The rehabilitation of ultraconservative Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson by the Pope sparked a storm of controversy: Williamson was on record as a denier of the Nazi gas chambers and the extent of the Holocaust.
In a television interview earlier this year, Williamson claimed that no more than 300,000 people had perished in the Nazi concentration camps and none in gas chambers.
Williamson is one of four excommunicated bishops ordained by the leader of the Society of Pius X, a group which opposes the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict restored relations with the society, but stipulated that full communion would only be granted when those concerned had accepted the teachings of Vatican II. The society has been accused of espousing anti-Semitic views.
Williamson’s televised remarks earned widespread censure. He was subsequently expelled from Argentina, where he headed a seminary, and later apologised for his remarks.
In a statement, he said: “I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that 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.”
However, Williamson did not appear to recant his comments. He said they were the views of “a non-historian”, that his perspective was formed “20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available”. He’s also quoted elsewhere as saying he wants more time to study relevant documents.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center (www.wiesenthal.com), said the statement was “a cleverly worded attempt to apologise to the Pope and the leaders of the Church for the anguish he has caused them, while avoiding the reason for their anguish: his denial of the Holocaust and his labelling the gassing of Jews a lie”.
It seems Williamson’s statement was not good enough for the Vatican either; he remains in pastoral limbo, while the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and the Anti-Defamation League are planning a renewed Catholic-Jewish dialogue in the United States. More of Williamson’s views can be read in an interview at tinyurl.com/d8yhmn