British bishop denies the Holocaust but gets his fine reduced anyway
Bishop Richard Williamson, the controversial British Catholic who is guilty of denying the extent of the Holocaust, will have a fine of EUR 10 000 levied against him in Germany reduced to EUR 6 500. Wire services report the verdict was handed down today by the state appeals court in the Bavarian town of Regensburg. Williamson was not present. The court essentially upheld last year's finding by a lower-instance court that the Bishop had broken the law against inciting national and racial hatred.
Williamson was convicted of having declared during a 2008 interview for Swedish television that gas chambers for murdering people during the time of Hitler's Germany never existed and that the number of Jewish people who died in Nazi concentration camps elsewhere was only between 200 000 and 300 000, not six million as official statistics indicate. It is a felony to deny the Holocaust in Germany and Williamson faced up to five years in prison.
Both the state prosecutor and Williamson appealed an April 2010 verdict in which the court fined the bishop EUR 10 000. The prosecution requested the fine be raised to EUR 12 000, while the defense requested the verdict be overturned because the bishop had never consented to the broadcast of the interview in Germany.
Williamson is a member of the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, founded in 1970 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Society advocates strongly traditionalist stances and rejects many of the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which aimed at modernizing the church. The contested areas include liturgical questions, the relationship of the Catholic Church toward non-Catholic Christians and members of other religions, and the Catholic Church's view of Jewish people.
In 2009, the Vatican renewed talks with the Society aimed at once again including Society members into church life. The talks were held after Pope Benedict XVI annulled Williamson's excommunication and that of three other bishops, for which he received harsh criticism.
In a subsequently published book, "The Light of the World", the current Pope, who is from Germany, states that had he known of the entanglements around Williamson and his Holocaust denial in time, he would not have annulled the excommunication. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Pope Benedict XVI to condemn Bishop Williamson for his declarations. The Pope later expressed "full and indisputable solidarity" with the Jewish people regarding their persecution during the Second World War and expressly condemned Holocaust denial without mentioning Williamson by name.