I have a great affection for far-right wing Catholic traditionalist rhetoric. Somehow, I like hearing all the ways that I am going to Hell. Since I was affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X when I was still at a tender age for a young man, I think there is some sort of bizarre nostalgia at work. I remember my scowling and nice-but-crazy professors in the seminary in Argentina talking about how the Freemasons were taking over the Church, the Jews were taking over the world, the Catholic clergy was infested with communists, etc. Indeed, for someone who considered himself a Marxist only a couple of years earlier, this was a surreal situation to say the least. Perhaps that is why I took refuge in the study of Patristics and the Eastern Church; part of me realized I had made a huge mistake (a 3,000 miles away from home sized mistake). But the entire experience has given me an insatiable appetite for right-wing Catholic rhetoric, especially the “everyone’s going to Hell (except me)” variety. Call it Jansenism, clerical fascism, or most accurately, theological snuff porn.
I give you exhibit A. It’s a little dated, but it gives you a pretty good taste of what I mean here. For those who do not want to waste an hour and a half of their lives, Bishop Williamson talks about, among other things, how the Vatican is pretty much no longer Catholic (though he holds out hope that some parts of it are), that a woman’s place is indeed in the home and not the university, that 9-11 was an inside job, that the Freemasons are still dangerous, that the true anti-Semite is Pope Benedict for refusing to preach Jesus to the Jews, and so forth. In other words, these are things that I have already heard before from His Excellency. Just so you know, I left La Reja about six months before he was officially made rector there. He did come to visit when I was there and give a series of bizarre, apocalyptic conferences regarding the fate of the world, the Anti-Christ, and so on. Yawn.
Now, before I start the whole pointing of fingers and saying, “he be crazy…”, there is still a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. How are the Jews saved in the Catholic consciousness if we aren’t supposed to preach Jesus to them? What of all of those passages in St. Paul about wives subjugating themselves to their husbands? What of all of the Fathers of the Church who believed that the vast majority of people would be damned, and they believed that the Gospel had been preached to the ends of the earth? There is a distinct sensation that Bishop Williamson, for all his craziness, has absolutely nothing to hide or apologize for. Modern Catholicism, the nemesis he despises so much, seems to be an exercise in justifying why we don’t do/believe X anymore; about evolution, the hierarchy of the sexes, monarchical government, and so on. It is the modern Catholic who resorts most often to political and authoritarian thinking when it comes to belief since if he were to go to tradition, to what is “on the books” so to speak, he has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, his entire act of Faith becomes an act of explaining how the decisions of power can change how we think about or view a particular issue. Because something is no longer popular, or certain legislation was passed by the Curia, we can ditch all of those things we now see as “unpreachable”.
I think it’s a good thing, but not because God has anything to do with it. I still have a hard time believing that Christians got God so wrong for so long, and somehow we have Him right. I have a hard time believing that just because some document written fifty years ago says otherwise, that a doctrine preached for two thousand years no longer counts. If I find Williamson appalling (and I do), it is not from the point of view of “authentic, official Catholicism”, but from the point of view of a secular thinker. The only reason the Catholic Church preaches a fluffy, nice God now, one who accepts the Jews just as they are, one who will not excommunicate the war monger but rather the desperate pregnant woman, one who accepts usury up to a point and not homosexuality, is that our real Sacred, secular liberal democracy, is what truly influences the tone of ecclesiastical discourse. We are beholden to its sensibilities, even if we have to keep up a façade of opposition. In some places, such as sexual ethics, the Church is dragging behind. But no doubt the game is up, and the Church will have to find its place again absent any secular or moral authority whatsoever. Perhaps it is the SSPX that is already doing just that (unless you count out the French fascist Front National… oops, probably not).
So pardon me if a small part of me feels that Bishop Williamson’s Catholicism is real Christianity. Or at least, it is more authentic for him than ours is for us. For him, his ideas have consequences, even though he is crazy. Our ideas have consequences too, but they are not the ideas we openly profess, but the ideology that frames us even without our knowing. If Bishop Williamson’s god is unpreachable, it is because we have become skilled dialecticians in spite of ourselves.