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Jewish groups dismayed by papal decision on ‘Holocaust denier’

World News

U.S. and British Jewish groups say they are shocked by a decision of Pope Benedict XVI to overturn the excommunication of a British bishop who has said the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

The move is "a serious blow for Jewish-Vatican relations and a slap in the face of the late Pope John Paul II who made such remarkable efforts to eradicate and combat anti-Semitism," said Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of inter-religious affairs for the New York-based American Jewish Committee.

The decision announced by the Vatican involves lifting an excommunication ban on the Society of Saint Pius X, a traditionalist group founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a French cleric who died in 1991. Lefebvre and his followers opposed various reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, believing them heretical, and who favour maintaining the use of Latin at Roman Catholic Mass services.

One of the four society bishops whose excommunication was overturned in a papal decision announced 21 January is Bishop Richard Williamson.

Williamson has been quoted making statements saying that he does not believe gas chambers were utilised by the Nazis and that perhaps only 300 000 Jews were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps.

"I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," Williamson said in comments broadcast last week by Swedish Television, as reported by the Reuters news agency.

Historians believe some six million Jews perished in the Holocaust and Rosen said in a statement on 24 January that while the Vatican’s reconciliation with Society of Saint Pius X is an internal matter for the Catholic Church, "embracing an open Holocaust denier is shameful".

He added, "By welcoming an open Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church without any recantation on his part, the Vatican has made a mockery of [Pope] John Paul II’s moving and impressive repudiation and condemnation of anti-Semitism."

Ed Kessler of the Centre for the Study of Jewish Christian Relations at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, was quoted by the (London) Times newspaper on 26 January as saying: "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," said Kessler. "It is a very, very sad day for Catholic-Jewish relations."

(c) Ecumenical News International

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