Holocaust-denying bishop leaves Argentina

Posted at 02/25/09 10:03 AM

BUENOS AIRES–  A Roman Catholic bishop who caused an international uproar by denying the scale of the Holocaust left Argentina on Tuesday, days after the government ordered him out of the country.

Bishop Richard Williamson, an ultra-traditionalist who headed a seminary near Buenos Aires until earlier this month, said he believes that no more than 300,000 Jews died in Germany's Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million figure that is widely accepted.

Wearing dark sunglasses, a baseball cap and an overcoat, the tall, gray-haired Williamson was seen by a Reuters reporter in Argentina's main international airport as he entered the boarding area.

The bishop did not respond to questions and raised his fist toward the face of a local TV reporter who was trying to get a comment from him as he walked briskly toward his flight.

Argentina's Interior Ministry later confirmed that the cleric departed on a flight bound for London.

The Argentine government last week gave the bishop 10 days to leave the country or be expelled, citing irregularities in his immigration application and condemning his remarks on the Holocaust as "deeply offensive to Argentine society, the Jewish people and humanity."

Argentina is home to one of the world's largest Jewish communities outside of Israel.

The country was also considered a haven for Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, a principal in the conspiracy to kill the Jews of Europe who was abducted from Argentina by Israeli agents in 1960 and tried in Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict angered Jewish leaders and many Catholics last month when he lifted excommunications on Williamson and three other traditionalists to try to heal a 20-year-old schism within the Church that began in 1988 when they were ordained without Vatican permission.

The Vatican ordered the British-born Williamson to retract his comments, but the bishop responded that he needed more time to review evidence regarding the Holocaust.

World Jewish organizations and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the pope for rehabilitating Williamson, who belongs to the ultra-traditional Society of Saint Pius X.

Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and state prosecutors in the southern city of Regensburg are investigating Williamson for incitement.

German neo-Nazi websites and blogs have published pieces supporting Williamson's stand.