SVT denies Vatican conspiracy rumours

The journalist for Sveriges Television (SVT) who conducted an interview with conservative Catholic bishop Richard Williamson in which he denied the Holocaust, has denied allegations that SVT was involved in a plot to damage Pope Benedict XVI.

SVT denies Vatican conspiracy rumours

“Ridiculous and deplorable,” said SVT journalist Ali Fegan to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

“The reports stem from loose speculations, not facts. The church is trying to shake off the problem by shooting the messenger.”

Fegan’s comments come in the wake of reports that a secret memo is circulating in the Vatican claiming that SVT was acting together with progressive priests in a months-long conspiracy to sully the Pope.

SvD cites conservative catholic blogs and the Italian newspapers Il Giornale and Il Riformista, which report that the Vatican suspects the airing of SVT’s controversial interview with Williamson, just days before the Pope was set to lift the 20-year excommunication of the conservative bishop, was a deliberate trap set for the Pope by SVT.

The conspiracy theory allegations rest in part on the fact that Fegan knew of statements made by Williamson at a mass in Canada in 1989 in which he also denied the Holocaust.

According to Fagen, however, he learned of the comments through his own research on Williamson, but was unable to confirm the report.

“No one had gotten to the bottom of it. The rumour that Williamson was a Holocaust-denier had become truth without anyone having evidence of it,” Fegan told SvD.

The excommunication came in 1988 on the orders of Pope John Paul II after Williamson and three other priests from the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius (SSPX), were consecrated as bishops by SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in violation of the Pope’s wishes.

Dialogue between the Vatican and SSPX has been ongoing for years, and in late January the Pope finally lifted the excommunication of the four bishops, just days after the broadcast of SVT’s interview with Williamson.

Since then, the Pope has been hit by a wave of criticism from Jewish leaders who see the Vatican’s reconciliation with Williamson as a major blow to Jewish-Catholic relations.

Fegan also explained that the broadcast of SVT’s Uppdrag granskning investigative news programme was supposed to take place in the autumn of 2008, but was delayed because the subject of the investigation, a Swedish priest in the process of joining SSPX, had been in a car accident, setting the production schedule back several months.

SVT editors had no idea that Pope was planning on lifting Williamson’s excommunication when the programme finally aired in January.

“When rumours about the excommunication started a couple of days later, we realized that this was highly explosive stuff. It was an unbelievable coincidence,” said Fegan.

Maria Hasslegren, a spokesperson for Stockholm’s Catholic Diocese, told the TT news agency that she hadn’t heard anything about the alleged report and that the claim pointing to SVT’s complicity in a conspiracy is unrealistic.

Hasselgren explained that she knew that the programme would be broadcast on January 21st.

According to her, the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunications was a long process, and occured during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which takes place every year.

“I have a hard a really hard time believing that Uppdrag granskning would have known that it the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and it was just then that the Pope would surely do something,” she told TT.