Pope lifts expulsion of Holocaust denier
Excommunicated priest draws anger
By Philip Pullella
Reuters / January 25, 2009
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict yesterday rehabilitated a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust, despite warnings from Jewish leaders that it would seriously harm Catholic-Jewish relations and foment anti-Semitism.
The Vatican said the pope issued a decree lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops who were expelled from the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without Vatican permission.
The four bishops lead the ultraconservative Society of Saint Pius X, which has about 600,000 members and has rejected moves to modernize Roman Catholic worship and doctrine. They were consecrated by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who founded the Switzerland-based organization in 1969.
The Vatican said the excommunications were lifted after the bishops affirmed their willingness to accept Church teachings and papal authority.
In attempting to heal a 20-year-old schism, the decree could spark one of the most serious crises in Catholic-Jewish relations in 50 years.
"We have no intention of interfering in the internal workings of the Catholic Church. However, the eagerness to bring a Holocaust denier back into the Church will cast a shadow on relations between Jews and the Catholic Church," said Mordechai Lewy, Israel's ambassador to the Vatican.
One of the four bishops, the British-born Richard Williamson, has made statements denying the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians. In comments to Swedish TV broadcast Wednesday, he said, "I believe there were no gas chambers" and that only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.
Williamson went on to say, "I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem-based head of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said, "The late Pope John Paul II called anti-Semitism a sin against God and man. The denial of the overwhelmingly detailed documentation of the Shoah is anti- Semitism at its most blatant.
"In welcoming an open Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church without any recantation on his part, the Vatican has made a mockery of John Paul II's moving and impressive repudiation and condemnation of anti-Semitism," Rosen said.
The chief Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Williamson's comments were "totally extraneous" to the lifting of the excommunications. He said the pope's action did not imply that the Vatican shares Williamson's views. "It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of a person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree."
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said: "At a time when the Vatican should have sided with the victims it acted instead to desecrate their memory.
Pope Benedict has made several gestures of reconciliation to the schismatic group, including allowing the unconditional return of the old-style Latin Mass.
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