Vatican seeks to repair damage to Jewish relations

By Ecumenical News International
29 Jan 2009

Pope Benedict XVI says he has "full and unquestionable solidarity" with Jewish people and he has warned against any form of Holocaust denial. The Pope’s statement comes after outrage at his recent reinstatement of an excommunicated bishop, who has said the genocide of Jews in gas chambers never took place - writes Luigi Sandri.

The German-born pontiff was speaking at his weekly audience on 28 January 2009 following an international outcry about British-born Richard Williamson, who was among four bishops who had been excommunicated for opposing reforms in the Roman Catholic Church 20 years earlier.

"While I renew with affection the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our [Jewish] brothers, I hope the memory of the Shoah [Hebrew for Holocaust] will induce humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of hate when it conquers the heart of man."

In an interview conducted in November and broadcast by Swedish television a week ago, Williamson had said: "I believe there were no gas chambers" and he had said that that no more than 300 000 Jews perished under the Nazis. "The historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy by Adolf Hitler," Williamson had said.

The Pope said that the traditionalist movement to which the four bishops belonged would need to be loyal to the papacy and the teachings of the 1962 to 1965 Second Vatican Council, which the four had rejected along with others known as Lefebvrists after their leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France.

At the end of his general audience, Benedict said: "I remember my visit to Auschwitz, one of the concentration camps in which took place the vicious extermination of millions of Jews, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hate." He added, "Nobody can deny the Shoah."

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, commented: "The words of the Pope on Shoah should be more than sufficient to answer to the expectations of those who express doubts on the positions of the pope and of the Catholic Church on this matter".

Williamson, who is aged 68, was among four bishops excommunicated because Lefebvre, founder of the Society of Pius X that opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, had consecrated them as bishops.

"The statements of Monsignor Williamson do not reflect in any way the position of our society," Bernard Fellay, who now heads the Society of Pius X, wrote in a letter to the Pope that was distributed to journalists at the Vatican.

Jewish leaders had said the reinstatement of Williamson threatened decades of interfaith dialogue and that it could jeopardise a planned trip to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict later this year.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. 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.