Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Seminary sacks 'Holocaust bishop'

Richard Williamson's views on Holocaust

An ultra-traditionalist British bishop who denies the Holocaust has been removed from his post as the head of a Roman Catholic seminary in Argentina.

A statement by the Society of St Pius X said Bishop Richard Williamson's views "in no way" reflected its position.

A row erupted last month after the Pope decided to lift Bishop Williamson's excommunication on an unrelated matter.

The Vatican said the Pope had been unaware of Bishop Williamson's views and had since ordered him to recant.

In a statement, the head of the Latin American chapter of the Society of St Pius X, which runs the seminary in La Reja, said Bishop Williamson had been relieved of his position as director.

"Monsignor Williamson's statements do not in any way reflect the position of our congregation," said Father Christian Bouchacourt.

"It is clear that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesiastical authority except on matters concerning faith and morality," his statement said.

Nuestra Senora Corredentora seminary in La Reja, Argentina
The seminary is located some 50km (30 miles) from Buenos Aires

Bishop Williamson provoked outrage when he said he believed there had been no Nazi gas chambers.

"I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," he said.

In the wake of the row, Pope Benedict XVI expressed "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who publicly criticised the Pope and called for a clearer rejection of Holocaust deniers, spoke by telephone to the pontiff.

They had a "cordial and constructive" conversation marked by a "common deep concern about the perpetual warning of the Shoah (Holocaust) for humanity", a joint statement said.

About six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

However, Bishop Williamson has indicated he will not immediately comply with the Pope's demand that he recant.

He told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that he would correct himself if the historical evidence warranted it but "that will take time".

Bishop Williamson was among four bishops whose excommunications were lifted by the Pope in an attempt to heal a split with traditionalists.

They belong to the Society of St Pius X, founded by a French archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre, in 1970 as a protest against the Second Vatican Council's reforms on religious freedom and pluralism.

The late Archbishop Lefebvre made them bishops in unsanctioned consecrations in Switzerland in 1988, prompting the immediate excommunication of all five by the late Pope John Paul II.

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