Benedict reaffirms solidarity with Jews following Latin Mass bishop’s comments in interview.
By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI renewed his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with the world’s Jews and condemned all ignorance, denial and downplaying of the brutal slaughter of millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust.
The Pope’s comments on January 28 came a day after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel postponed indefinitely a March meeting with the Vatican in protest over the Pope lifting the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who has minimised the severity and extent of the Holocaust.
Speaking the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Pope Benedict said he hoped "the memory of the Holocaust will persuade humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man."
The Jews were "innocent victims of a blind racist and religious hatred," he said at the end of his general audience in the Paul VI hall.
The Pope recalled his many visits to Auschwitz, calling it "one of the concentration camps in which millions of Jews were brutally slaughtered" by the Nazis.
"May the Holocaust be a warning to everyone against forgetting, denying or minimising" what happened to millions of Jews "because violence waged against just one human being is violence against everyone," he said.
"May violence never again humiliate the dignity of mankind," he said.
The Holocaust should be an important lesson for old and new generations, teaching them that "only the arduous path of listening and dialogue, love and forgiveness leads the world’s peoples, cultures and religions to the hoped-for goal of fraternity and peace in truth," said the Pope.
British-born Bishop Richard Williamson of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X has claimed that reports about the Holocaust were exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.
He repeated his position in a Swedish television interview recorded last November but aired on January 21 – the same day Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication against him and three other bishops who had been ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican made the decree public on January 24.
In a letter posted on his blog on January 30, Bishop Williamson apologised to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos for "having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems." Cardinal Castrillon heads the "Ecclesia Dei" commission, which oversees the reconciliation of Lefebvrite Catholics with the Church.
Jewish groups expressed shock that after Bishop Williamson’s comments were televised the Vatican would still lift the excommunication against him. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel postponed a March 2-4 meeting in Rome with the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.
Rabbi David Rosen, a member of the delegation of the Chief Rabbinate, said on Israeli television’s IBA News that the meeting with the Vatican had been postponed indefinitely "until a response comes from the Vatican that’s satisfactory to enable us to resume our relationship as before."
The director general of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Oded Wiener, told Catholic News Service the Pope’s January 28 statement condemning the denial of the Holocaust was "extremely important … for all humanity" and that it was a "great step forward" in resolving the current embroilment between the Vatican and the rabbinate.
He said a letter he sent on January 27 to the pontifical commission’s chairman, Cardinal Walter Kasper, in the name of the Chief Rabbinate was not intended to sever the ties, which were created in 2000, but simply to express deep disappointment at the reinstatement of Bishop Williamson.
The letter asked for a public apology from the bishop and for a postponement of the joint commission’s planned meeting in March until the matter was clarified.
He told CNS he was certain that members of the rabbinate’s commission would be meeting for further discussion by early February in light of the Pope’s statement.
Wiener emphasised that, concerning Bishop Williamson’s remarks, "We don’t for one second believe this is the position of the Pope."
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters on January 28 that Vatican officials hoped the rabbinate would resume dialogue with the pontifical commission so that its concerns could be addressed with "further and deeper reflection." Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict’s remarks condemning the Holocaust on January 28 and on previous occasions “doubt concerning the Pope and the Catholic Church’s position” on the Holocaust.
The spokesman said only with continued dialogue could relations between the Jewish world and the Catholic Church “successfully and serenely continue.”
To further underline the many occasions the Pope has publicly condemned anti-Semitism and expressed his closeness to the Jewish people, the Vatican posted archived footage of the Pope on its new YouTube channel on
The three video clips give excerpts of the Pope’s talks during his visit to a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005; his visit to the Nazis’ Auschwitz-Birkenau camps in Poland in 2006; and his general audience at the Vatican after his trip to Auschwitz.
Cardinal Kasper said the traditionalist bishop’s remarks were unacceptable, “foolish” and in no way reflect the position of the Catholic Church.
“Such gibberish is unacceptable,” the German cardinal said in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica on January 26.
“To deny the Holocaust is unacceptable and is absolutely not the position of the Catholic Church,” he said.
The Vatican released a statement on January 27 from the head of the Swiss-based Society of St Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who apologised for the damage caused by Bishop Williamson’s remarks and said they in no way reflect the positions of the Society of St Pius X.
"We ask forgiveness of the pontiff and of all people of good will for the dramatic consequences of this act," Bishop Fellay wrote.
He said he had prohibited Bishop Williamson from speaking publicly on political or historical questions "until further orders."
"While we recognise that these remarks were inopportune, we cannot help but note with sadness that they have directly struck our society, discrediting its mission," he said.
He also pointed out that the father of Society of St Pius X founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre had died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Cardinal Kasper, who co-chairs the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee with Rabbi Rosen, told La Repubblica he could see how Bishop Williamson’s opinions could "cast a shadow over (Vatican) relations with Jews, but I am convinced dialogue will continue."
The cardinal said removing the excommunication against Bishop Williamson and the bishop’s comments were two completely separate issues.
By lifting the excommunication, he said, the Pope was removing an obstacle to the Vatican’s dialogue with the society.
"We will need to see in what way they accept the (Second Vatican) Council" before further steps toward reconciliation and unity can be taken, he said.
In the past, the Society of St Pius X has not accepted the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.
A front-page article in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, called Bishop Williamson’s remarks on the Holocaust unacceptable, "very serious and regrettable."
The paper underlined the Church’s teachings against anti-Semitism, which are clearly outlined in the declaration "Nostra Aetate."
The January 27 article said these teachings were "not debatable" within the Catholic Church.
It said the reforms the Church adopted after Vatican II could never be jeopardised or "thrown into crisis by a magnanimous gesture of mercy" by the Pope in seeking to reconcile with the traditionalist society.
French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bourdeaux said that resolving the many dogmatic and ecclesial questions remaining between the Church and the society will be a journey that is "undoubtedly long." But doctrinal issues are not the only thing making reconciliation difficult, said the cardinal, a member of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," which oversees the reconciliation of Lefebvrite Catholics with the Church.
Cultural and political attitudes, such as those reflected in the "unacceptable" remarks by Bishop Williamson concerning the Holocaust, also can hamper full reconciliation, he said in a press release on January 24.
The Swiss bishops’ conference said the traditionalist bishop’s remarks "worsened concerns" over the "deep divergences" between the society and the Catholic Church.
Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem