Biskop Richard Williamson, hvis uttalelser om Holocaust utløste ramaskrik verden over, beklager i et brev til paven alt oppstyret. Men Willliamson trekker ikke uttalelsene om at det ikke fantes gasskamre og at bare 300.000 jøder ble drept under annen verdenskrig.

The Cambridge-educated bishop, who runs a church in Argentina, described his comments, which were aired on Swedish television last week, as «imprudent».

But he did not withdraw them or offer any explanation for his beliefs, which were condemned this week by Jewish groups, Israeli leaders and politicians across Europe and prompted Israel’s chief rabbinate, the country’s highest Jewish body, to cut its ties with the Vatican.

In a letter to the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission, Bishop Williamson wrote: «I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.»

In the one-page letter, which the bishop posted on his personal blog, he added: «Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.»

He thanked the 81-year-old Pontiff for lifting the excommunication, which was imposed in 1988 after Williamson was made a bishop by a renegade French archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre, in a move which the Vatican regarded as a dangerous act of schism.

Observatører tror at pave Benedikt 16 lever avsondret, ute av kontakt med verden utenfor. Ellers ville han aldri funnet på å rehabilitere en biskop med meninger som David Irving.

Analysts said the German-born Pontiff failed to anticipate the furore because he is too isolated.

«This is a solitary papacy and Benedict is paying the price,» said Professor Alberto Melloni, head of the John XXIII Centre for Religious Studies in Bologna.

The Pope should have consulted advisers inside the Vatican before lifting the excommunications.

«If he had called any five bishops at random around the world for advice I think they would all have said ‘no’. this mess was so predictable it’s amazing,» said Prof Melloni.

Bishop apologises for causing Holocaust row