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Pope rehabilitates Holocaust-denying bishop

Latest update : 2009-01-25

Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree lifting the excommunication of four bishops, including a British-born bishop criticised for his Holocaust-denying statements despite warnings from Jewish leaders that it could harm Jewish-Catholic relations.

REUTERS - Pope Benedict on Saturday rehabilitated a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust, despite warnings from Jewish leaders that it would seriously harm Catholic-Jewish relations and foment anti-Semitism.

The Vatican said the pope issued a decree lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops who were thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without Vatican permission.

One of the four bishops, the British-born Richard Williamson, has made a number of statements denying the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians.

In comments to Swedish television broadcast on Wednesday, he said "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of six million.

Before the excommunication was lifted, leaders in the Jewish community, including groups of Holocaust survivors, said such a move would be a dangerous blow to half a century of interfaith dialogue.

Rome's chief rabbi said Williamson's rehabilitation would open "a deep wound".

CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, called him "a despicable liar whose only goal is to revive the centuries-old hate against Jews".

"For any Catholic clergy to embrace the anti-Semitic Holocaust denier is obscene," said Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States.

"It would be an insult to Catholic-Jewish relations and the memory of the millions of Jews who perished because they were Jews."

Rabbi David Rosen, head of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, asked the Vatican for clarification.

"While this is an internal Church matter, any embrace of a Holocaust denier is profoundly disturbing," he said.

Date created : 2009-01-24