British bishop sorry for 'imprudent' remarks about Holocaust

A recently reinstated British bishop who denies the scale of the Holocaust apologized to the Pope on Friday for the stress and problems caused by his 'imprudent remarks.'

A recently reinstated British bishop who denies the scale of the Holocaust apologized to the Pope on Friday for the stress and problems caused by his "imprudent remarks."

In a letter posted on his personal blog, Bishop Richard Williamson also thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his decision to reinstate him after 20 years of excommunication, a move that has sparked outrage in the Jewish community.

"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 said in the letter addressed to Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

Williamson quotes the prophet Jonah, saying: "Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."

He also expressed his "sincere personal thanks" to the Pope for recently lifting his excommunication.

The Vatican had imposed the church's most severe discipline, excommunication, on Williamson and three other bishops 20 years ago because they had been elevated to bishop's rank by a renegade, ultraconservative prelate, the late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

4 bishops reinstated

Last weekend the Pope reinstated all four in a bid to bring back to the church the Society of St. Pius X, which opposes many liberalizing reforms of the Vatican.

Williamson, in a Swedish TV interview broadcast a week ago, said he doesn't believe there were Nazi gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in concentration camps. Historians widely accept that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

The Canadian Jewish Congress has called on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to condemn the Pope's decision to reinstate Williamson.

"We call on the leadership of the Catholic Church in Canada to follow the lead of bishops in France, Belgium and Germany, among other countries, in denouncing the Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism of Bishop [Richard] Williamson and in reaffirming in no uncertain terms that such hateful views have no place in the church," CJC co-president Rabbi Reuven Bulka said in a statement Thursday.

"We understand that the Pope may be trying to heal an internal rift within the church, but that cannot be done by re-embracing someone with such intolerable views toward Jews."

On Thursday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying it criticizes and rejects Williamson's comments.

"The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops finds abhorrent the notion that somehow the terrible evil of the Holocaust is not a fact of history, and joins the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in calling on all people to recognize that the Holocaust is an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism," said the group.

Vatican denies knowledge

The conference said it remains "committed to dialogue with the Jews."

The Vatican cardinal in charge of negotiating with the society was quoted Thursday as saying that no one at the Vatican knew about Williamson's views until after the decree lifting excommunication had been signed.

"We absolutely didn't know anything about this Williamson. I really think that no one was aware of it," Hoyos was quoted as saying in an interview published in Corriere della Sera.

Also Thursday, a second member of the Society of St. Pius X echoed Williamson's comments in an interview with an Italian newspaper.

"I know gas chambers existed at least to disinfect. I can't say if anybody was killed in them or not," Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz told La Tribuna di Treviso, a newspaper in northern Italy.

He referred to Jews as "the people of God who then became the God-killing people."

When asked about Abrahamowicz's comments, Vatican spokesman Rev. Ciro Benedettini said the Pope has warned against denial of the full extent of the Holocaust.

He also repeated the church's position that rehabilitating Williamson by no means implies that the Vatican shares his views.

With files from the Associated Press