A German court is to decide within the next week whether to fine a Catholic Bishop who filmed an interview in Germany broadcast on Swedish TV, in which he denied the Holocaust.
British-born, ultra-conservative bishop Richard Williamson is a man with some very controversial views. But by far and away the most controversial relate to the Jewish Holocaust of World War Two. In fact he does not believe that the Holocaust ever happened.
He shared his belief that there were no gas chambers used by the Nazis to put to death millions of Jews, according to Der Spiegel. He asserts that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died during the course of the Second World War, not six million as most historians acknowledge as having perished, earlier in the year on Swedish TV.
Facing demands that he apologize over his denial of the Holocaust the Bishop has only gone so far as to say that he would "review the historical evidence once again".
However, with an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a court injunction preventing the interview being shown on the Internet and the Swedish TV station who broadcast the interview denying they agreed only to show it in the Scandinavian country, Bishop Williamson found himself in breach of a German law which makes Holocaust denial a punishable offense. Those found guilty of the offense can be imprisoned.
Regensburg, a city in Bavaria, was where the Bishop filmed his now infamous interview, and it was public prosecutors from the city who last week applied to a court for an order of punishment against Bishop Williamson, requesting that he be fined €12,000 ($17,860) for incitement.
Newser reports that Matthias Lossmann, the German lawyer representing the Bishop, has confirmed that as yet no order of punishment has been issued by the court. Such an order is said to be essentially the same as a conviction, but involves no trial. Merely an acceptance by a defendant that they did commit the offense with which they have been charged.
The defense being presented by Mr Lossmann and his client appears to be that an attempt was made to prevent the interview being seen in Germany, although ultimately a court in Nuremberg refused to issue the appropriate injunction.
Bishop Williamson's stance on the Holocaust has caused some considerable discomfort for the Catholic Church. Particularly as, within days of the interview being shown on Swedish TV, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication on the Bishop and three other members of the Society of St. Pius X, imposed in 1988 by Pope John Paul II because the men had been consecrated by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre against the orders of the Holy See.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and representatives of the Jewish community worldwide criticized the decision taken by Pope Benedict XVI.
Within the Catholic Church itself there was opposition to the lifting of the excommunication, the London Times reporting in February that Cardinal Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, was especially angered by the move.
In February Bishop Williamson was head of the Society of St Pius X seminary, near to the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. But he was removed from that position as the controversy over his Holocaust views heightened.
The government of Argentina, home to a sizable Jewish population, then gave him 10 days to leave the country, or face expulsion. Argentinian officials described the Bishop's views as “deeply offensive to Argentine society, the Jewish people and humanity”.