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Holocaust-denying bishop lived in Minn. for 15 years

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Bishop Richard Williamson
An image from an Argentine TV network of an interview by Swedish television with Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies the Holocaust occurred. The interview took place two days before Pope Benedict lifted Williamson's excommunication.
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

(AP) - A Holocaust-denying bishop lived and taught for 15 years at a Minnesota seminary, where he expressed views similar to those that sparked a diplomatic crisis for the Vatican, the Winona Daily News reported Sunday.

      Bishop Richard Williamson was one of four bishops from the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X whose excommunication was lifted by the Vatican last month. 

The decision sparked outrage because he said in a recent Swedish TV interview he did not believe any Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.

      Williamson made numerous similar statements in the southeastern Minnesota city of Winona, where he was rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary between 1988 and 2003, the newspaper reported.

Williamson wrote in letters during his time in Winona that Jews were bent on world dominion and that "Judeo-Masonry brought about the first two world wars."

      "There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies," he said in a speech at Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes church in Sherbrooke, Canada in 1989, shortly after he became rector, the newspaper reported. 

"The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel ... Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism," he said in the speech.

      The Daily News said Williamson kept a low profile at the seminary from 1988 to 2003, writing letters on his beliefs and occasionally making speeches. 

It said Williamson became rector of the society's U.S. seminary in Connecticut in 1983, and came to Winona when the seminary moved here in 1988 to occupy the former St. Peter Martyr Priory.

      The Rev. Thomas Asher, a spokesman for St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, told the Daily News it has ordained about 100 priests in the past 20 years, and that 90 men now study there. About 200 people attend Sunday Mass at the seminary, he estimated.

      In an e-mail to the Daily News, Asher said the seminary agrees with the condemnation of Williamson's remarks issued last month by Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X.

      But the Daily News said Williamson's Swedish TV interview wasn't the first public airing of his beliefs about Jews. Aside from his 1989 comments, it said, Williamson wrote in letters during his time in Winona that Jews were bent on world dominion and that "Judeo-Masonry brought about the first two world wars."

      Those letters were written in 2001 and 2002, the Daily News reported.

      But the seminary's Web site, which contains many writings from Williamson, has nothing but praise for him, the newspaper said. It touts his "first-rate intellect" and "absolute fearlessness in standing for Catholic principles."

      "Bishop Williamson set out to expose the modern world's lies and perversions of the natural law; to teach seminarians how to distrust and despise (to paraphrase the Bishop) 'the glitz and glitter; the artificial, plastic world with its sentimental slush,'" the Web site reads.

      Local Roman Catholic leaders told the Daily News they paid scant attention to Williamson's writings and had little contact with him during his 15 years in the area. 

The Rev. Donald P. Schmitz, vicar general of the Diocese of Winona, said the diocese has long been estranged from the society despite its local presence.

      "There wouldn't have been anyone having a lot of dialogue with (him)," Schmitz said.

      Schmitz also said Pope Benedict XVI's recent decision to lift the excommunications shouldn't be interpreted as an embrace of the society's beliefs or an endorsement of its practices.

      Local Jews like Maureen Feran Freedland are disturbed that Benedict would embrace Williamson. Her parents survived the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia but lost dozens of family members to the Nazi death camps.

      "I find this outreach to these bishops, and especially Bishop Williamson, of great concern," Freedland told the newspaper from La Crosse, Wis. "I am determined that the tragedy of my own ancestors should not be denigrated."

      According to the Daily News, Williamson also wrote in letters while he was rector that "God's punishment has surely started, but will surely not finish, with the September 11 attack on the United States" and that, "Because of all kinds of natural reasons, almost no girl should go to any university!"

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      Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com

             (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)