A British Roman Catholic bishop who has questioned the truth of the Holocaust has been removed as director of a seminary in Argentina, a post he had held for the past five years.
Richard Williamson caused outrage with his remarks, which surfaced shortly after the Vatican’s recent decision to welcome him back into the Catholic Church. He had been excommunicated in 1988 together with three other clerics after the four had been made bishops by the renegade French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The decision to remove the cleric from the seminary was an attempt to smooth over frayed relations with the Vatican, said a spokesman for Williamson’s religious order, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).
“I hope this move will cause the situation to calm a little and enable a dialogue to be reopened with the pope,” Father Christian Bouchacourt said.
Williamson is reported to have claimed in a television interview last month that historical evidence suggested there “were no gas chambers” and that only 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps.
He has since declared himself ready to think again, and in a weekend interview with Der Spiegel the bishop reiterated that he was prepared to “review the historical evidence.”
Historians agree around 6 million Jews were killed under Hitler’s regime.
“Historical evidence is at issue, not emotions. And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time,” Williamson said.
He added that he would test his views not by travelling to Auschwitz but by reading a book on the camp by Jean-Claude Pressac, a former Holocaust denier from France who revised his views after a visit.
Williamson, who describes himself as a dinosaur on his personal blog, belongs to an ultra-traditionalist religious order that opposes recent modernization reforms by Rome.
Bouchacourt said that Williamson’s views on the Holocaust “in no way” reflected those of SSPX.
“A Catholic bishop should only speak out about doctrinal issues, religious errors and Catholic morality. This is a point of history, which is beyond a bishop’s remit,” he said.
Bouchacourt maintained that the “inopportune” comments were timed to “tarnish the reputation both of our order and the Pope himself.”
Williamson’s opinions led to a row with the Vatican, which ordered the bishop to publicly recant. The Vatican, like the SSPX, claims to have had no prior knowledge of his beliefs about the Holocaust before lifting his excommunication.
Religious leaders have welcomed the decision to remove Williamson from the seminary.