The Pope has lifted the excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church of four bishops appointed by a breakaway archbishop more than 20 years ago.
One of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s appointees, Briton Richard Williamson, outraged Jews by saying the Nazi gas chambers did not exist.
“I believe there were no gas chambers,” Williamson said. The bishop, who has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past, declared that the historical evidence was “hugely against” the accepted belief that close to 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated as part of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution. Williamson claims that no more than 300,000 Jews died during World War II.
Mr Williamson, 68, who is the rector of the Seminary of Our Lady Co-Redemptrix in La Reja, Argentina, is no stranger to controversy. He has endorsed “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, and claimed that Jews are bent on world domination. He supports conspiracy theories on the assassination of President Kennedy and the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, and has accused the Vatican of being under the power of Satan.
The head of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, said that there was no connection between Mr Williamson’s views and the decision to lift his excommunication. “The Vatican has acted in relation to the excommunication and its removal for the four bishops, an action that has nothing to do with the highly criticisable statements of an individual,” Fr Lombardi told reporters.
Vatican Radio also pointed out that Mr Williamson’s statements had been severely condemned by other members of the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X, the breakaway organisation founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in Switzerland.