Sorry for harm done, but does not say whether he has changed his mind
ROME — A bishop whose recent rehabilitation by Pope Benedict XVI provoked global outrage has apologized for remarks in which he denied the Holocaust, a Catholic news agency reported on Thursday.
The bishop, Richard Williamson, was one of four traditionalist bishops whose excommunications Pope Benedict revoked last month. In an interview broadcast on Swedish television several days before that, Bishop Williamson denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers and the scope of the Holocaust.
In a statement published by the Zenit news agency on Thursday, Bishop Williamson said, “I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.”
He added, “To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize.”
His statement did not address the content of his televised remarks, in which he said that no more than 300,000 people died in the Holocaust and none in gas chambers. In recent weeks, he has said in interviews that he needs more time to study documentation about the Holocaust.
In his statement on Thursday, he said that the views he expressed on Swedish television were those of “a nonhistorian,” and that his perspective was formed “20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.”
The impact of a German pope pardoning a Holocaust denier prompted widespread criticism, engulfing the Vatican in an international political crisis. Many local churches were sent scrambling to reassure parishioners worried about the Vatican’s moral authority.
In an effort to control the damage in recent weeks, the pope has repeatedly condemned Holocaust denial. This month, in a rare instance of the Vatican’s expanding on comments by the pope himself, the church said that Bishop Williamson must distance himself from his statements on the Holocaust or he would not be allowed to serve as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican also said that Benedict was not aware of Bishop Williamson’s remarks when he decided to revoke his excommunication.
Bishop Williamson said Thursday that he had been asked “to reconsider” his remarks by the pope and Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X to which Bishop Williamson belongs, “because their consequences have been so heavy.”
Some outside observers were not convinced by Bishop Williamson’s statement. “He does everything except confront the central issue of this whole crisis,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. “Has he changed his mind about the Holocaust, and does he believe that the Holocaust is a historic fact?”
He said he did not think that Bishop Williamson should be accepted as a bishop in the Catholic Church until his apology included recognition of the Holocaust.
The Society of St. Pius X is an ultraconservative group founded in opposition to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.