Merkel asks pope to clarify stance over Holocaust


CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel has asked Pope Benedict XVI to clarify the Catholic Church’s position over the rehabilitation of the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson.

Dr Merkel’s intervention follows an admission by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, former head of the German bishops’ conference, that the episode was a “catastrophe”.

The German leader said she was taking the unusual step of commenting on internal church matters because it involved a “question of principle, that through a decision of the Vatican the impression is created that denial of the Holocaust is permissible”.

“That cannot be left without consequences,” she said yesterday. In her view, the Vatican had “not done enough to date” to clarify its position on Holocaust denial and its relations with Judaism.

The German leader suggested that the Bavarian-born pontiff “make very clear that there can be no denial”.

After Swedish television broadcast an interview with Bishop Williamson, in which he questioned the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust and denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers, leaders of Germany’s Jewish community put relations with the Vatican on ice.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, Vatican co-ordinator of Jewish-Catholic relations, has admitted the pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of several bishops including Bishop Williamson was “badly mishandled”.

“There wasn’t enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise,” said Cardinal Kasper on Vatican Radio’s German-language service.

In a frank interview, Cardinal Kasper said the debate filled him with “great concern” and blamed “misunderstandings and management errors in the curia”.

No senior church figures in Germany have dared criticise the Bavarian-born pontiff directly, but many bishops suggest in public that he was poorly advised.

They spoke out over the weekend, calling for swift action to prevent permanent damage to the church’s credibility.

Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart called the rehabilitation a “betrayal of trust, especially for our Jewish sisters and brothers in their relationship to the church”.

“As a Protestant Christian,” said Dr Merkel, “it is encouraging to see many voices from the Catholic church demanding clarification.”

Leading conservatives in the German church point out that the pope’s decree is the start and not the conclusion of a Vatican reconciliation with the followers of Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the modernising reforms of the Second Vatican Council and are members of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX).

Bishop Williamson has described the pope’s decree to lift the excommunication as “a great step forward for the church without being a betrayal on the part of the SSPX”.

Fr Eberhard von Gemmingen, head of the Vatican’s German service, has described the episode as a “misunderstanding and debacle”. He urged listeners to “pray for the pope and his staff”.