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Holocaust-denying bishop apologises to pope

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A traditionalist bishop who angered Jews by making statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust has apologised to Pope Benedict for the “unnecessary distress and problems” he caused him.

But the bishop, Richard Williamson, did not recant or take back the comments, which he called "imprudent" in a letter posted on Friday on his blog here and sent to the Vatican two days ago.

Williamson -- one of four bishops whose excommunications were lifted by the pope last Saturday after a 20-year schism -- told Swedish television in an interview broadcast a week ago: “I believe there were no gas chambers.” He said that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by mainstream historians.

The interview, taped in November, caused an uproar among Jewish leaders and progressive Catholics, many of whom said it threatened 50 years of Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Among those who condemned it were Holocaust survivors, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Jewish writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

In the letter addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the Vatican official who is in charge of contacts with the breakaway traditionalist movement, Williamson said.

“Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.”

Williamson, a Briton, made no mention of the Holocaust and did not repudiate his comments, as many Jews had demanded.

Pope Benedict expressed his “full and unquestionable solidarity” with Jews on Wednesday in an attempt to defuse the crisis.

Williamson and his three fellow bishops were expelled 20 years ago when they were ordained without permission of Pope John Paul, sparking the first schism in the Church in modern times. Benedict lifted the excommunications last Saturday in an attempt to heal the schism.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan