The Vatican's decison to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies that the Holocaust took place has angered Jews across the world. German papers on Monday argue that the pope is ruining decades of work aimed at improving relations between Jews and Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI insists that his only concern was that of eliminating a schism within the Catholic Church. But his decision to mend ties with the far-right Society of Saint Pius X (SPPX) by overturning the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist bishops has outraged Jewish communities across the world. The reason for their anger is clear: One of those brought back into the fold is an unrepentant Holocaust denier. In comments made to Swedish television and broadcast last Wednesday, British-born Richard Williamson said "I believe there were no gas chambers." He claimed that only 300,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps, instead of the 6 million figure that is widely accepted by historians. Despite these extreme views, Williamson was included in a group of supporters of the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who were returned to the fold on Saturday after the Vatican issued a decree lifting their excommunication. The men were thrown out of the Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without permission. They and the 600,000 members of their society reject the modernization of the Catholic Church that came about after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which included priests facing the congregation and speaking in the vernacular instead of in Latin. Jewish organizations have been quick to condemn the move by German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who has long sought to end the schism in the Catholic Church. Rabbi David Rosen, head of the American Jewish Committee, contrasted the pope's actions with those of his predecessor. "In welcoming an open Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church without any recantation on his part, the Vatican has made a mockery of John Paul II's moving and impressive repudiation and condemnation of anti-Semitism," he told Reuters. (26/01/2009 - Der Spiegel)