Published February 09, 2009
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A Roman Catholic bishop whose denials that the Holocaust ever happened led to Vatican demands he recant has been removed as the head of an Argentine seminary, local media reported Sunday, citing a Catholic official.
The ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X has dismissed Bishop Richard Williamson as director of its seminary in La Reja, outside Buenos Aires, according to independent Argentine news agency Diarios y Noticias and the newspaper La Nacion.
The news outlets reported receiving a statement Sunday from the society's South American superior, Father Christian Bouchacourt, announcing the British bishop's removal. Seminary officials and Bouchacourt could not immediately be reached to confirm the reports.
Williamson is one of four bishops from the society whose excommunications were lifted in January by Pope Benedict XVI. But under pressure from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Vatican has demanded that Williamson recant his denial of the Holocaust before he can be admitted into the Roman Catholic Church as a bishop.
Williamson has said he does not believe Jews were gassed during the Holocaust. He has apologized to the pope for having stirred controversy, but has not repudiated his comments, in which he also said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
The German weekly Der Spiegel reported Saturday that Williamson does not plan to immediately comply with the Vatican's demand that he recant, and has rejected a suggestion that he might visit the former Auschwitz death camp.
Williamson said he would correct himself if he is satisfied by the evidence, but insisted that examining it "will take time," Der Spiegel reported.
Several efforts by The Associated Press to reach Williamson at his home in La Reja have been unsuccessful.
On Sunday, Merkel spoke by phone with the pope in a conversation characterized by "common deep concern about the perpetual warning of the Shoah for humanity," said a joint statement with German-born Pope Benedict XVI. Shoah is a Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
The reversal of Williamson's excommunication has revived strains in relations between the Vatican and Jews.