Will Pope Benedict XVI Undo the ‘New Religion’ and Restore the Church?

An Exclusive Interview with Bishop Richard Williamson

Michael Chapman

Editor’s Note: Following the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, Remnant columnist Michael Chapman had the opportunity to interview Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four priests consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988.  As many of our readers have expressed interest in learning how the SSPX is responding to the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the throne of St. Peter, we are grateful to Mr. Chapman and to Bishop Williamson for providing us with this interview.  The following are Bp. Williamson’s thoughts on the new Pope, the “New Religion,” the current situation between the Vatican and the SSPX and the ongoing crisis in the Church. MJM


Q: What do you think about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger being elected to the papacy?

A: I was a little surprised, at first, because some people had said he wasn’t really in the running. After that, to tell you the honest truth, I don’t expect a great deal from Rome as it stands. They are too far gone in the “New Religion,” and the “New Religion” is too radically different and distant from the True Religion. Rome is Rome, though, and I do believe there the popes are, and there are the cardinals, and that is where the official structure of the Church is to be found. But, I’m afraid, for the defense of the Faith, you’ve got to wait for some grave event to shake Rome and/or to drive the true cardinals out of Rome to start again somewhere else. I’m afraid that Rome is too deeply in the grips of the enemies of God. 

Q: One, would you explain what you mean by the “New Religion” and, two, do you think Pope Benedict is consciously or willingly promoting the “New Religion”?

A: The “New Religion” starts from man and is centered on man. The “New Religion” starts from the proposition that God, and the idea of God, is too strange for modern man, and so, to get through to modern man, we must start from man. That’s what’s called from Karl Rahner the anthropological term, the “turn towards man.” And Fr. Ratzinger, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, was closely tied to Karl Rahner, a close disciple. So, the young Joseph Ratzinger was soaked in this brand new theology. For instance, instead of saying that Jesus Christ is the Son of God from eternity who took a human nature, it [the New Religion] says that Jesus Christ is the man who was such a perfect man that he could be called the Son of God. 

Q: Is that what Karl Rahner said?

A: Yes, that’s Rahner and Fr. Ratzinger. It’s an absolute revolution. And it has, deep down, nothing to do with the Catholic Faith. It’s an attempt by Catholic priests who want to say something that will be acceptable and understandable by modern man—an attempt by these priests to re-write, to empty out all the bottles, all the dogmas, of their old content and re-fill the dogmas with brand new content that will be acceptable to modern man.

And that new content is coherently a system that starts with man, centers on man, and finishes with man. Hence, the New Mass is said in the language of man and no longer in Latin. And it’s said with the priest turned towards man, and no longer towards God. Those are two concrete examples of the “turn towards man.”

That is, briefly, the “New Religion.” Is Cardinal Ratzinger conscious of all this?  I believe he’s in good faith. I can easily be wrong. I believe that he and his like,  sincerely believe the “Old Religion,” the old Catholic religion, was out of touch with modern man, and they sincerely believe that, whatever the Catholic religion is, it’s got to be in touch with the men of its time or get in touch with the men of its time.

Therefore, the true Catholic religion is not that religion that gets through to modern man; it’s that religion re-stated, or with the dogmas emptied-out and refilled with contents that can get through to modern man. Therefore, I do believe Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI sincerely believe that this is the Catholic religion. I think they’re sincere.

God knows. My opinion does not matter. What matters is that objectively they have completely turned the Catholic world upside down. And this continues to cause this unbelievable crisis in the Catholic Church because, and as Archbishop Lefebvre deep down grasped, this crisis is primarily a doctrinal crisis. It’s not primarily a crisis of the Mass. It’s primarily a crisis of the very Faith.

Q: If you were talking to a run-of-the-mill Novus Ordo Catholic about the dogmas being spilled and refilled, how would you explain that to him? And explain the point about the Church being inverted?

A: I would quote some of the statements from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: I think he’s a decent representative of a crazy mistake. I do believe he’s a decent man. But the question is not whether he’s decent or sincere. The question is, what is he actually saying? And is he actually defending the Faith?

How would I explain this to an average conservative Catholic? I would say: Imagine a pharmacy, and during the night thieves break in and they empty-out every bottle in the pharmacy, and then they mix the powder in great heaps all over. And then they fill all the bottles with a different powder. Then I enter the shop in the morning and see all the bottles exactly where they were with their labels. But if I open up the bottles, I will find a different content. That’s how the Modernists keep the appearances but change the contents. And it means that the Catholic religion, in our time and by the Second Vatican Council and by the promoters of the Council—like, up to now, Pope Benedict XVI—the Catholic religion has been completely gutted. It has been emptied of its substance. It’s man-centered.

