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WILLIAMSON-REACTIONS (UPDATED) Jan-27-2009 (1,070 words) With photo posted Jan. 26. xxxi

Holocaust denial by traditionalist bishop is unacceptable, says Vatican

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Remarks made by a traditionalist bishop who denied that millions of Jews were murdered during World War II are unacceptable, "foolish," and in no way reflect the position of the Catholic Church, said the Vatican's top ecumenist and major dialogue partner with the Jews.

"Such gibberish is unacceptable," said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica Jan. 26.

"To deny the Holocaust is unacceptable and is absolutely not the position of the Catholic Church," he said, adding that the bishop's remarks were "foolish."

British-born Bishop Richard Williamson of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X has claimed that the Holocaust was exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

He repeated his position in a Swedish television interview recorded last November but aired Jan. 21 -- on the same day Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication against Bishop Williamson and three other bishops who had been ordained against papal orders in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican made the decree public Jan. 24.

The Vatican released a statement Jan. 27 from the head of the Swiss-based society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who apologized for the damage caused by Bishop Williamson's remarks and said they in no way reflect the society's positions.

"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 recognize that these remarks were inopportune, we cannot help but note with sadness that they have directly struck our society, discrediting its mission," he said.

Bishop Fellay's statement followed a letter he wrote Jan. 21, complaining about the way the interview had been conducted and suggesting the television station was trying to misrepresent and smear the Society of St. Pius X.

Jewish groups expressed shock that after Bishop Williamson's comments were televised the Vatican would still lift the excommunication against him.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a Jan. 24 press release that the pope's decision "undermines the strong relationship between Catholics and Jews" and was "a most troubling setback."

He said the ADL was "stunned the Vatican ignored (its) concerns" after it wrote a letter Jan. 23 to Cardinal Kasper saying lifting the excommunication against a bishop who minimized the Holocaust and rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican Council would "become a source of great tension."

Foxman said the pope's gesture toward reconciling the bishop sent "a terrible message to Catholics around the world that there is room in the church for those who would undermine the church's teachings and who would foster disdain and contempt for other religions, particularly Judaism."

The American Jewish Committee expressed its "shock and regret over the Vatican's decision" in a press release Jan. 24.

Rabbi David Rosen, the committee's director of interreligious affairs, said, "It 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."

Rabbi Rosen urged the Vatican to "call Bishop Williamson to task and to apologize for his deplorable comments regarding the Holocaust."

Cardinal Kasper, who is co-chairman with Rabbi Rosen of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, 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 the British bishop 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 Jan. 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 jeopardized 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, who is 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 Jan. 24.

The Swiss bishops' conference said the traditionalist bishop's remarks "worsened concerns" over the "deep divergences" between the society and the Catholic Church.

The Swiss bishops condemned Bishop Williamson's comments and apologized to the Jewish community in Switzerland for the upsetting episode.

"Those who know Benedict XVI and his positive attitude toward Judaism know that the indefensible ravings of Bishop Williamson will not be tolerated," they said.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops' conference, praised the pope's decision to lift the excommunications against the four bishops.

But, during a Jan. 26 meeting with bishops, he expressed his "displeasure over the unfounded and unjustified" comments made by Bishop Williamson.

Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German bishops' conference, told German television ZDF Jan. 26 that, "sooner or later, Williamson will have to take back his statements," which he called unacceptable.

Germany's public prosecutor opened an investigation Jan. 23 to look into the traditionalist bishop's statements. The Swedish television interview with the bishop took place in Germany where it is illegal to deny the extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust.


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