Vatican City – In his first meeting with Jewish leaders since his controversial readmission of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday (Feb. 12) condemned the “denial or minimization” of the Holocaust as “intolerable and altogether unacceptable.”
Benedict also told U.S. Jewish leaders that the Catholic Church “is profoundly and irrevocably committed” to good relations with Jews, and he confirmed for the first time that he is planning a visit to Israel.
Jewish organizations were outraged after one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, recently told Swedish television that no more than 300,000 Jews “perished in Nazi concentration camps … not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.”
In an apparent response to the controversy, Benedict on Jan. 28 condemned the Nazi genocide of “millions of Jews” and called for the Holocaust to be a “warning against forgetfulness, denial or reductionism.”
But the pope went further on Thursday, stating that “it is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.”
Benedict also repeated the words of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who on a visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2000 asked “forgiveness” for injustices done to the Jewish people in history.
“I now make (John Paul’s) prayer my own,” Benedict said.
At a press conference after Thursday’s meeting, Jewish leaders voiced satisfaction with the pope’s remarks.
“We came a long way,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who hosted Benedict at New York’s Park East Synagogue during the pope’s U.S. tour last April. “We traveled to share our pain, to share our disbelief, but we are leaving with renewed hope of stronger bonds between Catholics and Jews.”
Though he did not rebuke Williamson by name, Benedict said the status of the Holocaust as a “crime against God and against humanity …
should be clear to everyone, especially to those standing in the tradition of the Holy Scriptures.”
Benedict also reaffirmed the central importance of the church’s best-known statement on anti-Semitism, the 1965 declaration “Nostra Aetate,” which exonerated the Jewish people of blame for the death of Jesus Christ, and concluded that they “should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.”
Nostra Aetate was one of the many reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which is still militantly opposed by the SSPX.
A 2004 article in an official SSPX magazine — which was available earlier this month on the group’s official U.S. Web site — argues that according to Scripture, the “Jewish race brought upon themselves the curse that followed the crime of deicide.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, warned against complacency regarding the issues raised by the Williamson affair.
“There is an essential need now to say that the church will not countenance the presence of those who engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitism, and must be forceful in speaking out,” Hoenlein said after the meeting.
Also on Thursday, Benedict confirmed his plans to visit Israel, an event that had been thrown into question by recent fighting in the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip.
The pope did not specify a date for his trip, but participants at the meeting told reporters that it will probably take place in the spring.
By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
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