Pope may cancel rehabiliation of revisionist bishop

Pope Benedict XVI may reconsider his decision to rehabilitate four excommunicated bishops from the Society of Saint Pius X after outrage at the Holocaust-denying statements made by one of them, British-born Richard Williamson.


REUTERS - Jewish leaders on Friday urged Pope Benedict not to rehabilitate a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust, saying it would foment anti-Semitism and open a deep wound in Christian-Jewish relations.


Italian media have said the pope could this weekend lift the excommunications of four bishops who lead the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which rejects recent modernisations of Roman Catholic worship and doctrine.


It would be the latest of a number of gestures that he has made to heal a schism that began when the late French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre illegally consecrated four bishops in 1988 in defiance of the then pope, John Paul II.


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 most mainstream historians. In comments to Swedish television broadcast on Wednesday, he said:


"I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler ... I believe there were no gas chambers".


Williamson said he agreed with "revisionists" who say that "between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber".


Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said: "For the Jewish people and all persons who feel the pain of the terrible years of the Shoah, this development marks a dangerous blow to interfaith dialogue and encourages hate-mongers everywhere."


Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, said Williamson's rehabilitation would open "a deep wound".


The traditionalists reject many reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, notably its decision that Mass should be said in local languages rather than Latin, and its advocacy of dialogue with other religions.


A statement from the traditionalists said the implication that they are racist was "entirely false and unjust".


But it said the group had the right to "pray for conversion (of Jews) to the true faith, to study their recent and tragic history, or to question some of their political objectives".


At the end of the Swedish interview, William says he realises he could go to jail for Holocaust denial in Germany.


Pope Benedict has already made several gestures of reconciliation to the schismatic group, including allowing the unconditional return of the old-style Latin Mass.


That move angered Jews because the ceremony includes a Good Friday prayer for their conversion.


"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.


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