VATICAN CITY (AFP) — An apology from Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson failed to placate the Vatican on Friday which called on him to "unequivocally and publicly" withdraw his comments.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said a letter of apology from Williamson "doesn't seem to have respected the conditions" set by the Vatican on February 4, under which the bishop was to "distance himself absolutely and publicly" from his positions concerning the Holocaust.
In a letter to the Vatican released Thursday, Williamson apologised to those he offended with his remarks but stopped short of withdrawing them.
Outraged religious groups said Williamson had not retracted claims that no Jews perished in the gas chambers.
Leading German religious groups, including the influential Catholic Church, sharply rejected the apology and a prominent Jewish organisation accused him of continuing to hold his controversial views.
"By clearly refusing to retract his malicious lies, Williamson has again made clear that he is convinced anti-Semite and diehard Holocaust-denier, who calls into question the genocide of six million Jewish people," said Charlotte Knobloch, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews.
"This is a rude, malicious and barbaric insult to all Holocaust victims and their descendants," said Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany.
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries meanwhile refused to rule out a possible arrest. "Germany could act within the framework of a European arrest warrant," she said.
European Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot echoed her, telling reporters in Brussels that the denial could attract legal action in many EU states.
"I am personally opposed to any form of denial," he said. "It's not acceptable... it's playing with the truth."
The vice-president of the Central Council of German Catholics, Hans Joachim Meyer, also rejected Williamson's explanation, telling the daily Tagesspiegel on Friday it was "in no way satisfactory."
And Rabbi David Rosen, an emissary to the Vatican, said "this is in no way a real apology."
Williamson said in the letter: "Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks."
"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," he said.
The bishop has been at the centre of a raging controversy after saying in comments broadcast by Swedish television last month: "There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies."
Williamson said he believed "200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them by gas chambers."
The comments prompted Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to launch a highly unusual attack on the Vatican, calling on Pope Benedict XVI to clarify his stance on Holocaust-denial, which is illegal in Germany.
The German pope later said that "any denial or minimisation of (the Holocaust), this terrible crime, is intolerable and altogether unacceptable."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was "shocking" and "unacceptable ... that someone in the 21st century can deny the Shoah, the martyrdom of the Jews."
Williamson was among four excommunicated bishops the pope agreed to take back into the Church in January in a bid by the Vatican to heal a split with traditionalist Roman Catholics, who rejected the Church's liberal reforms of the early 1960s.
Argentina last week gave Williamson 10 days to leave the South American nation -- where he lived at a seminary run by the ultra-conservative Saint Pius X Society -- for having "deeply shocked Argentine society, the Jewish people and all of humanity."
Bernard Fellay, the head of the order, told the Swiss newspaper Le Courrier Thursday that the Society would not change its stance on the reforms before holding talks with the Vatican.
"Making recognition of the reforms a prior condition is like putting the cart before the horse," he added.
Fellay said he rather hoped that the Vatican might change its stance on Vatican II, blaming the reforms of the 1960s for "emptying seminaries... and churches."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »