- Category: Priestly Society of St. Pius X
- Created: February 28, 2009
- Written by Rachel Donadio
ROME - The Vatican said Friday that an apology by a bishop who has denied the scope of the Holocaust was not sufficient to restore him to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Last month, Pope Benedict XVI provoked worldwide outrage when he revoked the excommunication of four schismatic bishops, including Richard Williamson, who in televised comments had denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.
In a statement published Thursday by Zenit, a Catholic news agency, Bishop Williamson apologized to the pope, the church and "survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich." But he did not address the substance of his views on the Holocaust or disavow the remarks he made in the interview.
In an informal statement to reporters on Friday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Bishop Williamson's apology "does not seem to meet the expectations" set forth by the Vatican earlier this month. He referred to a statement the Vatican issued on Feb. 4 that called on the bishop to "absolutely" and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Holocaust, or he would not be allowed to serve as a Catholic bishop.
Bishop Williamson has said in recent weeks that he needs more time to study Holocaust documentation. David Irving, a historian who served 13 months in prison in Austria for Holocaust denial, said in a telephone interview on Friday that Bishop Williamson had contacted him asking for assistance in assessing the Holocaust. Mr. Irving said the bishop had written him through an intermediary, saying: "At the heart of this whole uproar is the objective truth about what happened in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. I must conform my mind to the truth."
Pope Benedict has said he revoked the excommunication of the four bishops to heal a schism in the church. The four were members of the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, which was founded in 1970 in opposition to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The status of Bishop Williamson and the three other bishops remains uncertain. It hinges on internal discussions between the four and the Vatican committee that oversees relations with the society.
Bishop Williamson, a Briton, arrived in Britain earlier this week after being expelled from Argentina, where he headed a seminary near Buenos Aires until he was removed this month.
American Jewish groups on Friday praised the Vatican for its response to Bishop Williamson's apology. David A. Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement that Bishop Williamson "still refuses to acknowledge the Holocaust as a historical fact. Until he explicitly says otherwise, he remains in the camp of the Holocaust deniers. He is not fooling anyone, least of all the Vatican."
Although the pope has repeatedly condemned Holocaust denial and reached out to Jewish groups in recent weeks, much of the fiercest criticism of his decision to revoke Bishop Williamson's excommunication came from his native Germany, from Austria and from American and European Catholics worried about the legacy of Second Vatican Council and the Vatican's moral authority.
Mr. Irving said he believed the outrage with the Vatican for trying to rehabilitate Bishop Williamson was orchestrated by Israel to distract the international community from the recent war in Gaza.
Mr. Irving said he responded to Bishop Williamson's request for assistance by sending him a two-page memorandum advising the bishop "to accept that there were organized mass killings from the spring of 1942 to October 1943" in three sites run by Hitler's deputy, Heinrich Himmler: Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec.
"There is much dispute over numbers and methods of killing," Mr. Irving wrote to Bishop Williamson, adding that he "should not dispute that there were such killings."
Mr. Irving said the bishop had also asked him to review correspondence he has had with his lawyer in Germany. Bishop Williamson's controversial television interview was filmed in Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime. On Friday, Brigitte Zypries, the German justice minister, said Germany could issue a Europe-wide arrest warrant on hate crimes charges for Bishop Williamson, The Associated Press reported.
Bishop Williamson wrote that his lawyer was "convinced" that "the H was more or less for real," referring to the Holocaust, and he asked Mr. Irving for advice, according to a copy of the correspondence provided by Mr. Irving.