Image: Richard Williamson
Kirsty Wigglesworth  /  AP
Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, second from left in foreground, is escorted out of Heathrow airport by police and security officers after arriving on a flight from Argentina, in London, on Feb. 25, 2009. Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust, has been threatened with expulsion from his traditionalist order for hiring a lawyer allegedly linked to the neo-Nazi movement in Germany.
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updated 11/22/2010 1:28:09 PM ET 2010-11-22T18:28:09

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 a Nov. 29 appeal in Germany of an incitement conviction for saying in a TV interview that he didn't believe Jews were gassed during WWII.

The interview aired in January 2009, days before Pope Benedict XVI lifted Williamson's excommunication, unleashing a torrent of criticism and threatening the Vatican's relations with Jews.

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The Regensburg, Germany court where British bishop is appealing told the DAPD news agency that he would be represented by Wolfram Nahrath, who has defended neo-Nazis and is a member of a far-right organization.

The Network Against Nazis group says he 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.

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Williamson was convicted in April and fined euro10,000 ($13,000) for his comments in an interview in Germany with Swedish television.

Williamson's rehabilitation in the following days 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.

The pope later admitted the Vatican had made mistakes in the Williamson affair and said he hadn't known of the bishop's views when he lifted the excommunication. He implicitly criticized Vatican officials for having failed to do a simple Internet search to turn up the background.

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.

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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.

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Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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