Pope 'Rehabilitates' British Bishop Holocaust Denier
To the chagrin of Jews worldwide, the Pope on Saturday lifted the excommunication ban of a British bishop who is a Holocaust denier. The bishop, Richard Williamson, is one of four bishops rehabilitated Saturday after being thrown out of the Catholic Church 20 years ago because of their refusal to accept changes in Catholic doctrine.
Williamson has several times in the past said that he doesn't believe that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In his latest comments to Swedish interviewers last week, he said "I believe there were no gas chambers." The maximum number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was 300,000, he said. "Between 200,000-300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber," he said, adding "I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
In a report, Reuters quoted Mordechai Lewy, Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, as saying that Israel "has no intention of interfering in the internal workings of the Catholic Church. However, the eagerness to bring a Holocaust denier back into the Church will cast a shadow on relations between Jews and the Catholic Church."
A Vatican spokesman said that the lifting of the ban had nothing to do with Williamson's views. "It has nothing to do with the personal opinions of a person, which are open to criticism, but are not pertinent to this decree."
The pope's minister for peace and justice was accused yesterday of speaking like a Holocaust denier after comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp".
Cardinal Renato Martino, a veteran Vatican diplomat with years of experience as the Pope's delegate to the United Nations, told an interviewer for L'Avvenire, the daily paper of the Italian bishops, that "nobody" in the Israel-Hamas dispute "sees the interests of the other, but only their own". He continued: "But the consequences of egoism are hatred for the other, poverty and injustice. The ones who pay are always the defenceless populations. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more it resembles a big concentration camp."
He added that "both sides" were to blame for the dispute and must be separated like feuding brothers. "The world cannot just look on, doing nothing," said Cardinal Martino. His comments were later echoed by Pope Benedict XVI, who said "the military option is not a solution and violence from whichever side must be firmly condemned".
But Israel and its supporters reacted angrily to the cardinal's implied comparison of Gaza to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. "We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity," said Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, went further, saying such comments "are only used against Israel by terrorist organisations and Holocaust deniers".
The row cast doubt on the Pope's tentative plan to visit the Holy Land in May.