RIO DE JANEIRO — After having his previous excommunication lifted in 2009, Bishop Richard Williamson has incurred the canonical penalty again, upon illicitly ordaining another priest as bishop on March 19.
Bishop Williamson was one of four priests who were consecrated bishops without pontifical mandate by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988; all five incurred a latae sententiae (automatic excommunication), which was removed by Benedict XVI in 2009.
Archbishop Lefebvre was founder of the Society of St. Pius X, which he established in 1970 to form priests as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Even while remitting the excommunications of the society's bishops, Benedict XVI noted that “doctrinal questions obviously remain, and until they are clarified, the society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”
Bishop Williamson was expelled from the Society of St. Pius X in 2012, and the man he ordained, now-Bishop Jean-Michel Faure, was expelled in 2014, “because of their violent criticisms of any relations with the Roman authorities,” the society stated.
Both men incur automatic excommunication as a result of the illicit consecration, which was performed at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Nova Friburgo, a city in Brazil's state of Rio de Janeiro.
Bishop Edney Gouvea Mattoso of Nova Friburgo, the local ordinary, stated that he learned of the consecration “with great sadness,” adding that the “unlawful episcopal ordination at issue is a disobedience to the Pope in a most grave matter, a topic of the utmost importance to the unity of the Church, the ordination of bishops, through which apostolic succession is perpetuated.”
“An unlawful act such as this leads to a practical rejection of the primacy of the Roman pontiff, even constituting a schismatic act, with the penalty of automatic excommunication envisaged by the Code of Canon Law.”
According to Canon 1382, both “a bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”
Bishop Gouvea continued his statement, saying, “As bishop of Nova Friburgo, it befits me to exhort all the Catholic faithful to fulfill the grave duty of remaining united to the Pope in the unity of the Catholic Church and to not support by any means the unlawful episcopal ordination and the consequences which will result.”
He then guaranteed the “filial unity and obedience” of his flock to the Successor of Peter, “especially at this painful time.”
Bishop Gouvea concluded, “Such an unlawful and schismatic act offers to all an occasion for profound reflection and a renewed commitment of fidelity to Christ and to his Church.”
A professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross made a similar observation.
Speaking to CNA, Father Robert Gahl suggested that “one might hope that when traditionalists see this additional radicalization of a fringe group that they might feel a greater need to foster full unity in the Church.”
He added, “My expectation is that some of them, on the personal level, will be horrified by this, and it may, therefore, help them to see greater the need for unity with Rome, whereas others on the personal level may further radicalize.”
Father Gahl also reflected on the moral implications of Bishop Williamson's repeated participation in episcopal consecration lacking pontifical mandate, suggesting that the bishop has a greater moral responsibility on this occasion than he did in 1988, when he was merely receiving episcopal consecration.
“In this case, he would be excommunicated for being in the active leadership, which entails an even greater responsibility, insofar as he is now the one conferring the sacrament. So, just from that perspective, this ordination entails a more actively rebellious disobedience against the Pope. … It's definitely a hardening of his position.”
The Society of St. Pius X also released a statement, saying it “denounces this episcopal consecration.” It added that it “regrets sincerely” that Bishop Williamson's “spirit of opposition has led to an episcopal consecration.”
The society commented that the episcopal consecration, “despite the assertions of both clerics concerned, is not at all comparable to the consecrations of 1988. All the declarations of Bishop Williamson and Father Faure prove abundantly that they no longer recognize the Roman authorities, except in a purely rhetorical manner.”
Bishop Faure had been ordained a priest by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1977, and prior to his expulsion from the Society of St. Pius X, he had served as its South-American district superior and rector of its seminary in Argentina.
Bishop Williamson is also known as a Holocaust denier, having told Swedish public television that only as many as 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, when the accepted figure is about 6 million.