Pope hurt by 'hostility' over Williamson pardon

12th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

A furore erupted in January after Benedict lifted the ex-communication of four ultra-conservative bishops, including Williamson of Britain, who said in an interview that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.

Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI says he was saddened by the "hostility" of reactions to his decision to lift the ex-communication of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, according to excerpts of a letter to bishops posted on a Vatican observer's blog Wednesday.

"I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics, who should know better how things work, thought it necessary to attack me with such hostility," the pope wrote, according to the Internet blog of Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli.

The Vatican confirmed that Benedict has written to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, but said the letter would be released on Thursday.

A furore erupted in January after Benedict lifted the ex-communication of four ultra-conservative bishops, including Williamson of Britain, who said in an interview that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.

Church and secular leaders alike, denounced Williamson's remarks, including the pope's compatriot, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called on the Vatican to clarify its position in February.

The affair "caused both within and outside the Catholic Church a vehement discussion the likes of which we have not seen in a long time," the pope wrote, according to Tornielli's blog.

Benedict also reportedly wrote that he recognised that his decision to reinstate the bishops was not "explained clearly enough at the time of its publication."

The 81-year-old pontiff, who is to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in May, thanked his "Jewish friends" who helped clear up the "misunderstanding" and "restore an atmosphere of friendship and confidence," according to the excerpts.

Williamson was among four ex-communicated bishops that the pope decided to take back into the Church to try to heal a split with the ultra-conservative Saint Pius X Society, which rejected the Vatican's liberal reforms of the early 1960s.

In the letter excerpts published by Tornielli, who is generally well informed on Vatican affairs, Benedict said he acted "having at heart the unity of the faithful" by reintegrating some "491 priests, 215 seminarians, 117 laymen and 164 laywomen and thousands of faithful" back into the fold.

He indicated that like the ultra-conservative group he too had become a victim of intolerance.

"We sometimes get the impression that our society needs at least one group that will not be tolerated, against which we can hurl our hatred. And if someone dares to reach out to that group -- in this case the pope -- he also loses the right to tolerance and can also, without fear or reserve, be treated with hatred," Benedict wrote.

Williamson has apologised to those he offended with his remarks in a letter to the Vatican but stopped short of recanting them.

The pope has said previously that he was not aware of that Williamson said, in an interview broadcast on Swedish television in January, that "200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them by gas chambers".

He had made similar assertions in the past, dismissing records of millions killed in gas chambers as "lies, lies, lies."

AFP/Expatica

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