The Society of St. Pius X has expelled Bishop Richard Williamson, saying he has distanced himself from the traditionalist Catholic group’s leadership and he has refused “to show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors.”
The Switzerland-based society said Oct. 24 that the “painful” decision was necessary because of “concern for the common good” and for the good government of the society.
The society’s Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay and his council declared the bishop to be excluded on Oct. 4. Bishop Williamson, in response to a final deadline for him to declare his obedience to the society, published an open letter asking the superior general to resign.
The Society of St. Pius X broke from Rome in 1988 when its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops, including Bishop Williamson, against the orders of Pope John Paul II. The ordinations resulted in the excommunication of all five bishops. Archbishop Lefebvre founded the society in 1970 as a response to what he saw as errors in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.
The society only celebrates the Tridentine Latin Mass.
Pope Benedict XVI has endeavored to reconcile the society with the Church. He lifted the excommunications of the society’s four living bishops in 2009. However, that act caused significant controversy because, unbeknownst to the Pope, Bishop Williamson had made statements that diminished the magnitude of the Holocaust.
The bishop told Swedish public television that only as many as 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, when the accepted figure is about six million.
Bishop Williamson caused internal strife in August when he made an unauthorized visit to a Brazilian breakaway Benedictine monastery and celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation there for nearly 100 lay Catholics.
A Society of St. Pius X district superior protested that the visit was an act of disobedience that disrespected the society’s procedures.
The society’s ongoing talks with the Vatican on possible reunification are also a source of internal controversy.