Williamson lives on the second floor. This is where the bishop, who likes to perform lieder by Robert Schumann, removes his heavy bishop's ring and plays works by German composers on the piano. "Music," he says, "is an expression of harmony or disharmony in human souls."
He also spends much of his time surfing the Internet, where he has loyal fans. There are 520 people registered as friends on his Facebook page, and hundreds read his columns on the Web, which he writes under the pen name "Dinoscopus" -- a made-up word derived from dinosaur and episcopus (the Latin word for bishop). He cultivates his image as a reactionary and as keeper of the pure faith. Living in a large city is harmful, he recently pontificated while glancing at the tennis courts. It gets in the way of and destroys marriages, he said, turns young men into "washcloths" that are "washed out by liberalism," so much so that "their common sense is diluted."
Williamson is a sophisticated man who delivers powerful sermons. He is a literary scholar with a Cambridge degree who speaks perfect French, German and Spanish. He is also vain, appreciating refined manners and expensive clothes, and he forgets the world around him when he plays Beethoven.
And he is someone who believes that no Jews were killed in the Third Reich's gas chambers.
Bishop Fellay, Williamson's superior, looks distressed as he sits in his office at Schwandegg Palace in Menzingen, Switzerland. He fervently hopes "that Williamson doesn't explode." The palace offers a sweeping view of Alpine foothills in the canton of Zug, where the old spa town sits atop a 900-meter (2,950-foot) mountain. The voices of oblates, devout lay women who help the priests run the household, can be heard in the hallways.
"We have lost one of our four bishops," says Fellay. "We can't use him for anything anymore." He is struggling with himself and history, trying to find the right words and the appropriate amount of distance to the matter. He finds the whole thing "incredibly unpleasant," and says that he had believed that "the bishop had understood things better in the meantime." But unfortunately Williamson did not understand. Fellay says that his personal belief is that the Holocaust is "obviously" a fact.
But not all of his brothers are willing to agree. Shortly after the Williamson scandal broke in early 2009, an Italian priest, Father Floriano Abrahamowicz, speculated that the gas chambers may have been used merely "for disinfection," and that Erich Priebke, a former captain in the SS who was involved in and later convicted of the shootings of hundreds of civilians in Italy, was in fact not an executioner. This too was "unpleasant" for the SSPX leadership.
On the other hand, the whole debate has had its advantages. Because of Williamson, the SSPX has acquired a level of notoriety unprecedented since its establishment in 1969 by the renegade French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Ultra-conservatives have always loved the Pius Brothers, and now they are becoming heroes of the right-wing, anti-modernist movement. What should a superior general like Fellay do about this?