Bishop Who Denied Holocaust Ousted

Rome, Italy - The rehabilitated bishop at the heart of a Vatican uproar for denying the Holocaust has been dismissed as the head of an Argentine seminary.The seminary announced the dismissal on Sunday in a statement that said the bishop, Richard Williamson was no longer the director of the La Reja seminary on the outskirts of the Argentina capital.

He has said the “historical evidence” argues against Nazi gas chambers and said that only 200,000 to 300,000 people died in concentration camps in the Holocaust.

Bishop Williamson’s views “in no way reflect the position of our congregation,” the Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, the director of the Latin America branch of the Catholic Society of St. Pius X, said in the statement. He expressed “sadness” that Bishop Williamson’s statements had “discredited” the congregation.

Pope Benedict XVI provoked widespread anger last month when he rescinded the excommunications of Bishop Williamson and three fellow bishops, all members of the Society of St. Pius X, as part of an effort to heal a 20-year schism.

Apparently surprised by the vociferous reaction to the rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson, including unusual public criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the pope’s native country, the Vatican said Bishop Williamson must recant his views on the Holocaust.

The pope has also made efforts to soothe offended relations with Jews and other groups angered by Bishop Williamson’s rehabilitation, saying he had been unaware of the bishop’s views.

News of Bishop Williamson’s dismissal from the Argentine seminary came after the pope and Chancellor Merkel had a “cordial and constructive” phone conversation, spokesmen for both said Sunday.

A joint statement issued Sunday by the Vatican and the chancellor’s office said that both the pope and Mrs. Merkel referred to Benedict’s Jan. 28 remarks condemning Holocaust denial and expressing solidarity with Jews.

A statement released Wednesday by the Vatican Secretariat of State called on Bishop Williamson to recant his comments. In a rare case of the Vatican’s diplomatic arm furthering remarks by the pope, the Secretariat of State also made clear that the traditionalist bishops would not be welcomed back into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church unless they accepted the liberalizing teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Last week’s statement by the Secretariat of State seemed to repair relations with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which plans to continue its dialogue with the Vatican, said its director general, Oded Wiener. The body had asked to postpone a March meeting with the Vatican in protest.

Vatican officials are expected to meet Thursday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella organization.