Pope stirs up Jewish fury over bishop
Vatican is reinstating a British priest who denies millions died at the hands of the Nazis
Tension between the Vatican and Jewish groups looked set to explode yesterday after Pope Benedict XVI rehabilitated a British bishop who has claimed no Jews died in gas chambers during the second world war.
Benedict yesterday welcomed back into the Roman Catholic Church Richard Williamson and three other men who were excommunicated in 1988 after being ordained without Vatican permission. The three had been appointed by breakaway French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican decree issued yesterday spoke of overcoming the "scandal of divisiveness" and seeking reconciliation with Lefebvre's conservative order, the Society of Saint Pius X, which opposes the modernisation of Catholic doctrine.
But Jewish groups have warned the Pope that the decision could damage Catholic-Jewish relations after Williamson claimed in an interview, broadcast last week, that historical evidence "is hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler ... I believe there were no gas chambers".
Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris, said he understood the German-born pope's desire for Christian unity but said Benedict could have excluded Williamson, whose return to the church will "cost" the Vatican politically.
In an interview taped last November and aired last Wednesday on Swedish television, Williamson said he agreed with the "most serious" revisionist historians of the second world war who had concluded that "between 200,000-300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber". Williamson added he realised he could go to jail for Holocaust denial in Germany.
British Jewish groups condemned the decision and said they feared it could damage social cohesion. "The Council of Christians and Jews have said that in recent years there has been a considerable increase in antisemitism from some of the eastern European churches," said Mark Gardner, spokesman for the Community Security Trust which monitors attacks on Jewish people in the UK. Gardner said he hoped the Vatican would make it clear it abhors Williamson's comments about the gas chambers.
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