Holocaust-denying bishop apologizes, but does not recant

The Catholic bishop who caused outrage for denying the Nazis had systematically murdered millions of Jews in the Holocaust apologized Thursday for his statements.

“I regret having made such remarks,” Bishop Richard Williamson said in a statement on a Catholic Web site where he has posted in the past. “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 did not retract the comments or say he had changed his mind about the Holocaust. Williamson made headlines partly because Pope Benedict XVI lifted his longstanding excommunication, along with that of three other members of the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X, shortly after the interview was broadcast. The excommunication and its reversal were not related to Williamson’s Holocaust denial.

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The Church said Benedict was not aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when the excommunication was lifted, and ordered Williamson to recant. The Vatican spokesman had no comment when contacted Thursday by CNN about Williamson’s apology. Williamson was removed as the head of the seminary he ran in Argentina after the scandal broke, and was later expelled from the country. He returned to his native United Kingdom on Wednesday. The interview with Swedish television was broadcast in January but apparently recorded earlier. “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against — is hugely against — 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” he said. “I believe there were no gas chambers.” Williamson is under investigation for Holocaust denial in Germany, where it is a crime. He was in Germany when he gave the interview. The bishop’s rehabilitation sparked condemnation from Israel, American Jewish leaders, German Catholic leaders, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others. The Vatican has said Williamson will not be allowed to perform priestly functions until he recants his Holocaust denial. Williamson earlier apologized for the “distress” his remarks caused the pope.