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Holocaust-denying bishop hires extremist lawyer

(JTA) — Richard Williamson, a Catholic bishop who has denied the facts of the Holocaust, has retained a lawyer close to neo-Nazi groups to defend him.

Williamson, a member of the Society of St. Pius X breakaway sect, has hired Wolfram Nahrath, a member of the far-right National Democratic Party, according to the German news agency DPA, as his attorney in his appeal of a fine for Holocaust denial.

DPA cited der Spiegel magazine in noting Nahrath’s NPD membership, and also reported that he led the Viking Youth, a neo-Nazi organization modeled on the Hitler Youth, until it was banned in 1994.

The Society of St. Pius X has threatened to expel Williamson for hiring Nahrath.

Williamson is appealing the more than $22,473 fine for Holocaust denial imposed in 2009 and upheld in April by a court in Regensburg.

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, which has called on Pope Benedict XVI to ban Williamson from the Church, said in a statement that "Williamson’s grotesque comments denigrating the tragedy of the Holocaust are now compounded by his engaging a notorious right-wing extremist as his lawyer."

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering, said in the statement that "Holocaust survivors call on Pope Benedict to categorically assert moral authority and reinstate the excommunication of Bishop Williamson which was lifted last year,"

Williamson, of  London, was fined in connection with an interview in Regensburg in late 2008 with the Swedish broadcaster SVT in which he called the murder of Jews in gas chambers during the Holocaust "lies, lies, lies." He also allegedly denied that any Jews were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust and insisted that not more than 300,000 European Jews were killed in all.

Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany.

Williamson is one of four bishops rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2009 in hopes of healing a rift between conservative and progressive Catholics.