Holocaust Denial Debate German Jews Cut Contact with Catholic Church

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on Thursday that she was severing contact with the Catholic Church. Her move stems from the pope's decision to void the excommunication of Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

Pope Benedict XVI these days is doing his best to calm waters roughened by his recent decision to bring Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson back into the fold. At his Wednesday audience at the Vatican, Benedict went out of his way to express "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews and explicitly condemned those who would deny the Holocaust.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed solidarity with the Jews on Wednesday.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed solidarity with the Jews on Wednesday.

His words, though, have not managed to completely eliminate the mistrust generated by last week's announcement. Even as the Chief Rabbinate in Israel told the Italian news agency ANSA on Wednesday that the pope's comments were "a great step forwards in resolving this question," the same group, which is the highest Jewish authority in Israel, said that a resumption of normal Jewish-Catholic ties would hinge on an apology from Williamson.

And on Thursday, Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said she was breaking off contact with the Catholic Church. "Under such conditions, there will be no further dialogue between myself and the church," Knobloch told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

"I am not dealing here with people who don't know what they are doing," she continued. "The pope is one of the most educated and most intelligent people in the Catholic Church. Every word that he says, he means."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel also indicated on Wednesday that he was unconvinced by the pope's words. He said the decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Williamson lent credence to "the most vulgar aspect of anti-Semitism."

The scandal erupted when the pope elected to mend ties with the far-right Society of Saint Pius X (SPPX) by overturning the excommunication of four bishops, including Williamson. The British-born bishop has long been a known denier of the Holocaust and as recently as last Wednesday told Swedish television, "I believe there were no gas chambers." He also said that 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps -- far lower than the 6 million generally accepted by historians.

"We have no intention of interfering in the internal workings of the Catholic Church," Israel's Ambassador to the Vatican Mordechai Lewy said earlier this week. "However, the eagerness to bring a Holocaust denier back into the Church will cast a shadow between Jews and the Catholic Church."

The Vatican responded to initial criticism by saying it was a theological decision made in an effort to heal a rift within the church. Jewish leaders the world over, though, proved unwilling to accept that explanation and said that the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, moved forward by Pope John Paul II and carried on by Pope Benedict XVI, had suffered a severe setback.

In addition to Benedict's comments on Wednesday, the Vatican has turned to its YouTube channel as well in an effort at damage control. Three videos were posted on Wednesday, one showing the pope's 2006 visit to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, a second of his speech in a synagogue in Cologne, and a third about his first visit to Poland.

In a letter to the Vatican, Chief Rabbinate director general Oded Weiner wrote "without a public apology and recanting, it will be difficult to continue the dialogue" between Jews and the Catholic Church, according to a report in the Wednesday edition of the Jerusalem Post.

Weiner said that he had received a phone call from Cardinal Walter Casper, who chairs the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. But Weiner added: "We are awaiting a response to our letter from the pope. Until we receive a response, there is a question mark regarding the future of our relations."

cgh -- with wire reports


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