Holocaust-denying British bishop makes apology

LONDON (Reuters) - A Roman Catholic bishop who caused an uproar by denying the scale of the Holocaust has apologized for his views in statements carried on a Catholic news agency website on Thursday.

British-born Roman Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson arrives at Heathrow Airport in London February 25, 2009. A Roman Catholic bishop who caused an international uproar by denying the scale of the Holocaust arrived back in his native Britain on Wednesday after the Argentine government ordered him out. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Bishop Richard Williamson, a Briton, caused outrage by saying there were no gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, rather than the widely accepted figure of six million.

“I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them,” Williamson said, according to the website of Zenit, a Catholic news agency.

Zenit said Williamson’s comments were released by the Vatican’s “Ecclesia Dei” commission, a body established by Pope John Paul II in 1988 to try to bring breakaway traditionalist Catholics like Williamson back into the fold.

Williamson, who belongs to a traditionalist Catholic group called the Society of St. Pius X, was excommunicated after he was ordained as bishop in an unauthorized ceremony 20 years ago.

Pope Benedict last month lifted the excommunication of Williamson and three other traditionalists in an effort to heal the two-decade schism within the Roman Catholic church. The move has angered Jewish leaders and many Catholics.

Williamson, who has spent most of the past 30 years in Switzerland and the United States, before heading to a seminary in Buenos Aires, was asked to leave Argentina last week and returned to Britain.

In his statement carried by Zenit, Williamson said his views on the Holocaust were not those of an historian and were “formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.”

“To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize,” he said.

He did not say in his apology whether he had changed his views.

Reporting by Catherine Bosley in London and Phil Stewart and Philip Pullella in Rome; editing by Tim Pearce