Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 23, 2009
Pope says Holocaust denial is 'unacceptable'
Benedict expressed his personal feelings to U.S. Jewish leaders
BY CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Denying or minimizing the Holocaust “is intolerable and altogether unacceptable,” Pope Benedict told a group of U.S. Jewish leaders.
“This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten,” the pope said during a Feb. 12 meeting at the Vatican with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The papal audience came less than three weeks after the Vatican announced the pope had lifted the excommunication of several traditionalist bishops, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who has said reports about the Nazi slaughter of the Jews have been exaggerated and who claimed no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.
MUST PUBLICLY APOLOGIZE
The Vatican later published a statement saying that Williamson would not be welcomed into full communion with the Church unless he disavowed his remarks and publicly apologized.
While the pope publicly reaffirmed his recognition of the Holocaust and expressed his respect and esteem for the Jewish people in late January, the February audience was the first time since the Williamson scandal that the pope met with Jewish leaders to express his feelings and beliefs personally.
Telling the Jewish leaders he wanted to make his own a prayer by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict prayed, “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations: We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer and, asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”
The prayer was the text of the note Pope John Paul left in Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, during a March 2000 visit.
Pope Benedict also told the Jewish leaders about his own visit to the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp in 2006.
“As I walked through the entrance to that place of horror, the scene of such untold suffering, I meditated on the countless number of prisoners, so many of them Jews, who had trodden that same path into captivity at Auschwitz and in all the other prison camps,” the pope said.
“How can we begin to grasp the enormity of what took place in those infamous prisons?” he asked.
CRIME AGAINST GOD
The pope told the leaders, “The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity. “This should be clear to everyone,” the pope said.
“It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable,” Pope Benedict said.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue, which Pope Benedict visited last April, told the group it was “a trying moment in Catholic-Jewish relations” because Williamson’s excommunication was lifted.
The 78-year-old Austrian-born rabbi told the pope, “As a Holocaust survivor, these have been painful and difficult days when confronted with Holocaust denial by no less than a bishop. The Shoah claimed the lives of six million Jewish men, women and children, including my own family in Auschwitz and Terezin,” a camp in what is now the Czech Republic, he told the pope.
Meeting reporters after the papal audience, Schneier said, “This is a historic day,” adding that it was “so reassuring to hear the pope say what he had to say about the Shoah.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the U.S. Jewish leaders’ group, said, “We came here with heavy hearts” because of the lifting of the excommunication of Williamson.
But the leaders were pleased by the pope’s reaffirmation of the principles of the Second Vatican Council regarding relations with the Jews and his condemnation of anti-Semitism and of Holocaust denial “in the strongest possible words,” Hoenlein said.
But Abraham Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League, said “it is always significant when the pope meets with a Jewish group and his words were very important, but it did not bring closure.”
While Foxman said he believes in forgiveness, he also believes Williamson should not be considered a Catholic until he recants.