Q: Yes. But what about the good conservative Catholic who says to you, that may or may not be true, but at least Rome has stood firm on some serious doctrinal or moral issues, such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, the male priesthood, and things like that?

A: Right, that’s the case with John Paul II, and it’s likely to be even more true with Pope Benedict XVI. But, let me give you another image: I have a skyscraper resting on rocks and suppose I empty-out the rocks and put plastic in its place? The skyscraper is still standing but it’s on a very un-rocky, uncertain foundation. It’s man-made plastic instead of nature’s rock. So, for instance, John Paul II would oppose abortion in the name of human dignity, the dignity of the human person. He would not oppose it on the law of God. (God said, “Thou shalt not kill.”) Pope John Paul would base it on the dignity of the human person, and that’s a very dangerous foundation because the mother then turns around and says, “my human dignity requires that I get rid of this little extra piece of my own body.” So, the basis of human dignity is an ambiguous foundation. It can be turned for and against a number of those decent causes for which John Paul II is respected.

Q: Is the use of the “human dignity” argument drawn from Karl Rahner’s teaching?

A: Definitely. They’re centering everything on man. Pope John Paul II centered so much on the human person. He believed in the human person, he believed in man. And remember what Jeremiah said: Woe to any person who puts his trust in man. It’s the same, very much alive with John Paul II. I think John Paul II was sincere. I think he was a good man, but he was just deeply mistaken. And I think Pope Benedict XVI is the same kind of man. I believe he’s decent and sincere, but deeply mistaken.

Q: So, things are too far gone in the “New Religion”? What can Catholics do?

A: Well, what is needed? When John Paul I became Pope, there were various indications he was beginning to understand, although he had followed the Council, and even changed his mind about religious liberty because of the Council. He accepted the Council on religious liberty. He followed the movement, which is what many bishops did. He was a normal, decent cardinal who followed the movement. Then, when he became Pope, when he was in the hot seat, it looks as though the pressures came to bear upon him, as they must now be bearing upon Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger must now be going through a firestorm.

The indications are that Pope John Paul I was beginning to understand what the score was. He wanted to get rid of some high-ranking Freemasons in the Vatican. And they got to him before he could get to them. It is very likely he was assassinated—again, there are plenty of indications of this. Of course, the Vatican hushed it all up, but enough truth got out to indicate that John Paul I was likely assassinated. So, there’s an example of a man from whom we might not have expected very much. But when he became Pope, when he got in the hot seat, he began to get the picture and he had the courage to start to act. And that was enough for him to be martyred.

It’s now very possible that Cardinal Ratzinger, under the same pressure—the stakes are much higher than when he was No. 2, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—is taking the hits like John Paul II took the hits. These first few weeks are crucial. The little indications we have so far suggest that he is not going to jump out of his skin and change all his ideas. After all, it’s very hard for a man of 78 to change his system of ideas rapidly. He spent his entire life acquiring those ideas. Most men of 78 stay with the ideas they acquired over their lifetime.

If Pope Benedict XVI stays with the ideas he acquired under Karl Rahner and Vatican II, he’s going to run the Church pretty much as it was run by Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. That’s why I don’t expect a great deal, although I hope and pray for Pope Benedict XVI, pray that he may have the courage of a Pope John Paul I and, if necessary, that he die a martyr. That would be a great victory for himself and for the Church.

Q: What do you think of the fact that the Pope has kept Cardinal Sodano as Vatican secretary of state and that there have been no major shake-ups in the hierarchy? Is the Pope just taking his time?

A: I remember Archbishop Lefebvre when Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Lefebvre said that the new Pope has got a few months to clear the decks and set a new course if he wants to. After those few months, it’s going to be business as usual. His hands will be tied and he won’t be able to change much.  But the Archbishop, at the time, did say “a few months.” So, Pope Benedict XVI, he’s not likely to change high officials within days or weeks of becoming Pope. The question is what he will do in a few months time. If there’s still no change then, you’ll know it’s business as usual. But if he puts in a few new men, it will be very interesting to see who he puts in. And that will tell us more than any sermons or speeches. Actions speak louder than words. The men he chooses will show which way his mind is going, as he feels the pressures from the Lord God and from Satan.

Q: So is too soon to say that this election is good or bad for traditionalist Catholics? We just need to watch and pray?

