Friday, 30 January 2009

Germany's Jews cut ties with Vatican as British bishop row escalates


Germany's Jewish community cut ties to the Vatican on Thursday as the decision to rehabilitate a British bishop who questioned the Nazi's use of gas chambers escalated into an international crisis.

Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson, who insists that a maximum of 300,000 Jews were killed by Hitler's regime, has plunged relations between the Vatican and Jewish groups to a new low.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, said she was withdrawing from a scheduled dialogue with Catholic leaders, while both France and Britain criticised the Pope's actions.

"Under such conditions there will certainly be no conversation between the Church and me at the moment – but I stress 'at the moment'," Ms Knobloch said.

She added she could not believe the Pope's decision was the result of an oversight.

"The Pope is one of the most well-educated and intelligent people that the Catholic Church has and every word he speaks, he means," she said.

France's minister for Europe said the Pope had made a serious error in lifting the excommunication.

Bruno Le Maire, a practising Catholic, said: "I believe that it was a mistake to forgive so easily and to rehabilitate a bishop who has denied the existence of gas chambers and who said so very clearly."

The Pontiff's decision was also condemned by members of all parties during a House of Commons debate on Tuesday.

Sadiq Khan, a junior Communities Minister, said the move was "highly unsavoury" and of "great concern".

"The fact that somebody who can deny that the holocaust took place can hold high office, can be invited to august institutions to debate this, causes me great concern. Many MPs will ... find the promotion of such a person highly unsavoury," he said.

"Let's be clear those who deny the holocaust aren't pseudo-historians who are revising history. Some of their views ... demonstrate anti-Semitism. We can't pretend the holocaust didn't happen.''

Bishop Williamson's inflammatory views that historical accounts of the Holocaust are "lies, lies, lies" were repeated most recently in an interview aired last week on Swedish television.

He and three other rehabilitated bishops are members of the Swiss-based "Lefebvrist" fraternity, which rejected the Vatican's liberal reforms of the 1960s, including a declaration that Jews are the "older brothers" of Christians.

The order was thrown into fresh controversy yesterday when one of its leaders in Italy, Floriano Abrahamowicz, whose father was Jewish, also questioned whether the Nazis used gas chambers to exterminate Jews.

"I know that the gas chambers existed at least for disinfection, but I cannot say if they were used to kill people or not," said Father Abrahamowicz, who heads the Society of Saint Pius X in the north-east of Italy.

The number of Jews reported killed by the Nazis in concentration camps came from information given to the Allies at the end of the war by German Jewish leaders and was open to doubt, he said.

A senior Jewish leader from Israel said the Pope's assurances of his "solidarity" with the Jewish people, delivered during an address on Wednesday, had failed to heal the rift.

"The harm is not yet fully repaired," Rabbi David Rosen, who heads the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations, told La Repubblica.

He called for Bishop Williamson, who lives in Argentina, to issue an immediate apology and to recant his views.

The Pope's explanation that he had lifted the 1988 excommunication of Williamson, along with three other bishops from the conservative Society of Saint Pius X, out of "paternal mercy" failed to assuage politicians or Jewish leaders.

The row came as Europe earlier this week commemorated the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

No comments: