Vatican-Jewish Relations on the Mend

Both Sides Meet in Rome

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2009 ( The rift in Vatican-Jewish relations that followed the Vatican’s move to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop may be coming to an end, according to the World Jewish Congress.

The international organization, which represents 100 Jewish communities throughout the world, held talks in Rome on Monday with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

The delegation visited Rome to discuss the lifting of excommunication of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who was seen in an interview for Swedish television denying the gassing of 6 million Jews at about the same time that his excommunication was lifted.

The bishops, including the current superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X, were excommunicated in 1988 when they received episcopal ordination illicitly at the hands of Marcel Lefebvre, who ordained them without papal permission.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said the Vatican has so far taken the necessary first steps to respond to concerns from the Jewish community, but that those steps had to be followed up by concrete actions.

The 68-year-old British Bishop Richard Williamson has since been silenced on the issue of the Holocaust and relieved of his duties as director of the Society of St. Pius X seminary in Argentina.

«We want the Vatican to realize that by accommodating anti-Semites like [Bishop] Williamson, the achievements of four decades of Catholic-Jewish dialogue since the 1965 declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’ will be put into doubt,» he said. «We now believe that our message has been understood. The controversial debate of the past three weeks has had a positive impact.»

Richard Prasquier, president of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, and Maram Stern, deputy secretary-general responsible for interfaith dialogue of the World Jewish Congress, both expressed optimism that the current situation would soon be over and that it would not burden the Catholic-Jewish relationship in the future.

Referring to Bishop Williamson’s statements on Swedish TV, Prasquier said, «Today, we strongly reaffirmed that the denial of the Shoah is not an opinion, but a crime.»

Lauder expressed hope that the visit of Benedict XVI to Israel later this year would go ahead as planned: «We are looking forward to the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. This will be an opportunity to reaffirm the Vatican’s commitment to dialogue with Jews.»

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