Cardinal Bans Holocaust-Denier from LA Archdiocese

By Christina Hoag
San Francisco Chronicle
March 3, 2009

Cardinal Roger Mahony on Tuesday took the unusual step of banning Holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson from any Roman Catholic church, school or other facility in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"Holocaust deniers like Williamson will find no sympathetic ear or place of refuge in the Catholic Church, of which he is not — and may never become — a member," said a commentary signed jointly by Mahony, head of the nation's largest archdiocese, and two officials of the American Jewish Committee.

"The cardinal wishes to send a clear signal to the Jewish community that Williamson is not a member or even welcome in the Catholic Church until he renounces his views," said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese.

"The cardinal also wanted to signal that he is in full agreement with the Vatican that Williamson must apologize for and distance himself from his views," he added.

Mahony's measure is the latest repudiation of Williamson since January, when the Vatican announced that his excommunication was being lifted. That same day, Swedish television aired a previously taped interview in which Williamson denied that gas chambers existed and said that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews, not 6 million, perished in Nazi concentration camps.

The ensuing outrage caused Pope Benedict XVI to suspend lifting the excommunication, saying Williamson could only be reconciled with the church if he publicly retracts and apologizes for his Holocaust denial.

The government of Argentina, where Williamson had headed a seminary since 2003, ordered him expelled and prosecutors in Germany, where the interview was taped and where Holocaust denial is a crime, launched a criminal investigation.

Williamson, who is one of four excommunicated members of an ultra-traditionalist Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X, apologized for offending people, but did not indicate that he had changed his views.

Mahony's ban was contained in a commentary published in the online edition of The Tidings, the archdiocese's newspaper. The cardinal stated that the ban would remain "until he and his group comply fully and unequivocally with the Vatican's directives regarding the Holocaust."

The commentary was also signed by Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, U.S. director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, and Seth Brysk, the committee's Los Angeles executive director.

There is no indication that Williamson, who is currently living in Britain, is planning to visit Los Angeles, but the commentary noted that "many religious and civic leaders have used his situation to acknowledge the Holocaust and to affirm its unique and terrible place in history."

The ban resulted from Mahony's meeting two weeks ago with Greenebaum and Brysk.

Greenebaum said he requested the meeting to discuss the Vatican's flip-flopping position on Williamson.

The cardinal took him aback by suggesting the ban, Greenebaum said.

"It took me by surprise a little bit," he said. "It's a very strong, very welcome statement."

Religion experts said Mahony's ban is largely symbolic, but believed to be unprecedented.

"I don't know how it would be enforced," said Philip A. Cunningham, director of the Jewish-Catholic Institute at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "But having positive relations with the Jewish community is important to the cardinal."

Mahony said he plans to visit the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem this year.


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