Richard Williamson, the maverick bishop who has denied the Holocaust, cannot officiate in Catholic churches in Britain, its representatives stressed, following his return here from Argentina on Wednesday.
The English-born cleric was at the centre of an international controversy after Pope Benedict XVI lifted an excommunication order against him. But last week, the Argentinian authorities gave him 10 days to leave the country, where he had headed a seminary in Buenos Aires.
A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “If any priest wants to come and lead worship or preach, he must go to the local bishop for permission. Because Richard Williamson is not in communion with the Pope, that permission would not be granted.”
He added that the leader of Britain’s Catholics, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, had made it “absolutely clear that his [Williamson’s] views on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable”. Pope Benedict removed the excommunication order against Williamson and three other bishops from the breakaway Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in a move towards reconciliation with the breakaway sect.
But after an outcry by both Catholics and Jews, the Vatican ordered Williamson to recant his views before readmission to the Church.
Williamson has said that there were no lethal gas chambers and that, at most, 300,000 Jews died in the Nazi camps. He has also claimed that the antisemitic Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is authentic.
Father Paul Morgan, head of SSPX in Britain, was unavailable for comment.
Lord Janner, president of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “It would be much better if Williamson was not here as his views are antisemitic, extremely offensive, and insulting to the millions who witnessed and suffered the Holocaust. Sadly, as a British citizen, he cannot be prevented.”
Stephen Smith, director of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “The UK must not be a safe haven for him and people like him.”
David Irving, the Holocaust denier, who on his website said that the bishop had been “hounded out by the traditional enemies”, told The Times this week that he had been in correspondence with him. “He is not a Holocaust denier,” Mr Irving was quoted as saying. “Like me, he does not buy the whole package.” Williamson attended a party at the author’s home in Windsor last autumn.
A spokesman for the Argentinian Embassy in the UK explained that the decision to expel the bishop stemmed from his “remarks on the Holocaust. The Argentine government considers they are deeply offensive to Argentine society, the Jewish people and humanity.”
Reports on Wednesday said that Lady Renouf greeted Williamson at Heathrow. Lady Renouf said she wanted to support him in getting his views across. She blamed Germany for causing the “scrum of Jewish protests” against Williamson and said it was a “disgrace” that there could be no debate on the issue.