There have been calls for me to publicly apologize to Bishop Williamson for my criticism of the counsel he gave to a lady in Mahopac, NY during his June 28, 2015 conference in which he told her that it was morally acceptable for her to continue assisting at the New Mass given her circumstances. The defenders of Bishop Williamson say that they found evidence that Archbishop Lefebvre said a similar thing in 1979. Here is that purported evidence. After reading this evidence, those calling for me to publicly apologize will be disappointed to hear that there will no public apology forthcoming from me. The Archbishop in this purported evidence is simply considering the precise judgement that should be made on those priests who celebrate the New Mass and those faithful who attend the New Mass. The Archbishop here recognizes that the matter of celebrating or attending the New Mass is grave and that their full consent on the part of those who celebrate it or attend it. However, the Archbishop also recognizes that there is the lack of knowledge regarding the gravity of the matter on the part of many who fully consent. Therefore, they do not subjectively sin. One must be careful then when broaching this subject with such people. However, nowhere does the Archbishop state in this purported evidence that it is okay to counsel such people that it is morally acceptable to celebrate or attend the New Mass. Rather, the Archbishop emphasizes that such people must not be condemned. After all, the pope, bishops, and priests approve of the New Mass. Therefore, to tell them that the New Mass is evil and that consequently one must not celebrate it or attend it has to be done carefully and gently. As a matter of fact, there may even be times when it is better not to mention it at all. For example, let us say that someone who you just met happens to tell you that she is a Catholic and that she attended a wonderful Mass that very morning. Let us also say that by the conversation it is clear that she attended a New Mass. Depending on the situation, it may be better to keep your mouth shut and not bring up the evils of the New Mass as you reckon that it is not an opportune time and that hence she would not benefit if you brought up the subject. Rather, you surmise that she may actually get turned off. There is no sin committed by you in keeping silent in this case. Now it is true that Bishop Williamson handled the case of the lady in Mahopac, NY carefully and gently. However, the problem is that he advised her that she could continue attending the New Mass given her circumstances. This was done in the context of a soul seeking direct counsel from a shepherd of souls on the matter of the New Mass. In this situation, Bishop Williamson had a duty to tell her the truth about the evils of the New Mass and consequently counsel her to stop attending it. But that is not what he did!
Let us, nonetheless, for the sake of argument, be very generous to those who may object and say that it could be inferred from what the Archbishop said in 1979 that he left open the possibility of counselling people who found themselves in favourable circumstances that it would be acceptable for them to attend the New Mass. After all, the Archbishop was not as hard on the New Mass in the years shortly after its promulgation as he was in later years. I personally don’t understand how a doctor in philosophy and theology (which the Archbishop was) could give advice contrary to what he himself admitted to be grave matter. But nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us give the objectors this bone. We can then reply to this objection by stating that it was only two years later, in 1981, that the Archbishop started to require the signing of the Declaration of Fidelity to the Positions of the Society of St. Pius X by seminarians prior to them being ordained to the subdiaconate. Part of this Declaration states the following:
“I affirm that the new rite of Mass does not, it is true, formulate any heresy in an explicit manner, but that it departs ‘in a striking manner overall as well as in detail, from the Catholic theology of the Holy Mass’, and for this reason the new rite is in itself bad.
“That is why I shall never celebrate the Holy Mass according to this new rite, even if I am threatened with ecclesiastical sanctions; and I shall never advise anyone in a positive manner to take an active part in such a Mass.”
Note two important points. Firstly, that the New Mass is in itself bad. Secondly, that the New Mass being in itself bad causes one who signs the Declaration to never advise anyone in a positive manner to take an active part in it. In consonance with this, the Archbishop stated the following in a conference he gave in 1990, one year before his death:
“Because people are still asking us those questions: ‘I have not the Mass of St. Pius V on Sunday, and there is a mass said by a priest that I know well, a holy man, so, wouldn’t be better to go to the mass of this priest, even if it is the new mass but said with piety instead of retaining myself?’ No! That’s not true! This is not true! Because this rite is bad! Is bad, is bad. This is the reason why this rite is bad, he is poisoned! It is a rite poisoned!”
The Archbishop went to his death being firm on the principles enunciated in the Declaration. This is part of the legacy he handed down to his spiritual sons and followers.
Bishop Williamson at one time too publicly held the principles of the Declaration regarding the New Mass. As Rector for many years in both the United States and Argentina, he required his seminarians ready for ordination to the subdiaconate to sign the same Declaration. Unfortunately, however, his response to the lady in Mahopac, NY was a deviation from the principle that “I shall never advise anyone in a positive manner to take an active part in such a Mass”. Since that day, I have been hoping that he would publicly retract his statement, admit that he made an error and that he really doesn’t hold that position, state that he was caught off guard and felt sorry for the lady and consequently gave her a soft but wrong answer, or give whatever statement that would place him back in line with the transgressed principle of the Declaration. But now it almost 10 months later and His Excellency has not publicly retracted his bad advice in any manner whatsoever despite the fact that it has caused much scandal and infighting within the Resistance. He could make things right again, but he has not done so. What then are we do about it? Other than trying to persuade His Excellency to retract his statement, I am not certain. The good news, though, is that His Excellency has not publicly repeated this bad advice, at least as far as I am aware. And according to Fr. Chazal, His Excellency even showed some regret. I wish, however, that His Excellency would say it publicly for the benefit of all! On the other hand, what I am certain about is that the last thing we should do is perform mental gymnastics in trying to defend His Excellency’s bad advice. There have been countless forum and blog pages dedicated to doing exactly this! These defenders are doing the same thing as the defenders of Bishop Fellay, that is, distorting the Archbishop’s position for the sake of their defendant. It is so sad to see this arguing on such a basic issue as active attendance at the New Mass. A follower of the Archbishop should have already accepted as a closed issue that we can neither actively attend nor positively advise others to actively attend the New Mass. But alas, the damage has been done. And only His Excellency can repair it. Hope is not completely lost that he will do so and do so publicly. Let us storm heaven with our prayers for this end.
As for me, I do not need to publicly apologize because I was correct in my assessment that His Excellency’s advice to the lady in Mahopac, NY is not consonant with the position of the Archbishop.