Vatican: Bishop's apology not enough

Holocaust denier Richard Williamson says he's sorry for hurt he caused, but doesn't retract claims.

Richard Williamson 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Richard Williamson 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman, the Vatican said Friday. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson's statement "doesn't appear to respect the conditions" the Vatican set out for him. In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed. Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known "the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise." But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them. Williamson's initial remarks sparked widespread outrage among Jewish groups and others. The interview was broadcast just days before the Vatican announced that it was lifting his excommunication and that of three other bishops. The four, members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, had been excommunicated after being consecrated as bishops without papal consent in 1988. Bowing to the criticism, the Vatican on Feb. 4 demanded that Williamson "absolutely and unequivocally distance himself from his remarks about the Shoah if he is to be admitted to Episcopal functions in the church." Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. In his statement Friday, Lombardi noted that Williamson's comments were not addressed to Pope Benedict XVI or to the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei commission, which has been dealing with the Society of St. Pius X ever since its bishops were excommunicated. Williamson issued the statement, carried by the Zenit Catholic news agency, upon his arrival in Britain after being expelled from Argentina. In it, Williamson said he was only giving the opinion of a "non-historian" during the Swedish TV interview. He said that opinion was "formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since." However, he said, "the events of recent weeks and the advice of senior members of the Society of St. Pius X have persuaded me of my responsibility for much distress caused." "To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize." Jewish groups were not impressed. "With his failure to clearly retract his malicious lies, Williamson has shown again that he is a convinced anti-Semite and an incorrigible Holocaust denier," said the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch. Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said he could not tell if Williamson's apology was genuine. "If it is, let him reflect over the coming weeks and make a proper act of penance," he said in an e-mail statement. "For our part, we seek to move ahead and resume the Catholic-Jewish dialogue with renewed vigor and determination." The Society of St. Pius X has distanced itself from Williamson's remarks and removed him as the director of its seminary in La Reja, Argentina. The Switzerland-based society was formed in 1969 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its outreach to Jews.