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Vatican Admits Mistakes

dfm/dpa/reutersMarch 12, 2009

In a letter to bishops around the world, Pope Benedict XVI has conceded "errors" in the way the church handled the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop whose excommunication was lifted by the pontiff.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict said the Vatican would pay more attention to the InternetImage: AP

In a letter addressed to the world's bishops, Pope Benedict said he was pained by Catholics' criticism of him and the Vatican over the decision.

Benedict said the Vatican failed to be "sufficiently clear" in explaining the reasons for lifting the excommunication of four bishops.

He said he was told after the crisis exploded that better use of the Internet would have revealed some of the problems. He added that he "draws the lesson" from the matter and that in the future the Vatican must "pay more attention to this source of information," news agency Reuters reported.

In January, the pope lifted the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops.

Williamson said in an interview broadcast several days earlier that he believed there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by most historians.

The Vatican said it was not aware of Williamson's views on the Holocaust, but critics have pointed out that Internet-based material written by Williamson on the matter has existed for some time.

The Vatican said the letter would be published Thursday with copies available in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

World anger

British-born cleric Richard Williamson
British-born cleric Richard Williamson has stirred anger worldwideImage: AP

Williamson's comments stirred anger in Jewish communities throughout the world, as well as in Catholic circles. Several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called on the Germany-born pope to explain the Vatican's decision to waive the excommunications.

It is extremely rare in Church history for a pope to explain his actions to his bishops after the fact and to acknowledge any error on his behalf.

The pope said that in the future the Vatican body charged with negotiating with the SSPX -- the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei -- would work more closely with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church's watchdog on orthodoxy and disciplinary matters.

The views espoused by the SSPX are controversial in Catholic circles. The group rejects modernization of the church through a set of reforms created under the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Benedict, who took part in the council, said in his letter that SSPX clerics would remain suspended from holding any official positions in the church until they fully subscribed to the reforms.