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Pope Benedict XVI

Pope’s Reinstatement of Holocaust-Denying Bishop Sparks Outrage

January 26, 2009 10:59 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate an excommunicated Holocaust-denier is just the most recent move by the pope that has garnered wide crticism.

Pope Reinstates Four Controversial Bishops

On Saturday, Jan. 24, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would reinstate four bishops into the Catholic Church who had been excommunicated. One of them, Bishop Richard Williamson, has denied that gas chambers were used to execute Jews during World War II.

“I believe there were no gas chambers ... I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers,” Williamson said in an interview with Swedish SVT television.

On Sunday, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the decision to bring the bishop back into the Church. “It is scandalous that someone of this stature in the Church denies the Holocaust,” the institution said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Pope’s actions have fomented anger within the Vatican and the Catholic Church as well. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the director of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the liaison for Vatican-Jewish relations, said the pope did not consult him about the reinstatement. “It was a decision of the pope,” the cardinal told The New York Times.

Catholic priest Hans Küng said that Benedict “does not see that he is alienating himself from the larger part of the Catholic Church and Christianity.” According to Küng, “He doesn’t see the real world. He only sees the Vatican world.”

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 Times.

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Background: Rabbi criticizes Pope Benedict

Elia Enrico Richetti, chief rabbi of Venice, wrote earlier this month 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

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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