News that one of the excommunicated Lefebvrist bishops reinstated by Pope Benedict last week, believes the Nazi gas chambers did not exist has caused a storm of protest.
Bishop Richard Williamson, 69, recently told Swedish TV: "I believe there were no gas chambers. I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers."
Bishop Williamson has expressed anti-Semitic views elsewhere and for years has voiced extreme right-wing views on other subjects too. Williamson has criticised Pope John Paul II, to whom he attributed a "weak grasp of Catholicism", and also Pope Benedict XVI, whom he considers a "Hegelian philosopher" and a "Neo-Modernist" theologian. Williamson holds strong views regarding gender roles and dress. He opposes the wearing of trousers or shorts by women, and has urged greater "manliness" in men. Williamson promoted conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination and the September 11 attacks, claiming that the latter were staged by the US government.
Yesterday Renzo Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called on the Pope to make a "positive gesture" by clearly condemning anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Israel's envoy to the Vatican, Mordechai Lewy said: "We have 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."
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops Conference and Archbishop of Genoa, yesterday marked Holocaust Day by denouncing Bishop Williamson's views, which he said were: "unfounded and unjustified".
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, said the act of lifting the excommunication had nothing to do with Bishop Williamson's personal opinions, which, he said were "open to criticism."
A spokesman from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said yesterday: "The views of one of the bishops of SSPX in denying the reality of the Holocaust are totally unacceptable. His personal positions do not affect in any way the position of the Church's most authoritative document on this dialogue, "Nostra Aetate," which deplores any type of anti-Semitism.
"Today on Holocaust Memorial Day we remember the death of six million Jews and follow Pope Benedict XVI in deploring anti-Semitism in all its forms. We call on all Roman Catholics to do the same."