Criticism of Pope′s Rehabilitation of Holocaust Denier Grows | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.02.2009
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Criticism of Pope's Rehabilitation of Holocaust Denier Grows

A second German Catholic bishop Saturday raised unusual criticism of German Pope Benedict XVI for rehabilitating Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, adding his objections to the pope's ultraconservative direction.

Pope Benedict XVI

The pope is coming under increasing fire from within the Catholic Church over his policies

Bishop Gebhard Fuerst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart criticized as "totally unacceptable" remarks by Bishop Richard Williamson in recent weeks that there was no historical evidence for the Holocaust.

In a public declaration, Fuerst charged that Benedict's rehabilitation of Williamson had led to "external and internal alienation from the church on the part of many believers, to a betrayal of trust especially among Jewish sisters and brothers in their relationship to the church, and to a considerable disturbance in the Christian-Jewish dialogue."

To end a schism with ultraconservatives, Rome last week lifted its excommunication of four men who ran the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) outside the church for more than 20 years. British-born Williamson, who runs a seminary in Argentina, was one of them.

In related developments on Saturday, Israel's minister for religious affairs threatened to suspend relationships with the Vatican and the pope named an ultraconservative Austrian priest as bishop in Linz.

Williamson being shunned by colleagues

Bishop Richard Williamson

Bishop Williamson could face criminal charges in Germany

Earlier this week, Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the Catholic bishop of the German city of Regensburg which is also the pope's home city, declared Williamson persona-non-grata in his district. Williamson has denied the Holocaust in recent weeks in Germany and Sweden.

Public prosecutors have opened an inquiry against Williamson over his remarks. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany.

Bishop Fuerst called the pardoning of Williamson "a heavy burden for me as bishop and as spiritual pastor."

Fuerst charged that the rehabilitation of all four priests undermined the "precious" unity of the church, the upholding of which was among the "highest obligations of the pope and the bishops."

The four priests have defied changes made in the church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which, among other things, loosened strict adherence to Latin as the language of worship and started the ecumenical outreach to other Christian churches and other religions.

By denying the Council and being rehabilitated, the priests were threatening church unity, Fuerst said.

"The price of such denial is that many believers will internally or externally turn away," Fuerst said.

"Without exception, the theology and pastorals of our diocese, for which I am responsible as bishop, are and remain the legacy of the Second Vatican Council and its central directives," Fuerst said. "The desire for real unity must come from cooperation. Whoever belongs to the church may not question the basic concepts of the Council."

Israel threatens suspension of rleationship with Vatican

Flagge - Israel und Vatikan

Israel is said to be outraged by the pope's decision

Earlier Saturday, Israel's Minister for Religious Affairs, Yitzhak Cohen, threatened to suspend relationships with the Vatican following the pope's pardoning of Williamson, German news magazine Spiegel reported Saturday.

Cohen said he recommended "completely cutting off connections to a body in which Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites are members."

The timing of Benedict's pardon is considered particularly insensitive, as the announcement came just days before Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.

Academic renounces Catholic membership in protest

Following on from Bishop Fuerst's criticism, a philosophy and ethics professor at Radboud University of Nijmegen, until 2004 formally a Catholic university, has formally renounced his membership of the Catholic Church to protest the rehabilitation of the SSPX.

In an interview for Dutch Catholic internet magazine Katholiek Nederland, Belgian-born Jean-Pierre Wils said he refuses to associate himself any further with the Church's "anti-modern, anti-pluralistic and totalitarian" attitude.

Wils said he made his decision after Rome revoked on January 24 the 1988 excommunication of the four clerics, who led the breakaway, ultra-traditionalist Catholic group which accents prayer in Latin and opposition to Jewish beliefs.

In the interview, professor Wils, who lives in Germany but teaches at the university in the south-east Netherlands, called the SSPX an "extremely reactionary and deeply anti-Semitic" group that "sympathizes with dictators and fundamentalist rightist extremists."

According to the scholar, the SSPX bishops claim Jews and freemasons manipulated the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

One of the Second Vatican Council's most heavily debated documents was the Nostra Aetate, in which the Church renounced its traditional approach that all Jews, including contemporary Jews, were responsible for the Jesus' death.

The Second Vatican Council also lifted the obligation for all Catholics to actively convert Jews.

Austrian Catholics criticize appointment

Meanwhile, Catholic priests in Austria on Sunday criticized the Vatican for naming an ultraconservative priest as auxiliary bishop in Linz on Saturday without having consulted the local church.

The designated bishop, Gerhard Wagner, has made headlines in the past when he condemned JK Rowling's Harry Potter books for its "satanist" content.

He also suggested in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment, as it destroyed five abortion clinics as well as nightclubs in New Orleans.

"I am not very happy about this, since I get the general impression that there was no attempt to communicate with the diocese," Hans Padinger, spokesman of the priests in Linz, told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

The town of Linz is the seat of one of Austria's seven dioceses, or territorial units of the Catholic Church.

Franz Wild was one priest who voiced even sharper criticism. "I am shocked by this decision," he told the regional paper Oberoesterreichische Rundschau.

"I hope the church realizes that we live in the 21st century and that the church must live in that period, too," he said.

A significant portion of Austrian Catholics see themselves as more liberal than the Vatican, opposing Rome's views on abortion, homosexuality or the ban on married priests.

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