Former Student: Bishop Often Attacked Judaism Until last month, Bishop Richard Williamson was barely known outside the ultraconservative world of the Society of St. Pius X. That was before Pope Benedict lifted his excommunication and it emerged that Williamson is an unrepentant Holocaust denier.
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Former Student: Bishop Often Attacked Judaism

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Former Student: Bishop Often Attacked Judaism

Former Student: Bishop Often Attacked Judaism

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The Catholic bishop whose denial of the Holocaust damaged Jewish-Catholic relations returned to his native Britain today. Richard Williamson had been ordered out of Argentina where the government said his views were offensive. He's one of four dissident bishops welcomed back into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict last month. The Vatican says the pope did not know about Williamson's views, but as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, allegations about the bishop have circulated for years.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The smoking gun was Williamson's interview on Swedish TV just days before his excommunication was lifted. It's now been viewed on YouTube more than 200,000 times.

RICHARD WILLIAMSON: The historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.

POGGIOLI: An embarrassed Vatican claimed the pope had no knowledge of the bishop's views. Yet Williamson's anti-Semitism and dismissal of the Holocaust date back at least to the 1980s when he was a rector of a seminary in Ridgefield, Connecticut. To his students, he was rigid and authoritarian.

JOHN RIZZO: When he said jump, you said how far, so to speak.

POGGIOLI: Reverend John Rizzo was a student at that seminary in 1983. Reached by phone in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he's an assistant priest at the cathedral, Father Rizzo says he remembers Williamson expressing unusual views about the Holocaust.

RIZZO: He said it was a pack of lies, that we shouldn't fall victim to a type of public sympathy towards, you know, towards the Jews. He would also tease, you know, in regard to my sizable nose, so to speak, gee, Rizzo, are you a Jew? I want to see a baptismal certificate - things like that he would say. This other seminarian by the name of Dan Oppenheimer, and he would say to him, Oppenheimer, I don't like your name. There's a gas chamber waiting for you down at the lake. So, horrible things like that that he would say.

POGGIOLI: Williamson, who champions the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has called Jews the enemies of Christ, who he claims, together with Freemasons, have contributed to the corruption of the Catholic Church. Father Rizzo says Williamson expressed such opinions and ultra-orthodox views during spiritual conferences held on Thursday afternoons.

RIZZO: He was always insisting that women should not wear pants because that would be an occasion of sin, that women, when they're married, should be subjected to their husbands to such a degree. I'll never forget this - that if the wife misbehaves, the husband should be willing to beat her.

POGGIOLI: The 48-year-old priest says Williamson had bad things to say even about a 20th century icon of Catholic charity.

RIZZO: He would criticize Mother Teresa for false facade of charity, saying, oh yes, she may take care of the poor and so forth, but she's still a modernist. We shouldn't fall for her liberal tendencies.

POGGIOLI: Father Rizzo also recalls that when Williamson taught sacred scriptures, he would often espouse conspiracy theories and attack the American government - a theme he would pick up in a 2007 lecture in London where he described the United States as a police state.

WILLIAMSON: And I hope none of you believe that 9/11 is what it was presented to be. It was - of course the two towers came down - but it was absolutely for certain not two airplanes which brought down those two towers, they were professionally demolished by a series of demolition charges from top to bottom of the towers.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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