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Angela Merkel

Pope’s Reinstatement of Bishop Causing Outcry in Germany

February 04, 2009 10:29 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Angela Merkel criticized Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate an excommunicated Holocaust-denier, as have many others in the Pope’s home country. But now the Vatican has changed its views.

Controversial Bishop Reinstatements Prompt Calls for Pope to Step Down

The Vatican on Wednesday says that Bishop Richard Williamson must "unequivocally and publicly" retract his statements about the Holocaust before he could fully regain his position. The Vatican also indicated today that the pope was not aware of Williamson's beliefs when he lifted the excommunication, according to Radio Netherlands.

Criticism over Pope Benedict XVI’s actions regarding an excommunicated bishop who denies the extent of the Holocaust has been escalating, with one prominent liberal Catholic theologian even calling for him to step down. Hermann Haering told the German daily Tageszeitung, “If the pope wants to do some good for the Church, he should leave his job,” Agence France-Presse reports.

The pope lifted excommunication on four bishops on Jan. 24, including Richard Williamson, who denies that gas chambers were used in the Holocaust and that only between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews died in total.

The criticism of the pope has been especially strong in Germany, where denying the Holocaust is a crime punishable with jail time. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has even called on the pope to explain his reasoning. “I do not believe that sufficient clarification has been made,” Merkel said, according to the Associated Press.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the New York-based American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, described how meaningful Merkel’s remarks were. “When the German Chancellor admonishes a German-born Pope it is an extraordinary message,” Steinberg told AP.

Last week the pope responded to the growing backlash by saying he has “full and and indisputable solidarity” with the Jews, and stressed how serious of an offense Holocaust denial is, according to AP.

A senior Vatican official also noted that that the Vatican administration made “management errors” in choosing to lift the excommunications, AFP reports.

The four bishops had founded a sect that opposed the changes to the Church made by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. They are part of the St. Pius X Society, created by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. Pope John Paul II excommunicated the bishops in 1988 after “Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated them in unsanctioned ceremonies,” according to The New York Times.

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Background: Rabbi criticizes Pope Benedict

Elia Enrico Richetti, chief rabbi of Venice, wrote earlier in January in the Jesuit journal Populi that Pope Benedict XVI has damaged Jewish-Catholic relations through the reinstatement of a controversial Good Friday prayer that calls for the conversion of Jews.

“If we add to this the recent positions taken by the pope about dialogue,” he wrote, “said to be useless because the superiority of the Christian faith is proven anyway, then it’s evident that we’re heading toward the cancellation of the last 50 years of Church history.”

Richetti did not attend the church’s annual day of Jewish-Catholic prayers; the Italian Rabbinical Assembly announced in November that it was pulling out because of the Good Friday prayer controversy.

The prayer, which calls for God to “lift the veil from the eyes” of Jews and end “the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ,” was reinstated in July 2007 when Benedict loosened restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass. The Second Vatican Council decided in 1962-65 to drop the Latin Mass in favor of vernacular mass, which removed the Good Friday prayer from common use.

The council also permanently removed a reference in the prayer to “perfidis Judaeis,” translated as “faithless Jews,” or more controversially, “perfidious Jews.” Benedict did not reinstate this phrase into the prayer.

Jewish leaders were angered by Benedict’s decision. “We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday mass, it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted,” said Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League director.

In February 2008, Benedict issued a revised prayer which asked God to “enlighten (Jews’) hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.” The revised prayer did little to lessen Jewish protest.

“This situation forces us to at least a pause of reflection in the dialogue with the Catholics in order to really understand what is their intent,” announced the Italian Rabbinical Assembly.

Key Player: Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became pope on April 19, 2005, succeeding Pope John Paul II. Growing up in Germany during the Nazi regime, Ratzinger was forced to join the Hitler Youth. This association with the Nazi regime caused considerable controversy when he was chosen pope, though there was no evidence he supported the ideals of the Nazi Party.

The controversy, wrote Forbes, would, “probably force him to try and overcome such negative sentiments and make him a more perceptive, sensitive participant in Christian-Jewish dialogue.”

Benedict has been a more conservative pope than his predecessor John Paul II, allowing a return to the Latin Mass and favoring a return to more traditional Catholic values. He has not been as hard-line as many expected when he was chosen pope, however.

Related Topic: Muslim anger toward Benedict

Pope Benedict created a controversy in September 2006 with remarks about Muslim violence. In describing a conversion between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian man, Benedict said, “He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’”

After criticism by Muslim leaders, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the pope “deeply regretted” that his remarks “sounded offensive to the sensibility of Muslim believers.”

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