 25 February 2009

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