Holocaust-denying bishop's apology sparks fresh outrage

28th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

In a letter to the Vatican released Thursday, Williamson apologised to those he offended with his remarks but stopped short of withdrawing them.

Vatican City -- An apology from Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson failed to placate many religious groups Friday who pointed out that he had not retracted claims that no Jews perished in gas chambers.

In this "thoroughly bungled" statement, Bishop Richard Williamson "unfortunately takes nothing back," said Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany. The apology, made public on Thursday, "leads one to the conclusion that he still believes in the Holocaust-denial," he told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

The vice president of the Central Council of German Catholics, Hans Joachim Meyer, also rejected Williamson's "mea culpa," telling the Tagesspiegel on Friday it was "in no way satisfactory."

In a letter to the Vatican released Thursday, Williamson apologised to those he offended with his remarks but stopped short of withdrawing the remarks.

"Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks," said Williamson in the letter made public a day after his return to Britain from Argentina. "If I had 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, I would not have made them."

Williamson, 68, indicated in the letter that he was responding to a demand by the pope to reconsider his comments and stressed that his views were based on an opinion he formed two decades ago.

"On Swedish television I 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,” he said. “However, the events of recent weeks and the advice of senior members of the Society of Saint Pius X have persuaded me of my responsibility of much distress caused."

The bishop has been at the centre of a raging controversy after saying on Swedish television last month: "There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies." Williamson said he believed "200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them by gas chambers."

The comments prompted Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to launch a highly unusual attack on the Vatican, calling on the German-born pope to clarify his stance on Holocaust-denial, which is illegal in Germany.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was "shocking" and "unacceptable ... that someone in the 21st century can deny the Shoah, the martyrdom of the Jews."

And German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries meanwhile refused to rule out possible legal action. "Germany could act within the framework of a European arrest warrant," she said.

European Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot echoed her, telling reporters in Brussels that the denial could attract legal action in many EU states.

"I am personally opposed to any form of denial," he said. "It's not acceptable... it's playing with the truth."

Williamson was among four bishops that Pope Benedict XVI agreed to take back in January in an attempt by the Vatican to heal a split with traditionalist Roman Catholics who rejected the church's liberal reforms of the early 1960s.

Until now, Williamson had refused to withdraw his claims, despite Vatican demands for him to unequivocally and publicly withdraw them.

On February 12, the pope sought to pacify Jewish anger over his lifting of Williamson's excommunication by saying that Holocaust denial was "intolerable."

"Any denial or minimisation of (the Shoah), this terrible crime, is intolerable and altogether unacceptable," the German pope told visiting American Jewish leaders at the Vatican.

The Argentine government last week gave Williamson 10 days to leave the South American nation -- where he lived at a seminary run by the ultra-conservative Saint Pius X Society -- for having "deeply shocked Argentine society, the Jewish people and all of humanity."

Williamson is currently believed to be staying with fellow priests at the offices of the Society of Saint Pius X in the leafy southwest London suburb of Wimbledon.

The Times newspaper reported he is considering giving a conference for conservative Catholics in a church hall at St. Joseph and St. Padarn church in north London.


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