A: I think that’s the best answer now, to watch and pray. We hope—charity hopes all things—we hope, because he must be receiving much more grace as Pope. It is God’s Church. We do believe Benedict is Pope. Therefore, logically, either God has abandoned His Church, which is impossible, or God must be giving Pope Benedict XVI all the graces he needs to direct the Church for the good of souls. So, we hope that with this extra grace he receives from God he will see things he has not seen so far as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or as a disciple of Karl Rahner. We hope—it is not impossible. But, to be wise, I think we have to understand that the Lord God does not normally violate a person’s free will, or does not normally bend people’s free will. So, if He doesn’t bend Pope Benedict’s free will, it’s likely that, given the man at 78 years old, Cardinal Ratzinger will stay with his ideas and there won’t be a change. For instance, already on his papal blazon, his shield of arms, he’s not put the tiara. He’s put a miter, a simple miter, which suggests that he accepts the idea that he is just one bishop among many and no longer of a papal stature among the bishops.

Humanly speaking, he’s a good man. But if I’ve got a first-class motor car, with excellent tires, chassis, and bodywork, and the steering wheel doesn’t work, what use is the rest? The steering wheel is the ideas. And if the ideas are wrong, it doesn’t matter how decent and of good will you are. It’s simply going to make you crash harder and faster. He may be of very good will, but if his ideas are completely wrong, what’s going to happen?

Q: What do you think of the highly negative media reaction in the United States to the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope? The media described him as arch-conservative, hardliner, former member of the Hitler Youth, and so on.

A: The vile media do not like him because he’s a “conservative liberal,” not a “liberal liberal.” And that’s to his credit. He’s a decent man. The media have no idea what a real Catholic is. If they did, they would scream for his martyrdom, they would scream for his skin. They’re yelling at Ratzinger because he’s a “conservative liberal.” If he were a real conservative, the media would be screaming even more.

Q: In your 1999 letter on Cardinal Ratzinger, you talked about his book Milestones, and his philosophy of focusing on the search for something and not the end result: the meaning is in the searching and not in the answer when it comes to theological questions. Would you explain, in layman’s terms, what you were describing about Cardinal Ratzinger’s theology?

A: The modern mind does not believe in a fixed, unchanging truth, basically because the modern mind does not believe in God. And when one comes to believe in an unchanging God—that the whole universe is framed, upheld, and maintained by a completely unchanging absolute and total Truth—then all changes become very small beer, so to speak. But when you think that there is no truth, that nothing is fixed, then you can have no idea or understanding of the true religion, the Catholic religion. As I noted in my letter, in his book, Milestones, Fr. Ratzinger says he “wanted not only to do theology in the narrower sense, but to listen to the voices of man today.” Is it conceivable that the Deposit of Faith cannot provide the answers for man today? Fr. Ratzinger later says that he chose to study at Munich University Theological Faculty “to become more fully familiar with the intellectual debates of our time.” There, he also chose to study under a Professor Maier, whose “liberal historical method” in approaching Scripture “opened up dimensions of the text that were no longer perceived by the all-too-predetermined dogmatic reading.” In other words, history’s relativizing had more to give to our young theologian than dogma’s absolutes? His mind is at sea.

He was thinking not with the mind of the Catholic Church but of those humanly brilliant German thinkers, about whom he says, “German arrogance perhaps also contributed a little to our belief that we knew what was better than ‘those down there (i.e., in Rome).”

Q: In your 1999 letter, you have a section in there about Cardinal Ratzinger’s views on revelation. Would you explain this?

A: The truth is unchanging. And the complete and total truth is “findable.” Hence, it’s absurd to think that God would reveal Himself to us if he did not make it possible for us to find Him. But without the idea that one can find God, then the alternative is to say that, well, we can talk about it, we can dialogue, we can keep an open mind, and take no decision as absolutely true or not. Yet there are certain absolute truths and they have been found, and that is where our mind closes, on those truths. With the open mind as your guide, however, all ideas, true and false, drift in and out of the mind, and nothing is ever closed. Nothing is ever absolute, total. Truth is forever in the discovery, but it is never found.

Is searching better than finding? That is the modern mentality.  The modern theologians have no grasp of an unchanging God. The Modernists believe in an open mind because they don’t believe in a closed truth. They believe that whatever of religion comes to us from God must be no ready-made and finalized product or content such as Catholicism  was always supposed to be, but it must incorporate the input of us modern men. In brief, in the old days, God told men what was in the Catholic religion, but that religion fell dead. Now man tells God what is in the Catholic religion, and religion is again living.

Q:  An article from the May 15, 1969 edition of Informations Catholiques Internationales  says that 30 theologians had been chosen by Pope Paul VI to fill a new International Theological Commission, and that Joseph Ratzinger was  “previously suspect by the Holy Office” and did “outstanding work in collaboration with Karl Rahner ....”  Does “previously suspect” mean that Fr. Ratzinger was teaching something unorthodox?

