Pope voices 'solidarity' with Jews, slams Holocaust denial

29th January 2009, Comments 1 comment

The German pope, 81, said he was in "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews, adding at his weekly general audience: "The Shoah should be a warning for all against forgetting, denial and reductionism."

Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday expressed "solidarity" with Jews and condemned denial of the Holocaust after lifting the excommunication of a bishop who claims the Nazis did not use gas chambers.

The German pope, 81, said he was in "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews, adding at his weekly general audience: "The Shoah should be a warning for all against forgetting, denial and reductionism."

He did not explicitly mention Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier who was among four breakaway bishops whom Benedict brought back into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday in a decision that was widely condemned by Jewish leaders and organisations as well as Catholics.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state said Wednesday that the pope had been "troubled" by Williamson's interview in which he dismissed as "lies" the fact that some six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps, claiming that only between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews died before and during World War II.

Speaking the day after Europe commemorated the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the pope recalled his visits to "one of the death camps where the slaughter was carried out of millions of Jews, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred."

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics said in separate remarks on Wednesday that he lifted the four bishops' 1988 excommunication out of "paternal mercy."

Benedict added that the four must recognise "the authority of the pope and the Second Vatican Council" in order to "complete the last steps necessary to achieve full communion with the Church."

The four bishops were members of the Swiss-based "Lefebvrist" fraternity, which rejected Vatican II's teaching on religious freedom and pluralism, notably the declaration "Nostra Aetate" according to which Jews are the "older brothers" of Christians.

The reforms carried out in the early 1960s overturned nearly 2,000 years of Church-sanctioned anti-Semitic views fueled by the belief that Jews killed Jesus Christ.

France's Europe minister on Wednesday said Pope Benedict XVI had made a "mistake" by lifting Williamson's excommunication.

"I can say that I am deeply upset by this decision," said Bruno Le Maire, a practising Catholic and the state secretary for European affairs.

"I believe that it was a mistake to forgive so easily and to rehabilitate a bishop who has denied the existence of gas chambers and who said so very clearly," said the minister in an interview to French media.

Rome's Grand Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni hailed the pope's remarks as "necessary and welcome," the ANSA news agency reported. The statements help "clarify ambiguities both about (Holocaust) denial and respect for the Second Vatican Council," he said.

On Tuesday, one of the four bishops, Bernard Fellay, asked the pope for forgiveness for Williamson's stance.

Benedict has already undermined ties with Judaism by condoning use of the old Tridentine mass in Latin, which includes a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews to Catholicism.

He also made waves by encouraging the process of beatifying Pope Pius XII -- accused of remaining silent over the Holocaust -- which would put the wartime Church leader on the road to sainthood.

The Vatican is in talks with Israel for a possible visit by the pope in May, but has yet to confirm the plan.


1 Comment To This Article

  • Sylvia Navon posted:

    on 29th January 2009, 14:52:05 - Reply

    There is something incredibly absurd in denying the Holocaust. "Someone" decides that it never happened or it didn't destroy most of European Jewry. Most of the time one thinks of that person as an idiot. However, when such nonsense is expressed by a member of the Catholic clergy, it is unforgivable. How Pope Benedict overlooked that little detail astounds me. Pope John Paul who was in Poland, not England, at the time and was a witness worked sincerely to draw Jews and Catholics closer. Beside the stupidity of the English clergyman's statements, it is an insult to the late Pope and all the millions who suffered because of the Nazis and their European collaborators..