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Bishop Richard Williamson takes flight to Britain as expulsion threat looms, Ruth Gledhill

February 25, 2009


The Times Online

The English bishop whose excommunication was lifted by the Pope despite the cleric’s denial of the full extent of the Holocaust flies in to Heathrow this morning after being threatened with expulsion by Argentina.

Richard Williamson, who converted to Roman Catholicism as a young man, has contacted the revisionist historian David Irving, asking how to present his views on the Holocaust without arousing controversy, The Times has learnt.

Bishop Williamson, of the ultraconservative Society of St Pius X, scuffled with a reporter at Buenos Aires airport, raising his fist and apparently shoving him as he hurried to catch his British Airways flight for London.

The bishop will be met at Heathrow by the socialite Michele Renouf with a legal team. Ms Renouf, a former beauty queen, denies that she is anti-Semitic but has described Judaism as a “repugnant and hate-filled religion”.

She found lawyers to defend the Australian Frederick Toben after he was arrested at Heathrow last October at the request of the German authorities for publishing “anti-Semitic and/or revisionist” material on an internet site. He was released from Wandsworth prison after a British judge ruled that the arrest warrant was invalid.

Ms Renouf and Dr Toben were appointed to an “international fact-finding committee on the Holocaust” at the end of Iran’s Holocaust Denial Conference in December 2006, at which she was a speaker. Bishop Williamson was put in touch with Ms Renouf by Mr Irving.

The row over the bishop’s views erupted after he claimed on Swedish television that there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, rather than the accepted figure of six million.

Argentina has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world outside Israel and last Thursday its Government gave Bishop Williamson ten days to leave the country. It condemned his views on the Holocaust as “deeply offensive to Argentine society, the Jewish people and humanity”.

Mr Irving, who has served a prison sentence in Austria for “glorifying and identifying with the German Nazi Party” and who also lost a libel action against Penguin Books and the American historian Deborah Lipstadt after she accused him of Holocaust denial, said that he first met Bishop Williamson at a garden party at his house in Windsor last October. Photographs of the bishop at the party were removed from Mr Irving’s website at the bishop’s request, the historian said.

Mr Irving defended the bishop against the charge of Holocaust denial, saying: “He is not a Holocaust denier. Like me, he does not buy the whole package.” He said that they had been in e-mail contact. “About a week ago I sent him a lengthy e-mail telling him what he could safely say. He should not be quoted as saying things which are not tenable. I sent two pages telling him what is incontrovertible fact. I got a message back thanking me.”

They have also exchanged other e-mails about the difficulties Bishop Williamson is embroiled in.

Mr Irving said: “He is obviously a very intelligent man who did not realise the danger of talking to the press.”

Only days after the Swedish TV interview was broadcast, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication on Williamson and three other bishops of the Society of St Pius X, to widespread incredulity and anger.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, criticised the move and called on the Pope to make a “very clear” repudiation of Holocaust denial.

The Society of St Pius X also sacked Bishop Williamson as head of its seminary outside Buenos Aires.

France’s International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism also wants to see Bishop Williamson in court charged with “contesting crimes against humanity”.

Even in the Vatican the affair has exposed divisions among senior cardinals. The Times has learnt that Cardinal Battista Re, who heads the Holy See’s Congregation for Bishops and who opposed the lifting of the excommunications, “roared” with anger when he was presented with the document to sign as a fait accompli.

The interview for Swedish television was recorded in Bavaria and prosecutors are considering whether to press charges. Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by imprisonment in Germany. If charges are brought, Bishop Williamson could face extradition.

He and the three other bishops were excommunicated automatically in 1988 after they were consecrated without the sanction of the Holy See.

A hardline history

— Bishop Richard Williamson, 68, is one of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X who had their excommunications lifted by the Holy See last month

— The society was founded in 1970 by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)

— The bishops incurred automatic excommunication after Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated them in 1988 against Pope John Paul II’s orders

— The society opposed the rendering into the vernacular of the Mass and the council’s reforms in general, including the seminal council document Nostra Aetate, which repudiated the charge of deicide levelled for centuries against the Jewish people by Christians

— The society is still not canonically recognised by the Holy See and the bishops cannot function legitimately as priests or bishops within the Roman Catholic Church


Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent


© Time Online


[Texte aimablement signalé par P. Lachaus.]

Mis en ligne le 25 février 2009, par M. Macina, sur le site