Chief Rabbinate cuts ties with Vatican

Also cancels Rome meeting with the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Pope Benedict 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict XVI insisted on Wednesday that he felt "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews. Benedict spoke days after his decision to revoke the excommunication of a bishop who says no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust provoked an outcry among Jews. Benedict said Wednesday that he hoped the memory of the Holocaust would also serve as a warning against the "unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the hearts of men." He spoke during a public audience at the Vatican. The Vatican had already distanced itself from comments by bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II. The Holy See said that removing the excommunication by no means implied the Vatican shared Williamson's views. But on Tuesday the Chief Rabbinate of Israel broke off official ties with the Vatican indefinitely in protest over the Pope's decision to reinstate a known Holocaust denier. The Chief Rabbinate also canceled a 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." According to a Chief Rabbinate source, the letter was leaked to the Israeli press before it was received by the Vatican, which might further complicate relations between the Chief Rabbinate and the Catholic Church. Last week, in an attempt to heal a decades-old rift between the Church and a group of ultra-conservative breakaway group of clergymen, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four bishops. The four Catholic bishops belong to the Society of Saint Pius, which opposed changes in Catholic doctrine made in the 1960s under the Second Vatican Council. One of them is Britain's Bishop Richard Williamson, who is being investigated for Holocaust denial in Germany, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In a recent interview with Swedish state television, Williamson denied the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis. "I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers," Williamson told the interviewer. "The historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers," Williamson reportedly said. He has also reportedly endorsed the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and claimed that Jews are bent on world domination. In a parallel development Tuesday, Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of the Society of Saint Pius, distanced himself from Williamson's comments. Fellay said he has forbidden Williamson from speaking publicly about any historical or political questions and that his views "don't reflect in any way the position of the society." "We ask forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff and all the men of good will for the dramatic consequences of this act," Fellay said. Haifa Chief Rabbi Shear Yishuv Cohen, chairman of the Rabbinate's commission, told The Jerusalem Post that he expected Williamson to publicly retract his statements before meetings could be renewed. "I understand the Pope's efforts to bring about unity in the Church, but he should be aware that, indirectly, he hurt Jews. We expect him to do the best to repair the situation." Weiner's letter called Williamson's comments "odious" and "outrageous." Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, and an advisory member of the Chief rabbinate's commission, said that the Pope's decision has created an atmosphere of "bad faith." Rosen reckoned that the Pope's move to lift Williamson's excommunication, which was made public just days before International Holocaust Day, was made due to a lack of proper consultation. "I tend to believe that the Pope simply was not informed about Williamson in advance and now he is in a very uncomfortable situation." Rosen said that the Pope had a history of improper preparation, leading to large-scale blunders. He cited a speech made in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a medieval emperor who called Islam "evil and inhuman," comments that sparked a wave of Islamic-led violence against Catholic churches around the world. Rosen said that the Rabbinate expected the Pope to take tangible steps against Williamson. "I don't think it is my place to tell the Church precisely what to do. But Williamson should be censured in some way or forced to retract his statements. "Until that happens, we may be in contact with the Vatican on an individual level, but there will be no official meetings."