pope with Jews 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday any minimization of the Holocaust was unacceptable, especially for a priest, as he met with Jewish leaders in hopes of ending the rancor over the rehabilitation of a bishop who denied 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis.
The German-born Benedict also confirmed that he planned to visit Israel in May, in what would be only the second official visit by a pope.
The Vatican scheduled the pope's audience with about 60 American Jewish leaders Thursday after his lifting of the excommunication of traditionalist bishop and Holocaust denier Richard Williamson sparked outrage among Jews, Catholics and world leaders, including Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Issuing his strongest condemnation of Holocaust denial yet, Benedict affirmed the Catholic Church was "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism."
"The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity," Benedict said. "This should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures."
"It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable," he said during the meeting in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
The Jewish leaders, gathered under the rubric of the US umbrella group Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, welcomed Benedict's words, saying the crisis was largely over.
"I think this statement is an important one," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "It addresses critical issues in Catholic-Jewish relations. But the test comes in what follows, in education efforts, in church leaders speaking out against anti-Semitism in the many countries where the church is present, in the pope's speaking out against voices calling for the destruction of Israel and in what the church does with the Society of Pius X," the religious order to which Williamson belongs.
The Vatican has said Pope Benedict did not know of Williamson's views when he agreed to lift the excommunication, and stressed that he did not in any way share those views. But confronted with mounting Jewish outrage, the Vatican demanded Williamson recant before he would be fully "admitted to the episcopal functions of the church."
Williamson's most recent public denial of the Holocaust came just last month in an interview with Swedish state television on January 21, when he denied that any Jews were gassed during World War II. He said only about 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed, but none of them gassed.
Williamson has apologized for causing distress to the pope, but has not recanted. He promised in a Saturday interview with Der Spiegel to "review the historical evidence once again" regarding the veracity of the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, even Williamson's own religious order has distanced itself from his views in the wake of the furor - though not in time to avoid being seen by Jewish leaders as sharing in those views.
Williamson was fired from his position as head of the La Reja Catholic Seminary in Argentina, a seminary of the Society of St. Pius X. The society issued a statement declaring that "Monsignor Williamson's statements do not in any way reflect the position of our congregation."
According to the Winona Daily News of Winona, Minnesota, where Williamson served as a priest for 15 years, the Swedish interview is only the latest in a long history of such statements for Williamson.
As early as 1989, he reportedly told a church in Sherbrooke, Canada that "there was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies," adding that "the Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel... Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism."