MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Jewish leaders are hailing a decision by Argentina to expel a controversial Catholic bishop who denies the Holocaust. Argentine officials say Richard Williamson's views deeply shocked Argentine society and all of humanity. The British bishop was ex-communicated two decades ago. He'd been living in Argentina since 2003, but controversy erupted last month when the Pope reinstated him as part of a process aimed at healing a rift with ultra-conservatives. The World's Religion Editor Jane Little has this update.
JANE LITTLE: Activists in Argentina had been calling on the government to expel the controversial bishop, so yesterday's announcement that Williamson has ten days to get out of the country brought praise. The President of the Argentine Jewish delegation, Aldo Donzis, said this is cause for great celebration -- a sentiment shared by other Jewish groups around the world. Michael Schneider is Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.
SCHNEIDER: The news from Argentina that Mr. Williamson has now gone to ground really smokes him out for what he is, which is a vicious anti-Semite. And the Catholic Church is no place for either anti-Semites or for that matter vicious anti-Muslims.
LITTLE: Williamson, who was fired earlier this month as head of a seminary near Buenos Aires, has a long track record of controversial views. But it is his denial of the Holocaust ï¿½ specifically, the existence of Nazi gas chambers ï¿½ that's provoked such outrage. Here he is speaking in a television interview with Swedish television, broadcast last month.
WILLIAMSON: I believe that the historical evidence ï¿½ the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.
REPORTER: But you're saying not one Jew was killed?
WILLIAMSON: In gas chambers.
REPORTER: So there were no gas chambers?
WILLIAMSON: I believe there were no gas chambers, yes.
LITTLE: Williamson has said that no more than 300,000 Jews died in World War II. The Vatican has not commented on the news of Bishop Williamson's expulsion, but there is huge embarrassment in Rome. The Vatican has said the Pope was unaware of the bishop's views when he lifted Williamson's excommunication. Some observers say they find that hard to believe, and they're unimpressed by the Pope's belated call on the bishop to recant. But James Roberts, of the Catholic Weekly, The Tablet, says the Vatican may have mishandled the situation, but it's nothing more than that.
ROBERTS: The Pope is well-known for condemning the Holocaust as absolutely evil and a lesson for all time. But it was made to look as if the Vatican had some sympathy with those sorts of positions. So it was a PR fiasco, yes, and it needn't have happened.
LITTLE: And what of Bishop Williamson now? His former seminary in Argentina says he's left and it's not clear where he's gone. Roberts says even if Williamson recants his views, he's unlikely to be welcomed back into the fold as a bishop.
ROBERTS: There's a ways to go before anything happens ï¿½ a long way to go.
LITTLE: Meanwhile, the Vatican continues to try to mend fences with Jewish leaders. The Pope may be hoping that the case of Bishop Williamson quietly fades away, but that's not likely to happen. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany, where Williamson made his holocaust-denying remarks to the Swedish television station. State prosecutors in the German city of Regensburg are investigating him for incitement. For The World, this is Jane Little.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.