â€˜Lying’ Holocaust denier is embraced by the Vatican
HOLOCAUST denier Richard Williamson, 68, is one of four bishops who have had the excommunications lifted by Pope Ratzinger this week.
The four bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent â€” a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.
The Vatican announced this week that Ratzi rehabilitated the four as part of his efforts to bring Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X back into the Vatican’s fold.
Then all hell broke loose when Williamson said in a interview on Swedish TV:
I believe there were no gas chambers … I think that 200 000 to 300 000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers. There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies!
According to this report, German prosecutors immediately launched a probe against Williamson. A spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office in the southern city of Regensburg said it had opened an investigation against him for the remarks he made.
Historians have established that six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II including vast numbers by systematic extermination in gas chambers.Â But Williamson insisted that history:
Is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed.
This week, Pope Benedict XVI reportedly decided to cancel the excommunication of the four bishops in a bid to heal the schism with the more traditionalist Catholic movement.
Lefebvre, who died in 1991, was excommunicated in 1988 by pope Jean Paul II for having consecrated the bishops in defiance of the Vatican’s authority.
While Williamson’s comments may be offensive and erroneous, they are not an excommunicable offence, said Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Immaculate Conception School of Theology at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
To deny the Holocaust is not a heresy even though it is a lie. The excommunication can be lifted because he is not a heretic, but he remains a liar.
Jewish groups denounced the Vatican for having embraced a Holocaust denier and warned that the pope’s decision would have serious implications for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the pontiff’s planned visit to the Holy Land later this year.
Said Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem-based head of interrelgious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a key Vatican-Jewish negotiator:
I do not see how business can proceed as usual.
He called for the Pope or a senior adviser to issue a “clear condemnation” of all Holocaust denials and deniers.
Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris said he understood the German-born pope’s desire for Christian unity, but said Benedict could have excluded Williamson. He warned that his rehabilitation would have a “political cost” for the Vatican.
I’m certain as a man who has known the Nazi regime in his own flesh, he understands you have to be very careful and very selective.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Williamson’s views were “absolutely indefensible.” But he denied that rehabilitating Williamson implied that the Vatican shared them.
They are his personal ideas … that we certainly don’t share but they have nothing to do with the issue of the excommunication and the removal of the excommunication.
Williamson’s comments cast a cloud over the pope’s efforts to normalise relations with the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X, which Lefebvre founded in 1969. Lefebvre was opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly its ecumenical outreach and its decision to allow Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, the current head of the society,who also had his excommunication lifted, expressed his gratitude to Benedict and said the decree would help the whole Roman Catholic Church.
Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the faith of their fathers.
Fellay, meanwhile, has distanced the society from Williamson’s remarks about the Holocaust, saying Williamson only had authority to discuss matters of faith and that he was personally responsible for his own opinions.
But he berated Swedish state television, accusing it of having introduced the Holocaust issue in the interview “with the obvious intention of misrepresenting and maligning,” the society.
The Society of St. Pius X, which is based in Menzingen, Switzerland, has six seminaries, three universities and 70 primary and secondary schools around the globe. Aside from the four bishops, it boasts 463 priests and 160 seminarians.