Schismatic bishop faces trial over Holocaust denial

July 5, 2011

BERLIN (RNS) The case of an outspoken schismatic bishop headed back to
court on Monday (July 4), with lawyers for British Bishop Richard
Williamson saying he shouldn't be punished for downplaying the severity
of the Holocaust.

Williamson, 71, was convicted last year after he told a Swedish
broadcast team in 2008 that "no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi
concentration camps ... not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber."

Denying the full scope of the Holocaust is a crime under German law,
and although the interview was with a Swedish news outlet, Williamson
made the statements in Germany, where it eventually became viewable
online.

A Regensburg court fined Williamson 10,000 euros ($14,500) in the
case last year. A decision on his appeal is expected by Monday (July
11).

Williamson became an overnight celebrity -- and a deep embarrassment
for the Vatican -- for his Holocaust denials after Pope Benedict XVI
lifted the 1988 excommunication of Williamson and three other SSPX
bishops.

The Vatican later said the pope did not know about Williamson's
views on the Holocaust at the time, but conceded that "closely following
the news available on the Internet" would have flagged his troublesome
statements.

Williamson, who did not appear at the appeals court, claimed through
his attorneys that he should not be liable for the breach of German law,
since he gave the interview to a Swedish film crew with the
understanding that the segment would only be aired in Sweden.

"Our client did not put it on the (Internet)," said his attorneys,
as quoted by the German Press Agency dpa.

Fellow members of his schismatic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX),
meanwhile, seemed determined to distance themselves from Williamson and
his remarks.

According to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, associates of SSPX --
which generally rejects the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican
Council of the 1960s -- said Williamson had a long history of being out
of touch with reality. Maximilian Krah, legal representative of the
group, said Williamson was eccentric and had problems with reality.

The issue continues to reverberate in German society, especially
since SSPX again made headlines just before the appeal trial's start
with the ordination of some 20 priests without the Vatican's permission.

Benedict lifted the excommunications in a bid to restore relations
with the traditionalist groups, but has insisted SSPX accept all reforms
from Vatican II if they want to have normalized relations with Rome.