Top cardinal says Vatican botched Holocaust affair

VATICAN CITY Tue Feb 3, 2009 11:21am GMT

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he leads a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he leads a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, February 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The cardinal in charge of relations with Jews has acknowledged that the Vatican handled the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop very badly and complained that Pope Benedict did not consult him.

"There wasn't enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise," said Cardinal Walter Kasper in a blunt interview with Vatican Radio's German programme, broadcast on Monday night.

Benedict on January 24 lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including Richard Williamson, a Briton who denies the full extent of the Holocaust, to try to heal a 20-year-old schism in the Church.

Among those who condemned Williamson and the pope's decision were Holocaust survivors, progressive Catholics, members of the U.S. Congress, Israel's Chief Rabbinate, German Jewish leaders and Jewish writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

Vatican sources and officials had said privately the decision was taken without wide consultation. Kasper, who was left in the dark, appeared to be venting his frustration.

"Of course, explaining something after the fact is always much more difficult than if one did it right away. I would have also liked to see more communication in advance," said the cardinal, who like Pope Benedict is German.

"I'm watching this debate with great concern. Nobody can be pleased that misunderstandings have turned up. Mistakes in the management of the curia (Vatican administration) have certainly also been made. I want to say that very clearly," he said.

Leading Catholic commentators have said the Williamson affair shows fundamental flaws in Benedict's governing style.

"FATAL SYSTEMIC FLAW"

"This and other controversies point to a fatal systemic flaw in the Benedict papacy that is destroying his effectiveness as pope: He does not consult experts who might challenge his views and inclinations," said Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University.

"He is surrounded by people who are not as smart as he is and who would never think of questioning him."

Father Eberhard von Gemmingen, head of Vatican Radio German service, said: "There are obviously shortcomings in the Vatican's organisation and communications ... Such a misunderstanding and debacle must never happen again."

Williamson told Swedish television in an interview broadcast on January 21: "I believe there were no gas chambers." He said no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by mainstream historians.

He later posted on his blog a letter apologising to the pope for the "unnecessary distress" he caused him but he did not take back the comments. Jews said the apology was not enough.

The controversy has led many to take a closer look at the traditionalist group, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), its view of Jews and its future place in the Church.

Traditionalists reject most of the teachings of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council. One of its key documents, "Nostra Aetate" (In Our Times) repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Christ's death and urged dialogue with all major religions.

(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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