Thursday, February 5, 2009

VATICAN CITY | The Vatican on Wednesday demanded that a prelate who denied the Holocaust recant his positions before being fully admitted as a bishop into the Roman Catholic Church.

It also said Pope Benedict XVI had not known about Bishop Richard Williamson‘s views when he agreed to lift his excommunication, and that of three other ultraconservative bishops, Jan. 21.

The Vatican’s secretariat of state issued the statement a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to make a clearer rejection of Holocaust denials, saying there had not been adequate clarification from the church.

The Holy See on Jan. 24 announced the rehabilitation of four bishops excommunicated in 1988 after being consecrated without papal consent.

Just days before, Bishop Williamson had been shown on Swedish state television saying historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed” during World War II.

Bishop Williamson has since apologized to the German-born 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 was gassed.

Though the Vatican said it did not share Bishop Williamson’s views, Jewish groups voiced outrage at his rehabilitation and demanded the prelate recant.

Bishop Williamson and the three other bishops were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who in 1969 founded the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including its outreach to Jews.

The Vatican said Wednesday that, while Bishop Williamson’s excommunication had been lifted, he still had no canonical function in the church because he was consecrated illegitimately.

“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. The Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

Jewish groups welcomed the Vatican statement, saying it satisfied their key demand.

“This was the sign the Jewish world has been waiting for,” said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, thanked Mrs. Merkel for her “righteous comments” and said the process to heal the “deep wound that this crisis caused to the Catholic-Jewish dialogue” could now begin.

Wednesday’s statement was a remarkable turnabout by the Vatican, which had considered the Williamson case “closed” after Benedict issued a lengthy denunciation of Holocaust deniers last week and the society itself distanced itself from Bishop Williamson’s views.

There was no answer to several calls placed Wednesday to Bishop Williamson’s home in La Reja, Argentina.

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