Twice-excommunicated bishop loses appeal of hate speech conviction

williamson CNA Richard Williamson

Richard Williamson has lost an appeal against his 2010 conviction for inciting hatred. His appeal was rejected January 31 by the European Court of Human Rights.


The disgraced bishop, who has been excommunicated by the Vatican on two separate occasions, was convicted of incitement to hatred for his comments amounting to Holocaust denial during a television interview that aired in Sweden in January 2009.


In the interview, Williamson denied that millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime, and said that he did not believe gas chambers were used in the concentration camps.


"I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," Williamson said on camera. He went on to suggest that the number of people killed was far lower.


It later emerged that Williamson had a history of anti-Semitic remarks.


Since the Second Vatican Council, popes have routinely and regularly condemned anti-Semitism.


Most recently, in November 2018, Pope Francis said that "we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community," and said that it was important to remember the Holocaust "to teach us to avoid the same errors."


"A Christian cannot be an anti-Semite, we share the same roots," said Pope Francis in November, 2018.


In Germany, where the interview was recorded in 2008, Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. Williamson's lawyers argued that he should not have been convicted as the interview only aired in Sweden, which does not have a Holocaust denial law.

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The Strasbourg-based ECHR concluded that Williamson knew that he was breaking German law at the time and did not attempt to limit the interview to Swedish airwaves alone.


The disgraced bishop was initially sentenced to a fine of 12,000 euros, reduced to 1,500 euros on appeal. Following the airing of the interview, he was swiftly removed from his position as the head of an SSPX seminary in Argentina.


Williamson holds the unique distinction of having been excommunicated by the Church twice.


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He was first excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1988, following his illicit consecration as a bishop by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in Écône, Switzerland against the orders of Pope St. John Paul II. At the time, Williamson was a member of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a canonically irregular religious order not in full communion with the Church.


Williamson's excommunication, and that of the three other SSPX bishops consecrated by Lefebvre in 1988, was lifted in January 2009, in a decree that was signed the same day his interview aired in Sweden.


The lifting the excommunications by Pope Benedict XVI was part of ongoing attempts to bring the SSPX back into full communion with the Church's hierarchy. The SSPX remains in a canonically irregular state, but does have valid sacraments.


Vatican officials said that they had not been aware of Williamson's views or his comments prior to lifting his original excommunication, and ordered him to recant.


Williamson sent Pope Benedict XVI a letter saying he regretted causing controversy, but he did not apologize or retract his statements. The Vatican rejected his apology letter.


On October 4, 2012, Williamson was formally expelled from the SSPX after "refusing to show due respect and obedience" to his superiors in the society following an unauthorized visit to Brazil.


Williamson then joined an offshoot of the society called the SSPX Resistance, and said that he would continue ordaining priests.


In 2015, he was once again declared excommunicated by the Church after consecrating a bishop in Brazil without Vatican approval. Since then, he has consecrated two other bishops, including one in 2017.

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