BERLIN (JTA) — The German Bishops’ Conference called on the pope to excommunicate again a Holocaust-denying cleric.
The outcry from Germany’s top Catholic echelons came after Richard Williamson, an ultra-right bishop, reiterated his doubts about the Holocaust in an interview published in Sunday’s edition of Der Spiegel magazine.
Bishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German Catholic body, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper he "sees no place for [Williamson] in the Catholic Church."
In the interview Williamson said he would have to do research before he could consider complying with the demand of Pope Benedict XVI that he drop his stance of denial.
The Vatican, which had rehabilitated Williamson and three other members of a traditionalist sect on Jan. 24 after decades of excommunication, claims Williamson’s denial of history took them by surprise.
But the Pope’s belated efforts to pressure Williamson apparently have failed, as have attempts by Williamson’s own ultra-right colleagues to muzzle him.
Williamson, who was born in England and lives in Argentina, told Der Spiegel he would only reconsider his views given convincing evidence. He has publicly denied that there were any gas chambers used to murder Jews in the Holocaust, and has insisted that no more than 300,000 Jews were murdered in the Nazi genocide.
In keeping with the teachings of the Society of Saint Pius X, Williamson rejects the reforms represented in the Second Vatican Council, including its more positive relations toward Jews and Judaism.
Zollitsch called Williamson "impossible and irresponsible."
Meanwhile, the Central Council of Jews in Germany accepted the Feb. 6 invitation from the German Bishops’ Conference invitation to meet. Representatives of the two groups will meet within a month.
The move by Germany’s main Catholic body is being seen as an attempt to mend a growing rift between Catholic and Jewish leaders here and around the world over the rehabilitation of Williamson and his colleagues.
In the wake of the controversy, the Pius X society has kicked out an Italian member who publicly sided with Williamson. Floriano Abrahamowicz said he did not believe gas chambers at death camps were used to kill people.
Historians generally agree that about 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. About half were gassed; most others were killed in mass shooting operations.