Holocaust-denying bishop leaves Argentina for Britain

24 Feb 2009
24 Feb 2009 Facebook Twitter Email

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (English service), Germany

Holocaust-denying bishop leaves Argentina for Britain Buenos Aires - The Catholic bishop who is at the centre of a global storm of controversy over his denial of the Holocaust left Argentina Tuesday for London, local media reported.

Under pressure from the Jewish community and other groups, the Argentina government had asked Richard Williamson to leave the country by early March or face mandatory expulsion.

Wearing a black baseball cap, black jacket and sunglasses, the British-born Williamson, 68, refused to answer questions from an Argentine reporter and even threatened to punch him at Buenos Aires airport, television footage showed. He boarded a British Airways flight that was to land in London early Wednesday. Williamson bought his ticket at the last minute at the airport, so his name did not appear on any passenger lists. He then notified immigration officials of his departure.

The head of the arch-conservative Society of Saint Pius X for South America, Christian Bouchacourt, said over the weekend that Williamson would leave voluntarily.

Earlier Tuesday, in an apparent move to deflect attention from Williamson, the society said the controversial bishop had left the South American country last week. But immigration officials denied this.

The Pius Society had already removed Williamson from his position as director of a Catholic seminary in a western suburb of Buenos Aires and decided that he must leave Argentina. Williamson's whereabouts were a mystery until he left the country.

He was among four ultra-traditionalist members of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops whose 1988 excommunication Pope Benedict XVI revoked last month.

The decision, just days after his most recent Holocaust denial, unleashed waves of furor through both the Jewish and Catholic communities worldwide.

In an interview with Swedish television late January, Williamson insisted that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had been killed in Nazi concentration camps, and not the historically confirmed 6 million.

Argentina's Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said Thursday that Argentina would expel Williamson because his remarks insulted "Argentinians, the Jewish people and all of humanity." The bishop was given 10 days to leave the country.

However, since denying the Holocaust is not a crime in the country, Argentine authorities investigated irregularities in Williamson's residence papers and expelled him on those grounds.

Randazzo charged that Williamson had repeatedly lied about his real motives for seeking residence in Argentina. He had told immigration officials that he was an administrative employee of the Pius society, but in reality he was working as a priest and director of the seminary in La Reja.

The World Jewish Council (WJC) said last week that 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. He added that he hoped other countries would do likewise when faced with anti-Semitism and the negation of the Holocaust.

In defiance of the global outrage, Williamson has insisted he needed to study the "evidence" before changing his views on the Holocaust.