Vatican orders Holocaust-denying bishop to recant views

The Vatican, bowing to the growing furor over Pope Benedict VXI’s decision to accept a return to the church of a prelate who denied the Holocaust, made a dramatic turnaround Feb. 4 and demanded the bishop recant.

The Vatican sought to distance the pope from the controversy by saying he did not know about British Bishop Richard Williamson’s views when he agreed to lift his excommunication last month.

The controversy provided a rare look at the cracks in the Vatican’s facade of unity and raised questions about the advice the pope receives and his access to information. Papal aides say Benedict, a former university professor and theologian, receives a daily news summary and occasionally watches television.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he took Benedict at his word that he didn’t know about Williamson’s views, but said he couldn’t believe Vatican aides didn’t do more research to better inform the pope.

“This was absolutely a matter that was bungled at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Hier said. “If they Googled the name ‘Bishop Williamson,’ they’d find out he was a Holocaust denier. This did not require advanced research at the Vatican Library or Oxford.”

Williamson was shown on Swedish state television just days before the lifting of his excommunication was announced Jan. 24, acknowledging his view that “there was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers” during World War II.

He said historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”

Williamson subsequently apologized to the pope for having stirred controversy, but he did not repudiate his comments, in which he also said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The controversy threatened to mar Benedict’s strong record in building Catholic-Jewish relations, which included visits to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and synagogues in Germany and the United States.

Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated in 1988 after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent. Lefebvre founded the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X in 1969, which opposes the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including its outreach to Jews.

In the statement Feb. 4, the Vatican said that while Williamson’s excommunication had been lifted, he still had no canonical function in the church because he was consecrated illegitimately by Lefebvre.

“Bishop Williamson, in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the church, will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah,” the statement added.

Jewish groups praised the Vatican statement, saying it satisfied their key demand. “This was the sign the Jewish world has been waiting for,” said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Last week, Benedict said he felt “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews, but his comments fell short of demands the bishop be publicly reprimanded.

Williamson, meanwhile, could face charges in Germany, where he was interviewed by Swedish TV. State prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial.


Another priest denies gas chamber deaths

rome — Another traditionalist priest has denied publicly that Nazis murdered Jews in gas chambers during the Holocaust.

 “I know that the gas chambers existed, at least for disinfection,” the Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz said in an interview Jan. 29 with Italy’s Tribuna di Treviso newspaper.

Like Richard Williamson, Abrahamowicz is a follower of the late traditionalist Bishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Abrahamowicz said he could not say if people were killed in the gas chambers because he had not studied the question. He said, however, that he did not doubt that 6 million Jews “or even more” were killed in the Shoah. But he went on to compare the Holocaust to “other genocides” that did not receive the same amount of public recognition. These included the Allied bombing of German cities — and Israel’s actions in Gaza. — jta