Pope Benedict XVI under pressure

Pope Benedict XVI is under increasing pressure following his decision to revoke the excommunication of several leaders of the ultra-conservative Society of Pius X, among them a Holocaust denier.

Several Catholic bishops expressed their unease over Benedict’s decision ten days ago to allow back in Richard Williamson and others into the Catholic Church. Williamson recently denied that the Holocaust occurred and said that Nazi Germany had never used gas chambers.

Israel’s minister for religious affairs, Yitzhak Cohen, has threatened to suspend relations with the Vatican, the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ reports. Cohen said he recommended “completely cutting off connections to a body in which Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites are members.” The Chief Rabbinate of Israel last week broke off official ties with the Vatican to protest the Pope’s decision.

British-born Richard Williamson is one of four bishops who are members of the Society of Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic order, whose excommunication was lifted a week ago. Williamson, who now lives in Argentina, had claimed in a television interview that historical evidence was “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”. Williamson was excommunicated 20 years ago after being ordained a bishop by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent.

The Vatican said it had been unaware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when the decision was made to readmit the group, and the Pope quickly distanced himself from the comments and expressed “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews. However, condemnation from Jewish groups was widespread.

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