Pope causes outrage by rehabilitating Holocaust denying bishop

By staff writers
January 28, 2009

Catholic commentators have joined Jewish leaders in criticising Pope Benedict XVI for bringing a Holocaust denying bishop back into the Church as part of a bid to heal a rift with a group of separatists.

The Church says that ending an excommunication is not the same as agreeing with a person's views, but critics say that the rehabilitation is "a disgrace".

Matthieu Grimpret writes in the French Catholic newspaper La Croix that he is "ashamed to be Catholic" after the Pope lifted a 20-year-old excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops consecrated in 1988 by the late Marcel Lefebvre, who held that only the Latin Mass was valid.

Noting that the Church refuses communion to people who remarry after divorcing, Grimpret writes that the Pope's move gives "the despicable impression that it's better for Catholics to be anti-Semitic than divorced."

Fr Williamson has dismissed as "lies" the fact that some six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps.

He recently told Swedish TV: "I believe there were no gas chambers. I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers."

Historians say this is nonsense, and contradicted by extensive research and personal testimonies.

"Williamson represents an extreme, but you can't pretend to ignore that anti-Semitism ... is a constituent part of this faction," Catholic historian Alberto Melloni wrote in the Italian daily La Repubblica.

Vatican Radio and the Holy See's newspaper Osservatore Romano roundly condemned Williamson's repeated assertions that no Jews were gassed to death, and took pains to recall Benedict's 2006 pilgrimage to Auschwitz and his eagerness for dialogue with Judaism.

The fact that the Pope lifted the ban on English Old Wykehamist Bishop Williamson in the middle of the Jewish Sabbath has added to the offence, however.

The pontiff has also restored the Tridentine Mass, which includes a prayer for the conversion of Jews to Catholicism.

Stephen Smith, director of the Holocaust Centre in the UK, commented: "Whatever the politics of the Catholic church, the readmission of Bishop Williamson, who is a self-proclaimed holocaust denier and actively endorses The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is indefensible."

He continued: "What's more, the timing - that coincides with Holocaust Memorial Day, which marks the liberation of Auschwitz where 1.5 million people died in the gas chambers that Bishop Williamson claims did not exist - is an insult and sends out entirely the wrong message about the Vatican's commitment to tackling anti-semitism."

Dr Ed Kessler, of the Centre for the Study of Jewish Christian Relations at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, added: "In the 20 odd years that I have been teaching Jewish-Christian relations I never thought I would witness a time when in the name of Christian unity, a German-bred Pope would bring back into the fold a Holocaust-denier. It is absolutely astonishing.

"While it is an internal decision for the Roman Catholic Church it has huge consequences, not just in terms of relations with Jews but also other faiths and ecumenical relations. It is a very very sad day for Catholic-Jewish relations," Kessler remarked.

The Rabbinate in Jerusalem has broken off relations with the Vatican over the issue.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.