Published on Saturday, 28 January 2012 22:56 Written by Sonia Gable
As reported in December’s Searchlight, the National Front’s numbers were boosted at its march to the Cenotaph last year with new recruits such as Richard Edmonds, a former second-in-command in the British National Party, taking part for the first time since the NF split in 1980 and marching alongside some of the most violent survivors of the Combat 18 factions from the 1990s.
But away from the cameras the same weekend saw further connections being built among the elite of British fascism, where far-right Catholics associated with the Society of St Pius X are increasingly active. This Society was founded in Switzerland in 1970 by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and brought together clerics who opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
While some of these “Vatican II” reforms were not obviously political, among its ultra-conservative opponents there have always been a substantial number of antisemites – Catholics who see modernity as the fruit of a sinister conspiracy involving Jews and Freemasons.
Although Hitler’s Third Reich included many pagan occultists among its leaders, its allies across Europe (including most of the footsoldiers who carried out the Holocaust) were inspired by one or other variety of Christian antisemitic tradition. Even now the main criticism of Hitler’s Nazis from some Catholic traditionalists is that they were secret allies of a Jewish conspiracy!
Links between the SSPX and fascism have been particularly apparent in France, where Lefebvrists have appeared regularly with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National. In May 1989 the fugitive nazi collaborator Paul Touvier was discovered hiding at the SSPX priory in Nice, where he was sheltered with the full knowledge of the Society’s leaders. Touvier had been head of intelligence for a unit of the collaborationist Milice, working directly under Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon”. He became the first Frenchman convicted for crimes against humanity under the Vichy regime, and was sentenced to life imprisonment after a trial where he was accompanied throughout by an SSPX priest.
Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 for ordaining four SSPX priests as bishops without the Vatican’s authority. The new bishops were also cast out by Rome. They included the English priest and former school teacher Richard Williamson.
On the evening of Remembrance Sunday 2011 a weekend conference opened in north London at the SSPX Church of Saints Joseph and Padarn. It was the fourth in a series of annual events under the title “Bringing Christ to Our Neighbour: Fortifying our Future through the Faith of our Past”.
Fearing press attention the organisers disguised the identity of the “guest speaker” on the Sunday afternoon, whose theme was to be “Church and State”. It was none other than the notorious Bishop Williamson, who was thrown out of Argentina for his Holocaust denial and other antisemitic activity in February 2009. In April 2010 Bishop Williamson was convicted in Germany of inciting racial hatred through his Holocaust denial statements in a television interview broadcast the previous year. The Society suffered further embarrassment when Bishop Williamson hired Wolfram Nahrath, the former head of the banned nazi group Wiking Jugend (Viking Youth), as his German lawyer.
Another speaker at the north London conference, Alex Kennedy, had attended a memorial dinner for Sir Oswald Mosley during the same weekend, as had several of the audience. SSPX supporters have regularly turned up at meetings of the New Right in London. Jeremy Bedford-Turner – the leader of one of the two New Right factions that split last summer – has cultivated particularly close links with the Society, even though other New Right figures have long been involved with occultism.
All this reminds some veteran nazi-watchers of the late 1980s, when the “political soldier” wing of the NF split into Catholic and pagan factions. The Catholics became the “International Third Position”, controlled by the Italian fascist exiles Roberto Fiore and Massimo Morsello and very close to the SSPX. The former leading NF activists Derek Holland and Michael Fishwick are still active in SSPX circles.
Some SSPX members are concerned at these political links, especially as Bishop Williamson associates with non-Catholics in the Holocaust denial movement, such as David Irving and Michèle Renouf. Among these critics is Blaise Compton, a well known composer and musicologist who attended the north London conference and whose father was a prominent Catholic journalist. Compton shares the fears of the SSPX leadership that a media spotlight on blatant antisemitism will scupper any chance of reuniting with Rome.
After the SSPX promoted a convicted antisemite speaking on Remembrance Sunday about the relationship between Catholicism and politics, one might think the organisation would be shunned by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. But for the past three or four years a complicated factional game has played out between the Vatican and the leaders of SSPX and other ultra-conservative rebels against papal authority.
Pope Benedict XVI (the former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was himself on the conservative wing of the church, and clearly wishes to reunite conservatives who have spent decades in the wilderness after breaking away from the Vatican. Bishop Bernard Fellay, the “Superior General” of the SSPX, agrees, and has been involved in detailed negotiations. Fellay agreed to move the SSPX away from Williamson’s blatant antisemitism and Holocaust denial but can only go so far without alienating many of his own members who follow Williamson’s line.
Despite regular orders to keep quiet for the sake of the bigger project of influencing the entire Catholic Church in an ultra-conservative direction, Bishop Williamson has continued to publish an email newsletter circulated to a list of supporters around the world.
In his first email message of 2012 Williamson took a step closer to what many of his supporters see as an inevitable split in the Society, writing of “the pre-Apocalyptic gravity of the crisis in the Church”. Mocking the position of the SSPX leadership as a dangerous delusion, he summarised their stance as: “with just a little flexibility on each side surely Rome and the SSPX can arrive at some arrangement whereby Rome gives back to the SSPX that respectability which it should never have lost, while the SSPX can re-enter Rome in a triumphal procession on the way to the two together re-conquering the world for Christ.”
In contrast Williamson’s position is that there can be no compromise with the forces of Modernism, which, after all, were explicitly condemned by the very Pope Pius X after whom the Society is named. Like many on the far right Williamson takes comfort in the hope that economic and social collapse will lead to revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary) change. While Modernists might think they are winning the political game, he writes: “… the great and good God has a surprise in store for those who think so. To save souls he washed out men’s whole wretched system in the time of Noah, and to save souls again he may this time round blast it clean. The blasting may or may not start in 2012.”
There are many among the Bishop’s flock who likewise believe that 2012 might see the beginning of the counter-revolution. As Britain’s far right seeks a way forward following the decline of Nick Griffin’s BNP, there is a significant overlap between political and religious antisemites looking for leadership. It may be that the SSPX (and whatever hardline faction emerges from the likely turmoil in the Society later this year) will merely continue providing a refuge for those who cannot accept the modern world, including casualties of factional disputes within British fascism. But the real danger is that a post-BNP movement might draw strength from the assiduous networking of London’s Catholic fundamentalists.