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Seminary ousts Holocaust-denying bishop

The traditionalist bishop whose rehabilitation by the Vatican sparked outrage because of his denials of the Holocaust has been removed as the head of an Argentine seminary, his superiors said Monday.
Image: Bishop Richard Williamson
Bishop Richard Williamson, shown in a 2007 photo, who has drawn criticism from the Vatican and Jewish groups for denying the extent of the Holocaust.Jens Falk / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The traditionalist bishop whose rehabilitation by the Vatican sparked outrage because of his denials of the Holocaust has been removed as the head of an Argentine seminary, his superiors said Monday.

The ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, which is trying to reconcile with the Vatican, announced it had dismissed British Bishop Richard Williamson as director of the La Reja seminary and distanced itself from his views.

The development came even as a new report quoted Williamson as having declared in a 1989 speech that "Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism."

Williamson's views about the Holocaust created an uproar last month when Pope Benedict XVI lifted his excommunication and that of three other bishops consecrated by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Lefebvre founded the Society of St Pius X in 1969 in opposition to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican council, particularly its outreach to Jews.

Said no Jews were gassed
In an interview broadcast Jan. 21, Williamson told Swedish state TV that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust and only 200,000 to 300,00 were killed, not 6 million.

"The statements from Monsignor Williamson do not in any way reflect the position of our congregation," the Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, South American superior for the Society of St. Pius X in Buenos Aires, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

"A Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on matters concerning faith and morality. Our brotherhood does not claim any authority over other questions."

Williamson also questioned the Holocaust while serving as rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, between 1988 and 2003, the Winona Daily News reported Sunday.

"There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies," Williamson said in the 1989 speech at Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes church in Sherbrooke, Canada, according to the newspaper.

In the same speech, the paper said Williamson asserted that "the Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel."

The Daily News reported that the bishop also wrote letters in 2001 and 2002 blaming "Judeo-Masonry" for the two world wars and claiming that Jews were bent on world domination. It did not say to whom the letters were sent.

After the pope lifted Williamson's excommunication, Israel's chief rabbinate suspended a planned regular meeting in March to discuss Catholic and Jewish religious teachings.

Vatican demands he recant
But last week, the Vatican demanded Williamson recant before he can be admitted as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

Rabbi David Rosen, a longtime participant in Vatican-Jewish dialogue, said Monday that thanks to the new Vatican demand, the meeting would probably take place at the end of March.

The Vatican statement requiring Williamson to recant "provided exactly what we had been calling for," Rosen said in an e-mail. "Had it been issued 10 days earlier, we could have avoided much distress and damage, above all for the image of the Holy See itself."

A prominent Argentine rabbi, Daniel Goldman, on Monday welcomed Williamson's dismissal from the seminary near Buenos Aires, saying the bishop's statements "demonstrate that there are still people in the world today who are instilled with Nazism," according to the Jewish News Agency in Buenos Aires.

"We have to continue working for education and justice to ensure that these forces do not triumph."

In Nuremberg, Germany, meanwhile, a court said Monday it has rejected an attempt by Williamson to block Internet transmission of the Swedish TV interview.

The court said it found no grounds for limiting distribution of the interview that took place in Germany, saying the bishop would have had to make clear to the station beforehand any limitations on its distribution.

The German weekly Der Spiegel reported Saturday that Williamson did not plan to immediately comply with the Vatican's demand that he recant and that he had rejected a suggestion he might visit the former Auschwitz death camp.

Williamson said he would correct himself if he was satisfied by the evidence, but insisted that examining it would take time, Der Spiegel said.

Several efforts by the AP to reach Williamson at his home in La Reja have been unsuccessful.