VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - World Jewish leaders on Friday praised Argentina’s decision to order the expulsion of an ultra-traditionalist Catholic bishop who caused an international furore by denying the full extent of the Holocaust.
One group called on other governments to follow Argentina’s lead and crack down on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in their countries.
Argentina’s government announced on Thursday it had ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to leave within 10 days or be expelled from the country where he has lived for years.
“The government of Argentina has advanced the cause of truth and has struck a blow against hate,” said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
Williamson, who headed a traditionalist seminary near Buenos Aires until earlier this month, has said there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in Germany’s Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million figure that is widely accepted.
“This decision is commendable, even more so because the government of Argentina makes it crystal clear that Holocaust deniers are not welcome in the country,” said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC).
Williamson was one of four ultra-traditionalist bishops whose excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict in January. The pope’s decision to open the door for him to eventually be fully readmitted into the Church was met with widespread criticism by Jews and many Catholics.
The WJC’s Lauder said he hoped Argentina’s move would inspire other countries to take action against those who deny the Holocaust.
“Sadly, other countries and governments are much less inclined to crack down on any attempts to denigrate the victims of the Shoah,” Lauder said, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.
The Vatican said it had no comment on the expulsion order by Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country with one of the oldest Jewish communities outside Israel.
The Vatican ordered Williamson to retract his comments. The British-born bishop responded that he needed more time to review the “evidence.”
Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany, where Williamson made the remarks last year that were broadcast on Swedish television last month. State prosecutors in the German city of Regensburg are investigating him for incitement.
Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Hilary Burke in Argentina; Editing by Janet Lawrence