German Jewish Council leader Charlotte Knobloch said she had been enraged by the decision of Pope Benedict XVI last week to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other breakaway bishops.
German prosecutors have launched a probe against Williamson on suspicion of inciting racial hatred for comments last week on Swedish television in which he denied the Nazis had used gas chambers to murder Jews. He also said that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had been killed in the Nazi concentration camps.
Knobloch told the daily Rheinische Post in an interview that the Church welcoming the British bishop back into the fold was deeply offensive to Jews, making tentative attempts at an interfaith dialogue pointless for now.
“Under such conditions there will certainly be no conversation between the Church and me at the moment – but I stress ‘at the moment’,” Knobloch said. “I wish there had been an outcry in the Church against such actions by the pope.”
Knobloch said she could not believe Pope Benedict’s decision had been the result of an oversight: “I am not dealing with people who do not know what they are doing. The pope is one of the most well-educated and intelligent people that the Catholic Church has and every word he speaks, he means and is also well-researched.”
Pope Benedict on Wednesday expressed “solidarity” with Jews and condemned denial of the Holocaust, although he did not mention Williamson by name. The leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics said in separate remarks that he had lifted the four renegade bishops’ 1988 excommunication out of “paternal mercy.”
The four bishops were members of the Swiss-based “Lefebvrist” fraternity, which rejected the Vatican’s teaching on religious freedom and pluralism, notably the declaration “Nostra Aetate”, according to which Jews are the “older brothers” of Christians.
Historians have established that six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II including vast numbers by systematic extermination in gas chambers.
The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch, said on Thursday he was working to repair the damage with the Jewish community.
“I am trying to arrange a meeting with representatives of the Central Council of Jews in Germany,” he said in a statement, adding that he would fight to maintain progress made in Catholic-Jewish dialogue in recent years.
Zollitsch had declined to comment on Williamson’s remarks previously, but now said he was “unhappy” that the pope had apparently not taken the Briton’s outburst into account when welcoming him back to the Church.
“We must all do all we can to ensure that such comments are not repeated,” he said.