In a move that many Jewish community officials said would cause relations between Jews and Catholics to further deteriorate, the Vatican on Saturday lifted an excommunication ban against Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four bishops who were banned in 1988 for taking on the office of bishop against the wishes of then-Pope John Paul II.
Williamson is a Holocaust denier, and has repeatedly said that the gas chambers did not exist and that no more than 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II, mostly of starvation. In addition, Williamson has declared that the Jews are plotting to take over the world, and that the U.S. and Israel were behind 9/11.
In an interview with Swedish television conducted last November but broadcast last week, Williamson said that he believed that there were “no gas chambers."
“Between 200,000-300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber,” he said, adding, “I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”
Back to Middle Ages
Williamson has had a long history of Holocaust denial. In a 1989 sermon in Sherbrooke, Canada, Williamson said that "there was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel... Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism." In dozens of sermons and letters, Richardson reiterated the same theme, adding that Hitler “liberated” Germany from the Jews.
Richardson advocates a return to the Middle Ages, with the Inquisition the preferred model of the Catholic relationship to Jews. “As Catholic faith goes up, so Jewish power goes down, while as Catholic faith goes down, so Jewish power goes up. In the Catholic Middle Ages, the Jews were relatively impotent to harm Christendom. But as Catholics have grown over the centuries weaker and weaker in the faith, especially since Vatican II, so the Jews have come closer and closer to fulfilling their substitute-Messianic drive towards world dominion... When Spanish Catholics were truly Catholic, God granted them by 1492 to reconquer Spain from the Arabs, and then granted them to create a Catholic empire in the Americas.”
Jewish community officials have expressed serious concerns over the Pope's move. Rabbi Shmuel Ricardo Di Segni, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, told reporters that the rehabilitation of Williamson opens “a deep wound” in Catholic-Jewish relations.
The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-Semitism watchdog group, said that the reinstatement “could become a source of great tension between Catholics and Jews.” The umbrella group of Jewish communities in France called Williamson “a contemptible liar whose sole objective is to reawaken centuries-old hatred against the Jews.”
In a report, Reuters quoted Mordechai Lewy, Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, as saying that Israel “has no intention of interfering in the internal workings of the Catholic Church. However, the eagerness to bring a Holocaust denier back into the Church will cast a shadow on relations between Jews and the Catholic Church.”
A Vatican spokesman said that the lifting of the ban had nothing to do with Williamson's views. “It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of a person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree.”