Holocaust-denying bishop holed up in the pampas
BUENOS AIRES – After setting off an international furor last month when he denied on Swedish TV that Nazi gas chambers ever existed, Bishop Richard Williamson is holed up in the seminary he runs in Argentina and won’t talk to the press.
The traditionalist bishop was excommunicated 20 years ago, but Pope Benedict rehabilitated him on Jan. 24, causing an outcry from Jews, Catholics and nonbelievers alike who object to Williamson being brought back into the Vatican’s fold.
So I headed out with a photographer to look for the bishop in the seminary in the quiet farming town of La Reja, an hour’s drive from Argentina’s capital. We found a stark-looking tan-colored church, located on extensive tree-lined grounds where a Mass was being held.
It was clear we were in Williamson’s territory when we saw the women and girls in attendance had their heads and shoulders covered by scarves, in line with traditionalist doctrine.
We entered the griounds, knocked on a door and were greeted by a bespectacled young priest who politely took my press card and said he would tell Williamson we were there.
It looked like we were to be the first to interview the man at the center of a scandal that has included condemnation by the German government.
But the priest soon came back out looking a bit shaken, saying that Williamson “absolutely” would not talk. “And when he says no, he means it,” he said.
The local press was full of similar accounts by reporters who followed us out to La Reja only to be turned away.
Williamson, a Briton, apologized to Pope Benedict for the “unnecessary distress and problems” the uproar had caused him, calling his statement “imprudent” in a letter sent to the Vatican last week and posted on his blog.
But he made no mention of the Holocaust and did not repudiate his comments, as many Jews had demanded.
The Pope, on Wednesday, called on Williamson to publicly recant his views on the Holocaust.
We figured this was it. Williamson was practically being ordered by the Pope himself to talk, so back I went to La Reja, this time with a TV cameraman.
The seminary gates were now locked and the young priest said Williamson still had nothing to say.
Another seminarian passed by, jogging in black robes and long pants despite the intense midday sun. He did not want to speak to us either, leaving us to wonder what goes on behind the barbed wire fence around the seminary.
Reuters photo by Jens Falk (Williamson at Frankfurt airport Feb 28, 2007)