Pope expresses 'solidarity' with Jews

Elie Wiesel says Church intentionally pardoned bishop who said no Jews gassed during Holocaust.

Pope hands out 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope hands out 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict XVI said on Wednesday he feels "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews. The pope's statement, made before a public audience, came days after he lifted the excommunication of a bishop who says no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said the pope's decision gave credence to "the most vulgar aspect of anti-Semitism." In an interview with Reuters, Wiesel also said there was no way the Vatican could have not known about the bishop's past, and the move may have been done "intentionally." Asked if he believed it was possible that the Vatican did not know Williamson was a Holocaust denier, 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." On Tuesday, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel said it would suspend official ties with the Vatican in protest. "Without a public apology and recanting it will be difficult to continue the dialogue," Chief Rabbinate director-general Oded Weiner wrote in a letter to Cardinal Walter Casper, chairman of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relation with the Jews. Weiner said on Wednesday that he had received a telephone call earlier in the day from Casper's secretary. "The secretary told me that they received our letter and understand our feelings and the pain caused," Weiner said. "But he added that the decision was an internal affair. He also said that we would be receiving an official response in the coming days." Weiner said that in his conversation with the secretary he reiterated Jews' strong feelings about the pope's move. "We are awaiting a response to our letter from the pope," Weiner said. "Until we receive a response there is a question mark regarding the future of our relations." British-born Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist bishops whose excommunications were lifted on Saturday, has made several statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust. Williamson told Swedish television: "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps. His comments caused an uproar among Jewish leaders and progressive Catholics, many of whom said it had cast a dark shadow over 50 years of Christian-Jewish dialogue. "As I renew my full and indisputable solidarity with our brothers," Benedict said. "I wish that the memory of the Shoah will prompt humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the hearts of men." "May the Shoah be a warning to everyone against oblivion, denials or reduction," the pope told thousands of pilgrims at a weekly audience at the Vatican. The Vatican had already distanced itself from comments by Williamson. The Church said that removing the excommunication by no means implied the Vatican shared Williamson's views.