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VATICAN CITY (RNS) In the latest consequence of more than two weeks of international outcry, a Holocaust-denying bishop who was recently readmitted to the Catholic Church has been dismissed as head of an Argentinean seminary.
“Statements by Monsignor (Richard) Williamson in no way reflect the position of our congregation,” said a statement announcing the dismissal, issued on Monday (Feb. 9) by the Latin American branch of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).
“A Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on matters concerning faith and morality.”
Williamson is one of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist SSPX whose 1988 excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 21, as part of the pope’s effort to reconcile with the schismatic group.
Jewish organizations were outraged after Williamson recently told Swedish television that no more than 300,000 Jews “perished in Nazi concentration camps … not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.”
Last Wednesday (Feb. 4), the Vatican said Williamson would not be permitted to function as a bishop without first “distancing himself in an absolute and unequivocal way from his positions” on the Holocaust.
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, released on Saturday (Feb. 7), Williamson said that he would consider recanting but that he must first “review the historical evidence once again … but that will take time.”
Williamson rejected the interviewer’s suggestion that he visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland, as part of his research.
Also over the weekend, Pope Benedict discussed the Williamson affair in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A joint statement from the Vatican and the German government on Sunday (Feb. 8) noted that the phone call had been requested by Merkel, and described the conversation as “cordial and constructive, marked by a common and deep awareness of the always-valid warning of the Shoah for humanity.” (“Shoah” is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.)
In an unusual public criticism of the pontiff by a national leader, Merkel said on Tuesday (Feb. 3) that Benedict had not been sufficiently clear in rejecting Holocaust denial.
Benedict condemned the Nazi genocide of “millions of Jews” on Jan.28, and called for the Holocaust to be a “warning against oblivion, against denial or reductionism.” He has not, however, explicitly condemned Williamson’s remarks.
The pope will have another opportunity to address the matter when he receives representatives of several international Jewish groups at the Vatican on Thursday (Feb. 12), in a meeting that had been scheduled before the Williamson controversy broke out.
By Francis X. Rocca
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service.All rights reserved.No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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