Leaders of the Society of St. Pius X threatened to expel controversial member Bishop Richard Williamson for hiring a lawyer with neo-Nazi ties. The bishop will appeal charges in a German court for publicly denying the scope of the Holocaust.
Bishop Bernard Fellay – head of the St. Pius X society – ordered Bishop Williamson on Nov. 22 to fire his attorney Wolfram Nahrath, whom Bishop Williamson hired to represent him as he appeals an incitement conviction in Germany on Nov. 29.
The Associated Press reported that Nahrath has allegedly defended neo-Nazis in the past and is the former leader of a neo-Nazi group in Germany called Wiking-Jugend, or Viking Youth.
In April, a court in Regensburg, Germany fined the British-born Bishop Williamson almost $14,000, for his remarks in a 2009 interview with Swedish television on the Holocaust. The 70-year-old bishop had denied the magnitude of the Holocaust, saying only 300,000 Jews perished, and that there were no gas chambers.
It is considered a hate crime in Germany to deny the Holocaust, in which about six million Jews and millions of others were killed.
Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four society bishops this year, including Bishop Williamson, hoping to reconcile the group with the Catholic Church. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – who founded the Swiss-based group in 1969 which opposes some provisions of Vatican II – had ordained Bishop Williamson and two others without papal consent. He, along with Bishop Williamson and the two others, were excommunicated in 1988.
When Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications this year, Bishop Williamson's comments about the Holocaust caused controversy especially among Jewish groups. Bishop Williamson later offered an apology for his remarks, which the Vatican rejected as insufficient.
The society's general secretary Fr. Christian Thouvenot issued a statement on Nov. 20 explaining that “just ten days before his trial,” Bishop Williamson chose “to dismiss the lawyer charged with his defense, in favor of a lawyer who is openly affiliated to the so-called neo-Nazi movement in Germany, and to other such groups.”
“Bishop Fellay has given Bishop Williamson a formal order to go back on this decision and to not allow himself to become an instrument of political theses that are completely foreign to his mission as a Catholic bishop serving the Society of Saint Pius X,” he added.
Disobedience to this order, Fr. Thouvenot said “would result in Bishop Williamson being expelled from the Society of Saint Pius X.”