German Jewish Leader 'What Benedict Did Is Unforgivable'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Salomon Korn, 65, the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, discusses Pope Benedict XVI's rehabilitation of Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson and the disastrous impact it will have on dialogue between Catholics and Jews.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Korn, how would you assess the circumstances under which Pope Benedict XVI rehabilitated a bishop from the Society of Saint Pius X who has denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps?

Korn: Initially I was disappointed and then I was very shocked. The pope had to have known whom he was pardoning. After all, he's a man of intelligence with profound knowledge.

SPIEGEL: Do you think you misjudged the pope?

Salomon Korn: "What we're dealing with here is a setback that has put us into earlier centuries."

Salomon Korn: "What we're dealing with here is a setback that has put us into earlier centuries."

Korn: Possibly. Benedict XVI took a man back into the Church who says that the National Socialists didn't kill 6 million Jews, but only 200,000 to 300,000 -- as if that weren't already reprehensible enough. The claims made by Bishop Williamson are unbelievable. By taking him back into the Church, the pope essentially pushed a Holocaust denier into the mainstream and sent a disastrous signal.

SPIEGEL: What will the effects of that signal be?

Korn: Now every right-wing extremist can say that the pope has brought a Holocaust-denier back into the Church's fold. What Benedict did is unforgivable. A German pope, of all people -- that is how this is really being seen around the world -- has pardoned a Holocaust-denier. And he has done so just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, upon which we remember the survivors liberated from Auschwitz. I once considered Ratzinger to be prudent and far-sighted. Apparently, I was wrong about that.

SPIEGEL: Will the pope's decision inevitably put a serious strain on relations between Jews and Catholics in the longer term?

Korn: With this decision, the pope has basically undone the progress in the historically difficult relationship between Catholics and Jews made by the Second Vatican Council. What we're dealing with here is a setback that has put us into earlier centuries.

SPIEGEL: Is Benedict's decision also a regression back to the anti-Judaist stance of the Catholic Church of old?

Korn: No. I understand that Benedict wants to preserve the unity of the Church. But I don't understand why he's doing it at the expense of the dialogue with Jews, which is still in a fragile early stage. He is paying a high price by bringing home the Society of Saint Pius X, which only has roughly 500 priests and about a half-million followers -- compared with over a billion Catholics.

SPIEGEL: Why are you surprised by Benedict's disinterest in a dialogue with Jews? Didn't his amendment of the Good Friday prayers -- so that it once again includes intercession for Jews to acknowledge Jesus Christ -- already damage that dialogue?

Korn: Looking back on it now, it would seem that way. But the Good Friday prayer which is in Latin could still be grudgingly accepted, while the pardoning of Williamson cannot. That is intolerable.

SPIEGEL: When Benedict XVI became pope, he claimed he would continue the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Can this promise still be taken seriously at this point?

Korn: At the very least he has shown that unifying the Church is more important to him, and that he is willing to risk the dialogue with Jews that was promoted by his predecessors.

SPIEGEL: What does the pope need to do to limit the damage?

Korn: I'm not his advisor, but he would at least have to demand that all the rehabilitated bishops formally recant all provisos that go against the Second Vatican Council. I don't know how the Catholic-Jewish dialogue can start up again as long as that doesn't happen.

SPIEGEL: And what if Bishop Williamson were to take back his comments about the Holocaust?

Korn: If Williamson, who has clearly been a staunch Holocaust-denier for a long time claimed that he had suddenly changed his position, it would be completely noncredible -- especially if he renounced it under pressure from the Vatican.

SPIEGEL: Many rabbis are demanding that the Jewish-Catholic dialogue be suspended. Are you, too?

Korn: For the time being, we cannot continue the dialogue. Because the Catholic Church clearly considers it to be a subordinate priority, and has frivolously put it at risk, the basis for it is now lacking.

SPIEGEL: Do you advocate a moratorium?

Korn: As long as Pope Benedict XVI doesn't send a clear signal that all Catholics must support the Second Vatican Council, things simply cannot return to normal.


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