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Europe

Vatican Demands Full Apology From Holocaust-Denying Bishop

The Vatican said on Friday it was not satisfied by the apology issued by Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson and called on him to "unequivocally and publicly" withdraw his comments.

Bishop Richard Williamson

Williamson returned to Britain this week after being expelled from Argentina

British-born bishop Richard Williamson, whose denial of the scale of the Holocaust caused an international outcry, apologized this week for his recent comments about the Holocaust -- but did not say whether he's changed his views or that his comments had been erroneous.

The Vatican said on Friday, Feb. 27, that this is not enough to admit him into the church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Williamson "doesn't seem to have respected the conditions" set by the Vatican on February 4, under which the bishop was to "distance himself absolutely and publicly" from his positions concerning the Holocaust if he wants to be admitted as a prelate in the church.

No retraction offered

Williamson, 68, found himself at the center of a raging controversy after he told a Swedish television crew last month that "not one Jew was killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies."

Williamson also said he did not believe that any more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, when historians put the figure at 6 million.

In his apology, Williamson said his views on the Holocaust were "the opinion of a non-historian," and had been formed "20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available," according to Zenit.

He did not say whether he had changed his views.

Legal repercussions

Pope Benedict XVI raises his arms

The pope has called Williamson's views "unacceptable"

Williamson might also face legal action in many European nations if he repeats his claims , EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot warned Friday.

However the bishop remains free to move around the 27-nation European Union despite denying that Jews were killed in gas chambers.

"I want to point out that in most (EU) states, Holocaust-denial can lead to legal action. National justice systems have jurisdiction to deal with historical revisionism," Barrot said.

"If Bishop Williamson were to repeat his negationist remarks in France, he could be punished under French law," Barrot said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU justice ministers in Brussels.

Reactions and outrage

Renzo Gattegna, the president of Italy's Jewish Communities, described Williamson's apology as "absolutely ambiguous," reported British daily The Guardian.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany, meanwhile, described it as "a third-rate apology."

"Williamson is not withdrawing his lies about the Holocaust," said vice-president Dieter Gramm in an interview with Handelsblatt. "His utterly bizarre explanation does not include any retraction, in fact it suggests that he still denies it happened."

This issue is by no means closed, he insisted. "It is more relevant than ever."

Hans Joachim Meyer, vice-president of the Central Council of Catholics in Germany, agreed. The apology was by no means "sufficient," he stressed. "A man like this should not be in a position of responsibility," he told the Tagesspiegel.

Williamson back in Britain

Adding to the controversy was the fact that Williamson was one of four bishops whose excommunication Pope Benedict XVI agreed in January to lift, in an attempt by the Vatican to heal a split with traditionalist Roman Catholics who rejected the church's liberal reforms of the early 1960s.

The Vatican said earlier the bishop's views on the Holocaust were not known to the pope when he made the decision.

Pope Benedict XVI had responded to the widespread outrage over Williamson's comments by calling Holocaust denial "intolerable" and "unacceptable."

Williamson spent most of the past three decades in Switzerland and the United States before heading to a seminary in Buenos Aires. After the controversy broke, he was expelled from Argentina and is now in Britain.

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