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LOMBARDI-HOLOCAUST Feb-3-2009 (560 words) xxxi

Vatican reiterates papal statements condemning Holocaust

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican official responded to new criticism over how the Vatican handled the lifting of the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who minimized the full extent of the Holocaust.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Feb. 3 that Pope Benedict XVI, in past and recent statements, had clearly distanced himself from comments by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, who has said that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

Father Lombardi's statement was released by the Vatican press office late the same day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German-born pope and the Vatican needed to make clear there could be no denial of the Holocaust.

Father Lombardi said the pope had spoken about the horror of the Holocaust in his 2005 visit to a German synagogue and in his 2006 visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

He noted that the pope, at his general audience Jan. 28, had recalled the suffering of Jews during World War II and said the Holocaust should stand as a "warning to everyone against forgetting, denying or minimizing" evil.

Father Lombardi said the pope's words at the general audience were "unequivocal."

"The condemnation of statements that deny the Holocaust could not have been clearer, and from the context it is apparent that it referred to the positions of Bishop Williamson and to all similar positions," Father Lombardi said.

"On the same occasion, the pope also clearly expressed the reason for removing the excommunication, which has nothing to do with legitimizing positions denying the Holocaust -- positions which were clearly condemned by the pope," the spokesman said.

Bishop Williamson was one of four bishops of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X whose excommunication was lifted by the pope Jan. 21. The four and French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the society, incurred automatic excommunication in 1988 when the archbishop ordained the bishops against papal orders. The society has not accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.

The same day the excommunication was lifted, a Swedish television station aired a November interview with Bishop Williamson in which he repeated his position that the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

The papal decree lifting the excommunication was made public Jan. 24 and Jewish groups -- especially in Germany, the U.S. and Israel --expressed shock that the Vatican would lift the excommunication against Bishop Williamson even after his comments had been televised.

At a news conference in Berlin Feb. 3, Merkel said she normally did not comment on church matters "but we are talking about fundamental questions."

"This is not just a matter, in my opinion, for the Christian, Catholic and Jewish communities in Germany, but the pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial" of the Holocaust, she said.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who coordinates the Vatican's dialogue with the Jews, said the controversy was fueled in part by a lack of communication within the Vatican and by "management errors in the Curia."

Cardinal Kasper said he has been following the unfolding controversy "with great concern."

He said the pope "wanted to open the discussion because he wanted unity inside and outside" the church. But the cardinal said he "would have also liked to see more communication in advance."


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