The “absolutely unequivocal and public” taking of distance from his positions regarding the Shoah, which the Vatican was expecting from bishop Williamson, has not come to pass. Which is perhaps no surprise, given the nature of the case—a desperate one, indeed.
What is surprising is, in my opinion, that Richardson felt the need to perform an attempt to apologize for the interview he gave to a Swedish TV program last November (aired in January), in which, as it is well known, he disputed that six million Jews had been killed by the Nazis, and said that none had died in gas chambers.
So, in a declaration released on February 26, he said that he “regretted” having made such remarks, “because their consequences have been so heavy,” and that, had he known beforehand “the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich,” he would not have made them. Furthermore, in a vain attempt to minimize the significance of his remarks, he added that on Swedish television he “gave only the opinion (...”I believe”...”I believe”...) of a non-historian, an opinion formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.”
But the simple truth, as Norm Geras points out, is that
[t]he one thing he doesn’t say—and you have to assume that this statement has been thought about carefully—is that he has now concluded in light of a review of the evidence that those opinions were wrong. It looks […] like an apology because some were offended, as opposed to an apology for a falsehood now recognized by him.
And that’s why Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said yesterday in a verbal statement that the apology “does not seem to respect the conditions” set out by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. The Vatican spokesman also described the apology as “generic and equivocal.”
However, once again it is to be noted that, even if Williamson would have “respected the conditions,” his status within the Catholic Church wouldn’t change, since the lifting of the excommunication by the Pope did not by any means heal the schism between Rome and Lefebvrists. In fact, as canon lawyer Peter Vere points out, Williamson’s ordination—along with that of the other three bishops—20 years ago was illicit, because it was against the wishes of the Pope, but nonetheless valid. Which means that Williamson “is in fact a bishop with episcopal powers,” because his episcopal consecration was valid, but “not a Catholic bishop.”
The remission of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very serious canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical status of the Society of St. Pius X, which presently does not enjoy any canonical recognition by the Catholic Church. The four bishops, even though they have been released from excommunication, have no canonical function in the Church and do not licitly exercise any ministry within it.
As for the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the deniers of the Holocaust, what Pope Benedict said on February 12, speaking to American Jewish leaders at the Vatican, swept away any reasonable doubt, while the latest declaration by Williamson seems to have raised an insuperable wall between Williamson himself and Rome. Which I guess is not that bad.