Pope Benedict 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Vatican demanded on Wednesday that a Holocaust-denying bishop recant his positions before he can be fully readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican also said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI didn't know about Bishop Richard Williamson's views on the Holocaust when he agreed on January 21 to lift his excommunication, and those of three other ultraconservative bishops who also belong to the Society of St. Pius X, which opposed the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including its outreach to Jews.
"Bishop Williamson, in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the church, will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted," the statement said.
In addition, the Vatican said that the Society of Saint Pius X must fully recognize the teachings of Vatican II and the teachings of all the popes who came during and after it, in order to have a legitimate canonical function in the church.
The statement was issued by the Vatican's Secretariat of State a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to clearly reject Holocaust deniers, saying there hadn't been adequate clarification from the Vatican.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel told Reuters last week that there was no way the Vatican could have not known about the bishop's past.
Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, said: "Oh no! The Church knows what it does, especially on that level.
"For the pope to readmit this man, they know what they are doing. They know what they are doing and they did it intentionally. What the intention was, I don't know," he said.
Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, who is chairman of the Chief Rabbinate's Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, said that while the statement was a positive step, he hoped to hear from the pope himself.
"The Vatican's statement is a step in the right direction," Cohen said. "But I would like to hear the pope make an unequivocal statement on this matter as well."
Cohen refrained from saying whether the Chief Rabbinate would renew its official ties with the Vatican as a result of the Vatican's statement.
Last week the Chief Rabbinate of Israel suspended those ties indefinitely to protest Williamson's reinstatement.
The Chief Rabbinate also canceled an annual meeting scheduled for March 2-4 in Rome with the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
In a letter to the commission's chairman, Cardinal Walter Casper, Chief Rabbinate director-general Oded Weiner wrote that "without a public apology and recanting it will be difficult to continue the dialogue."
Weiner said on Wednesday that the Chief Rabbinate had a real desire to continue the "historical dialogue" with the Church.
"We sent a letter to the Vatican today with several suggestions that would enable us to move forward," he said.
Cohen said he was under the impression that the Vatican would like reconciliation on this matter before the pope's planned trip to Israel in May.
The American Jewish Committee welcomed the Vatican's clarification.
"This is what we were asking for," said Rabbi David Rosen, the AJC's international director of interreligious affairs.
"We asked for and received an unequivocal repudiation of Williamson's odious opinions and all such forms of anti-Semitism.
"This, together with the clear reiteration that the Society of St. Pius X will only be allowed back into the Church when they abide by the positions of Vatican II, is most reassuring. Had all this been expressed at the outset, we could have avoided the unnecessary damage and distress."
Williamson and the three other bishops were excommunicated in 1988 after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent. Lefebvre founded the Society of St. Pius X in 1969.
The Holy See said when it announced the rehabilitation of the bishops January 24 that removing the excommunication did not mean the Vatican shared Williamson's views.
Williamson was shown on Swedish state television days before his rehabilitation was made public, saying historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed" during World War II.
Williamson subsequently apologized to the pope for having stirred controversy, but he did not repudiate his comments, in which he also said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II and none were gassed.