A: It’s very possible because Fr. Ratzinger’s doctoral thesis was on St. Bonaventure. And his argument was false and deceptive. It led to undermining the belief in an absolute truth—sheer modernism. You’re back to the idea that religion must be adapted to modern man. And that is exactly what the Holy Office did not support. At that time, the early 1950s, it’s no surprise that Fr. Ratzinger and a staggering number of other theologians were under “suspect” by the Holy Office. When the Holy Office was still under Cardinal Ottaviani and Pope Pius XII, it did its job. The theologians knew the Faith and believed the Faith and they gave a hard time to any “theologian” who wanted to change the Faith.  If you read Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement on St. Bonaventure, the end conclusion is that the content of revelation needs to be changed: We need to go into the pharmacy at night and switch the contents of all the bottles in order to satisfy the customers of tomorrow. It’s crazy, unless you’ve got crazy customers who will enjoy it. And the truth of the matter is that a lot of Catholics enjoy the “New Religion” because it is a lot easier than the tough “Old Religion.”

Q:  Yes, and the “Old Religion,” in many ways, is no longer taught, except maybe by parents or traditionalist priests. Also, do you think today that many of the clergy foster this ignorance about the Faith and foster a blind obedience regardless of the scandals that may come about in the Church or what abuses one might be aware of because, all in all, you must obey?

A: Yes. And that’s wrong. That’s not Catholic. That’s exaggerated obedience. The problem is who or what the man you’re obeying represents. If he stands for the conciliar religion, he’s not standing for the Truth. If he’s not standing for the Truth, you can’t obey him because he’s no longer a minister of Christ. You can obey him in those things for which he is a minister of Christ, such as not using contraception, no abortion—there you can obey him. But when he’s for the new novelties of Vatican II, you can’t obey him. You would be disobeying God.

That idea of exaggerated obedience is way off the mark, but it is very common. You have to stick to your Faith and obey God. If you’re obeying a leader who has abandoned Christ, consciously or unconsciously, you’re going to be led away from God. Let’s suppose that Pope John Paul II meant well, that he was sincere, but if he’s mistaken, he’s going to lead you away from God and not towards God. I can’t obey someone who’s going to lead me away from God. My reason for obeying him is that he’s going to lead me to God. But as soon as he leads me away from God, I’ve got to obey God and not the man. It’s common sense.

Q: And in Pope John Paul II’s case, it looks like it was a mix. On some things, he was leading people the right way, and on other things, he was not.

A: Yes, and in these modern times, the times of Vatican II, I've got to judge the Pope in some matters. I have to listen to what is said and compare it with what the Church has taught, and then I may not be able to obey.

Q:  Getting back to Pope John Paul I, you said that he changed his mind on religious liberty. Would you explain?

A:  Prior to Vatican II, he thought that religious liberty, in the modern sense, was wrong—the idea that you are free to choose whatever religion you like. That’s the modern doctrine: Because we have the faculty of freedom, we have the right to choose whatever religion. But that’s wrong. We have the ability to choose what is right or wrong, but we only have the moral right to choose what’s right. We have no right to choose what’s wrong.  That’s common sense. And then religious liberty comes along and says we have a right to choose what’s wrong. At Vatican II, the future Pope John Paul I changed his mind on religious liberty and he accepted Vatican II doctrine.  Then he became Pope and he realized he was surrounded by villains, and he was going to get rid of them. And the indications are that he was assassinated because he was going to start moving things around in the right  direction.

Q: On another subject, how are relations between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X?

A: Can I say it’s a Mexican stand-off? It’s a friendly stand-off. The Vatican officials may not understand why the Society is taking the stand that it has but they do know that the Society is making its stand. It’s not budging. It’s not moving. Vatican officials don’t like that; they don’t understand it. But they reckon that that’s how it is and that’s how it will stay. On the side of the Society, we do our best to maintain contact with the Vatican, to demonstrate that we wish to have contacts with Rome. And that we have something very serious we want them to understand. Contacts have not been broken off but they have not yet proven very fruitful.

 Q: Is the sticking point that the Society wants all priests to be allowed to say the Tridentine Mass?

A: That is the immediate battleground. It is not the war. If it weren’t that battlefield, it would be another. But that is what, at present, the Society is asking for and that is what Rome refuses to allow. It might be that Rome would like to grant it but it can’t because of the French bishops or that the Modernist bishops would rise up and revolt, if the Mass is released. It may well happen because it looks as though some of the younger bishops are looking more and more favorably toward the Old Mass and the Old Religion. It’s taking time. The wheels of God grind slowly. It takes time for the Truth to filter. But there are indications that the Truth is filtering. So, with time, Rome will eventually come back to the Truth.