Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Nazi row bishop leaves Argentina

Richard Williamson's views on the Holocaust

A British bishop embroiled in a row over Holocaust denial has flown out of Argentina days after being told to leave the country.

Roman Catholic Richard Williamson was asked to leave his home in Argentina after he refused to retract his denial of the existence of Nazi gas chambers.

The row hugely embarrassed the Vatican which had only recently lifted an excommunication order on the bishop.

He took a British Airways plane bound for London from Buenos Aires.

Wearing dark glasses and a cap, Bishop Williamson was swiftly moved through the Argentine capital's Ezeiza airport, accompanied by two men.

Local TV showed the bishop raising a clenched fist to a reporter's face, then pushing him into a pole with his shoulder as he moved past, the Associated Press news agency said.

As the bishop hurried off, the two men accompanying him held the journalist back, AP said.

Last Thursday he was given 10 days to leave by the government for having "deeply shocked Argentine society, the Jewish people and all of humanity".

Earlier, he had been removed from his post as head of a seminary near Buenos Aires set up by conservative Roman Catholics.

'No gas chambers'

The row erupted in January after Pope Benedict decided to lift Bishop Williamson's excommunication on an unrelated matter.

Local TV showed the bishop raising a clenched fist to a reporter's face

After that move, it emerged that the bishop had denied the full extent of the Nazi genocide of the Jews in an interview for Swedish TV.

"I believe there were no gas chambers," he had said.

"I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers."

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

Pope Benedict met American Jewish leaders at the Vatican in a display of solidarity with victims of the Nazis.

The decision to lift the excommunication order was related to the appointment of Richard Williamson as bishop by a breakaway archbishop more than 20 years ago.

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who died in 1991, had rebelled against liberal reforms in the Church, such as restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass.

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