Holocaust-denying bishop threatened with expulsion

Bishop Richard Williamson hired a lawyer linked to neo-Nazis, claimed Jews were not gassed during World War II.

November 23, 2010 10:20
3 minute read.
Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson

richard williamson 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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A Catholic bishop who denied the Holocaust is facing expulsion from his traditionalist order for hiring a lawyer linked to the neo-Nazi movement.

The Society of St. Pius X said it ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to fire the lawyer, who was to represent him in an appeal next week of a German incitement conviction for saying in a TV interview that he didn't believe Jews were gassed during World War II.

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The interview aired the same day Pope Benedict XVI lifted Williamson's excommunication, unleashing a torrent of criticism and threatening the Vatican's relations with Jews.

The Regensburg, Germany court where Williamson is appealing his conviction told the DAPD news agency that he would be represented by Wolfram Nahrath, who has defended neo-Nazis in the past.

The Network Against Nazis group says Nahrath is a former leader of a German neo-Nazi group known as the Wiking-Jugend, or Viking Youth, and says he is currently active in another far-right extremist youth group.

Williamson was convicted in April and fined €10,000 ($13,000) for his Jan. 21, 2009, comments in an interview in Germany with Swedish television.

The lifting of Williamson's excommunication created a major embarrassment for the German-born Benedict, outraging bishops around the world and in Benedict's native Germany. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Protestant, demanded clarification.

In a new book of interviews with a German journalist to be released Tuesday, Benedict said he never would have lifted the excommunication had he known about Williamson's past. "Unfortunately, though, none of us went on the Internet to find out what sort of person we were dealing with," Benedict says in the book, "Light of the World" by journalist Peter Seewald.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, has distanced the order from Williamson and ordered the British bishop to keep quiet.

In a statement Monday, Fellay ordered Williamson to fire the lawyer and "not allow himself to become an instrument of political theses that are completely foreign to his mission as a Catholic bishop serving in the Society of St. Pius X."

He warned that Williamson would be expelled from the society if he disobeyed the order.

Williamson didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based society in 1969, opposed to Vatican II's reforms, which revolutionized the church's relations with Jews and allowed for the celebration of Mass in the vernacular rather than in Latin.

In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre, Williamson and three other bishops after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.

Benedict has worked for two decades to bring the group back into the Vatican's fold. In 2007, he relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, which the traditionalists had demanded. And in January 2009 he accepted another one of their demands by approving a decree lifting their excommunications.

In the new book, Benedict said the timing of the Williamson broadcast showed there was hostility to the church at play. It had been conducted in November 2008 but was aired on the day the decree lifting the excommunications was dated.

"On our side it was a mistake not to have studied and prepared the case more carefully," Benedict said. "On the other hand, though, there was precisely, shall we say, a readiness for aggression, which was lying in wait for its victim."

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