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Jewish group urges pope to ban Holocaust denier
PARIS (Reuters) - A Holocaust survivors group urged Pope Benedict on Saturday to ban an arch-traditionalist bishop from the Catholic Church because he hired a lawyer close to neo-Nazi groups to defend him in court in Germany.
Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four rebel bishops re-admitted to the Church in January 2009, recently hired a far-right lawyer to conduct his appeal against a 12,000 euro fine imposed last year for denying the Holocaust.
His ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which is now negotiating its return to the Church with Vatican officials, also threatened to expel Williamson from its ranks if he did not distance himself from Nahrath.
Williamson's re-admission to the Church only days after he denied the Holocaust on Swedish television sparked protests across Europe and created major problems for Pope Benedict, especially with Jewish groups outraged by the move.
In a book due out next week, Benedict says he would not have lifted the 22-year excommunication ban on Williamson if he had known of his far-right views. The pope said the Vatican's poor communications in that row was a "total meltdown."
"Holocaust survivors call on Pope Benedict to categorically assert moral authority and reinstate the excommunication of Bishop Williamson which was lifted last year," Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement.
"Williamson's grotesque comments denigrating the tragedy of the Holocaust are now compounded by his engaging a notorious right-wing extremist as his lawyer," he said.
British-born Williamson, 70, said on Swedish television in January 2009 that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust and that there were no gas chambers.
The consensus among historians is that the Nazis killed six million Jews. Denying the Holocaust is a hate crime in Germany.
The SSPX in Germany issued a statement saying its leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay "has expressly ordered Bishop Williamson to withdraw this decision (to hire the lawyer) and not let himself be used by political theses that have absolutely nothing to do with his tasks as a Catholic bishop in the service of the society."
It said the lawyer "openly maintained links to the neo-Nazi movement in Germany and similar groups."
Williamson and three other bishops, including Fellay, were excommunicated in 1988 when they accepted ordination from the SSPX's rebel founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, despite the Vatican's clearly expressed opposition.
They were readmitted in January 2009 after Fellay wrote to the Vatican pledging they accepted the pope as head of the Church.
Benedict said in a new book, Light of the World, that Williamson was "never Catholic in the proper sense" because he converted from Anglicanism to the SSPX. "That means that he has never lived in the great Church" under papal authority, he said.
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