The superior of the bishop who drew global condemnation for denying the extent of the Holocaust said the clergyman would obey Argentina's order to leave the country. But officials were no longer sure of his whereabouts.
The ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X has been at the center of a raging controversy
Christian Bouchacourt, South American superior for the Society of St. Pius X in Buenos Aires, told the newspaper La Nacion on Saturday, Feb. 21, that British-born Richard Williamson would comply with the government order within the given deadline.
The ultra-traditionalist bishop had been told he had 10 days to leave the country. If Williamson refused to leave voluntarily, he would be forcibly deported, officials said. He could, however, still appeal the decision.
Under pressure from the Jewish community and other groups in Argentina, the government on Friday was tried to formally deliver expulsion documents to the Holocaust-denying Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, but were uncertain of his whereabouts.
The Argentine Interior Ministry and the state organ in charge of immigration procedures said on Friday that they did not know where the bishop was. But they said they would officially notify him at the address he has declared as his permanent address, which would start the 10-day clock running for him to leave.
Williamson was among four members of the Society of St. Pius X bishops whose 1988 excommunication Pope Benedict XVI revoked last month. The move provoked worldwide furor in the Catholic and Jewish communities as well as in the German chancellery.
The German-born Benedict made the generous overture just days after Williamson in an interview with Swedish television denied Jews died in Nazi gas chambers. He later said he would need time to consider the evidence of the Holocaust personally before retracting his statement.
Williamson's denials of the Holocaust embarrassed the Vatican
Argentina's official expulsion resolution charges that Williamson lied about his real motives for seeking residence in Argentina. He had told immigration officials that he was an administrative employee of the lay organization "La Tradicion," but in reality he was working as a priest and director of a seminary run by the the St. Pius X Society in La Reja, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Buenos Aires.
The address he gave for the lay association is the same as that for the St. Pius X Society in Buenos Aires.
A member of the seminary that Williamson formally directed until Feb. 8 said the bishop had left on Thursday. Other sources at the congregation declined to give details of his location.
Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said on Thursday that Argentina was acting because Williamson has denied the Jewish genocide during Hitler's Third Reich. Those actions have insulted "Argentineans, the Jewish people and all of humanity," Randazzo said.
Argentine media reported that the government carried out a thorough investigation to find a legal irregularity that would warrant his expulsion, which was being demanded by the country's Jewish community and other sectors.
Jewish groups hail expulsion
Williamson will have to leave the seminary that he directed until recently
Angel Schindel, vice president of the Delegation of Argentina's Israelite Associations (DAIA) said that the organization very much agreed with the government's decision.
"We were among those who called for the expulsion," he said.
Schindel said he believed Argentina needed to pass a new law, similar to one in Germany, that would make denial of the Holocaust a crime, along with denials of the Armenian genocide or the crimes of the most recent dictatorship in Argentina, which occurred from 1976 to 1983.
Some German Catholic bishops and leaders have already declared Williamson persona non grata in their districts.
The World Jewish Council (WJC) said the decision to expel Williamson "is commendable." In a statement issued in New York, WJC president Ronald S Lauder praised the Argentine government for what he called a brave decision.
Some 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust
He added that he hoped other countries would do likewise when faced with anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust.
Good relations with the Vatican
Juan Pablo Cafiero, Argentine ambassador to the Vatican, denied that Williamson's expulsion would harm relations with the Vatican.
"This will in no way have an influence on the relationship between Argentina and the Holy See, which fully understands that this has been a sovereign decision in applying Argentine law to someone who was forging data," Cafiero said.