“This is about the Pope and Vatican making unmistakably clear that such denial is unacceptable,” Merkel said in Berlin, adding that a recent statement by the Pope had been “insufficient” in setting the record straight.
Benedict unleashed a torrent of outrage in Germany in January by sanctioning the lifting of the excommunication of the Society of St. Pius X – a controversial splinter group of reactionary clergy that includes British Bishop Richard Williamson. He recently told Swedish TV that he did not believe the Nazi gas chambers – used to kill countless Jews during World War II – existed. He also said that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had been killed in the Nazi concentration camps.
Merkel said the Vatican could not allow the impression to continue that the Church tolerated such comments. “This cannot stand without consequences,” she said.
Several members of the clergy in Germany have also made clear they believe the decsion to rehabilitate Williamson was a mistake.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann on Tuesday told public broadcaster SWR the incident had been a “catastrophe for all Holocaust survivors” and demanded an apology from the Vatican leadership. “There must be consequences for those responsible,” Lehmann said.
Hamburg’s Archbischop Werner Thissen on Monday also criticised bringing the Society of St. Pius X back into the Church’s fold. The excommunicated bishops were all members of the “Lefebvrist” fraternity, which rejects the Vatican’s teaching on religious freedom and pluralism, including the idea of Nostra Aetate, which states that Jews are the “older brothers” of Christians.
“To rehabilitate a Holocaust denier is always a bad decision,” Thissen told daily Hamburger Abendblatt. “It needed to be better researched.”