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Pope re-admission of Holocaust-denier splits Vatican
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict decided to rehabilitate a bishop who denies the Holocaust with little consultation inside the Vatican, where it has divided prelates who fear it will have lasting effects on relations with Jews.
Church sources said the move, which outraged Jews and progressive Catholic, reflects Benedict's autocratic style of running the 1.1 billion-member Church compared to his more collegiate predecessor John Paul II, who consulted widely.
"The pope obviously did not tell the people he knew would likely oppose it," said one Church source, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
British-born Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist bishops whose excommunications were lifted on Saturday, has made statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians.
Williamson told Swedish television: "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.
"There were only a handful of people who knew this was coming and the people involved in dialogue with the Jews were apparently not among them," the source said.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German in charge of the Vatican department that deals with Christian unity and Jewish relations, was one of the many who were not consulted in advance.
In his determination to heal an internal Church schism, the pope either did not consider, or was not overly concerned with, the wider implications the move could have.
Furthermore, off-the-record chats with a number of Church sources showed that hardly anyone in the Vatican knew that traditionalist bishop Richard Williamson had made statements denying the Holocaust.
"Everyone I know found out about it from the media," said one source. "They did not do all their homework on this one."
WOMEN SHOULD NOT WEAR TROUSERS
Williamson had made similar remarks in sermons in the past and has also said God did not intend that women should wear trousers or attend universities and that the September 11 attacks were actually a U.S. government conspiracy.
It was clear that Vatican spokesmen were not prepared for the storm of criticism that followed the re-instatement of Williamson, which some Jews said could wipe out half a century of dialogue with the Vatican.
"The Vatican's damage control machine has gone into high gear," said one source. "It recalls the post-Regensburg period," he added, referring the controversial 2006 papal speech which Muslims saw as an insult to their religion. Sources said at the time the pope did not consult on that either.
Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Williamson's comments were "grave, upsetting (and) unacceptable." The paper also repeated the Church's teachings against anti-Semitism.
But Jewish leaders said the editorial was not enough.
"In rejecting Williamson's views, the Vatican has taken a necessary but insufficient step to heal the wound it caused to the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The breach has not been repaired," said Elan Steinberg, Vice-President of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
"Two steps back and one forward does not constitute progress ... we call on the Vatican to soberly reflect on its moral failure in this matter and address it directly," he said.
Catholic opinion makers tried to explain the distinction between the lifting of the excommunication -- an internal Church matter -- and Williamson's comments. But the worry on the Catholic side was clearly there.
"The Holocaust is a matter of history not faith. Being a Holocaust denier is stupid but not against the faith. Being anti-Semitic, however, is a sin," Jesuit Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University, told Reuters.
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