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Angela Merkel
The sign may suggest that the CDU is behind Merkel but party officials have other ideasImage: AP

Holocaust Denial

DPA news agency (kjb/nda)
February 5, 2009

German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced criticism from within her Christian Democratic (CDU) party Thursday over her call for the pope to take a clearer stand on Bishop Richard Williamson's anti-Holocaust views.


The speaker of parliament, Norbert Lammert, told the daily Hamburger Abendblatt that "much of what is being imputed to the pope is almost malicious, and certainly not fair."

"Doubting the position of the Catholic Church and the pope in this matter is, in my opinion, entirely baseless," he added, in comments indirectly critical of his party leader.

Pope Benedict's decision last month to re-admit the British-born Williamson, along with three other ultra-conservative bishops, into the church caused an uproar, especially in the pontiff's native Germany.

Unwanted interference

The German chancellor added her voice to the debate Tuesday, when she called on the pope to speak out bluntly on Williamson's denial that the Nazis killed 5 million to 6 million European Jews during the Second World War.

Praying nuns
Some saw a Catholic-Lutheran conflict in the chancellor's remarksImage: AP

Following Merkel's remarks, the Vatican Wednesday issued a statement saying the ultra-conservative Bishop Williamson needs to distance himself "clearly and publicly" from remarks he made denying the Holocaust, before he can "assume functions" within the Roman Catholic Church.

Merkel welcomed the Vatican's demand that a Holocaust-denying bishop retract his statements, calling it an "important and also good signal."

Inside the Vatican, however, there is reportedly anger at Merkel's involvement in an internal church appointment that was originally an attempt by the pope to heal a rift within the Catholic Church.

Georg Brunnhuber, of the CDU, spoke in person to the pope Wednesday.

"People in the Vatican are downright appalled at the discussion in Germany," he told daily Financial Times Deutschland. This has given the impression, he added, "that all anti-Catholic resentments slumbering in Germany are now rising to the surface."

Inner-party tension

Catholics are a sizeable minority in Germany, making up one-third of the population. There is a long history of animosity between Catholics and Lutherans.

Brunnhuber said that Merkel, who is Lutheran, has come up against opposition within the party. "Many CDU members think the allegations of the chancellor are not right."

Chancellor Angela Merkel smiles during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI
Merkel took a less jovial tone with Pope Benedict this weekImage: AP

The Catholic archbishop of Munich and Freising, Reinhard Marx, speaking to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, also expressed surprise at Merkel's criticism of the pope.

"The pope took a clear position against any form of Holocaust denial," Marx told the paper. To suggest that the pope would tolerate anti-Semitism, he said, "is outrageous."

The World Jewish Congress and the Central Council of Jews in Germany have welcomed the pope's demand for Williamson to withdraw his statements denying the Holocaust before he can be fully re-admitted to the church.

Merkel's call on Tuesday for the pope to clarify his stance on Bishop Williamson's rhetoric has been broadly supported by Germans, many of whom had expressed outrage at the pope's initial decision.

SSPX supports Williamson, not his views on Jews

Meanwhile, the German wing of the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) declared Thursday its support for Bishop Richard Williamson, whilst distancing itself from his anti-Holocaust rhetoric.

Asked if someone who denied the destruction of Jews by the Nazis could still be a brother, German SSPX superior Father Franz Schmidberger said, "as long as he recognizes the Catholic dogmas. Yes, of course."

Richard Williamson
The SSPX distanced itself from Williamson's comments

Speaking in an interview with German SWR television to be aired Thursday, Schmidberger dissociated himself with Williamson's claim that Jews were not killed in gas chambers.

However he said this was to be considered as a separate matter from the pope's readmission to the church of four SSPX bishops, of whom one is Williamson.

Schmidberger spoke against a dialogue between Christians and Jews, saying this was not a road to salvation. "Christ deliberately sent his apostles into the world, in order to convert the world, including the Jews, to him," he said.

Pope Benedict's decision last month to re-admit Williamson, along with three further bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, caused an uproar, especially in the pontiff's native Germany.

The SSPX superior criticized the involvement of Merkel, a Lutheran. "She doesn't understand it," Schmidberger said. "After all, she is not Catholic and it's not really her business to get involved in the internal matters of the church."

Following Merkel's remarks, the Vatican Wednesday issued a statement saying the ultra-conservative Bishop Williamson needs to distance himself "clearly and publicly" from remarks he made denying the Holocaust, before he can "assume functions" within the Roman Catholic Church.

The SSPX brotherhood has its roots in the decision, by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, to reject the liberalization of the Catholic Church during the Vatican Council of 1962-65.

When Lefebvre disobeyed orders by Pope John Paul II and consecrated Williamson and three other men as bishops, they were all excommunicated from the church.

The Vatican estimates that SSPX has around 600,000 members in the world, while 1.1 billion people are described as Roman Catholics.

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