July 11, 2011 / 3:01 PM / 9 years ago

German court fines bishop for denying Holocaust

BERLIN (Reuters) - Ultra-traditionalist bishop Richard Williamson was fined 6,500 euros Monday by a German court for publicly denying the Holocaust in 2009, a court spokesman said.

File photo of Bishop Richard Williamson sitting at Frankfurt airport February 28, 2007. REUTERS/Jens Falk/Files

British-born Williamson, 71, who belongs to a controversial Catholic splinter group, Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), was appealing a 2010 fine of 10,000 euros for telling Swedish TV that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust.

He also denied in the interview the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps. Holocaust denial is a hate crime in Germany.

Consensus among historians is that the Nazis killed six million Jews in the Holocaust.

Williamson’s statements became an embarrassment for the Vatican which readmitted him after a 22-year excommunication only days following the interview.

In his 2010 book, Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI said he would not have lifted the ban on Williamson if he had known of his far-right views, adding that the Vatican’s poor communications in the matter was a “total meltdown.”

German prosecutors demanded increasing the fine to 12,000 euros during the appeals process.

Williamson’s lawyers said he never explicitly agreed to the interview’s distribution outside Sweden and had been surprised regarding the interview’s thematic focus. Williamson did not intend to deny the Holocaust, his lawyers said.+

The decision is not yet legally binding as the court’s judgement can be appealed again within the next week.

It comes days after the Catholic Church condemned a series of ordinations by the SSPX, which are deemed illegal by the Church as the group’s priests are not recognized as Catholic clergy or allowed to exercise an official ministry.

Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1988 when they accepted ordination from the SSPX’s rebel founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, despite the Vatican’s clear opposition.

They were readmitted in January 2009 after the SSPX’s leader Bishop Bernard Fellany, one of the excommunicated, wrote to the Vatican pledging they accepted the pope as head of the Church.

Reporting by Kalina Oroschakoff

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