Pope ‘admits error’ on Holocaust denier

Williamson and the Shoah and Pope Benedict XVI, cartoon

From British daily The Independent:

Pope ‘admits error’ in Holocaust row

By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has sent a letter to Roman Catholic bishops around the globe saying the Vatican made “mistakes” in its handling of the recent lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying cleric, it is reported.

The Vatican press office confirmed a letter would be released today, but gave no details on what it says about British-born Bishop Richard Williamson.

Benedict’s lifting of the Williamson excommunication drew widespread criticism because of the bishop’s appearance in a January interview during which he denied that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. He told Swedish TV about 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered but none were gassed.

The Rome newspaper Il Foglio said the pope writes that the Vatican should have been aware of the statements, which were being carried on the Internet. Benedict also faults the Vatican for not explaining its actions on Williamson in a “sufficiently clear” way, the conservative-leaning daily said.

According to the ANSA news agency, Benedict defends himself by saying that the overlapping of the rehabilitation of Williamson and the interview was “unpredictable.” …

The bid to explain the case comes only a few days after Benedict confirmed that he would visit Israel in May as part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Vatican-Jewish relations already were complicated by the church’s defense of World War II Pope Pius XII, whom Benedict has hailed as a “great” churchman. Some Jewish groups and others say Pius didn’t do enough try to stop the Holocaust during World War II, while the Holy See insists he used quiet diplomacy to try to help Jews. …

Williamson’s case sparked outrage among Jewish groups and in Israel as well as among Catholic bishops in Germany.

Bowing to criticism by Jewish groups, historians and others, the Vatican demanded on 4 February that Williamson “absolutely and unequivocally distance himself” from his Holocaust denial.

Last month, he apologized for the “hurt” that his remarks caused, but he didn’t recant what he said. The Vatican called that apology inadequate.

After the furor, Williamson was ordered to leave Argentina, where he had been living, and returned to his native Britain.

State prosecutors in Germany have opened an investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial.

Pope will lay wreath at Holocaust museum but many Israelis still angry over Vatican’s war record: here.

Pontiff criticised for not apologising for Catholic church’s conduct during the second world war: here.

AIDS activists accused the Pope of spreading “blatant falsehoods” on Wednesday after he claimed that condoms are worsening Africa’s devastating HIV epidemic: here.

13 thoughts on “Pope ‘admits error’ on Holocaust denier

  1. 009-03-11 16:22
    Pope admits mistakes in bishops row
    Vatican failed to research Holocaust denier on Internet
    (By Fiona Winward).

    (ANSA) – Vatican City, March 11 – Pope Benedict XVI has admitted to making ”mistakes”, including not checking the Internet, when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust denier and three other ultra-traditionalist bishops.

    In a personal letter to the world’s Catholic bishops leaked by two Italian dailies (Il Foglio and Il Giornale) Wednesday, the pope says he wishes to ”contribute to peace within the Church” by clarifying events surrounding the rehabilitation of the four breakaway bishops in January – a move which caused a rift between Jews and within the Church.

    The pope refers to an ”avalanche of protests” from Catholics following the rehabilitation, which he says has caused polemics ”of a vehemence unheard of in a long time”.

    The Vatican said Wednesday that Benedict’s letter will be officially presented on Thursday.

    According to the leaks, Benedict says in the letter that the first ”mistake” was the Holy See’s failure to learn that British bishop Richard Williamson was a Holocaust denier by not checking the ”Internet”, where his comments were posted. Williamson recently reiterated his belief that there were no gas chambers and that only 300,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis, not six million.

    Following tension with the Jews over the matter, the Vatican said the pope had no knowledge of these comments when he rehabilitated the bishop.

    Benedict says in his letter that from now on the Vatican will pay greater attention to the Internet as an information source, Il Foglio said.

    The second ”mistake” was that of a ”not sufficiently clear” manner of explaining the bishops’ rehabilitation, the leaks report the pope as saying.

    The lifting of their excommunication was ”personal” and does not imply the canonical recognition of the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), to which the bishops belong.

    Benedict explains that SSPX will only be recognised if – during negotiations – the society accepts the Second Vatican Council, over whose liberal reforms the society originally split with Rome.

    The pope defends his decision to rehabilitate the bishops within a context of Christian unity, explaining that one must ”have at heart the unity of believers” in a world where ”God is disappearing from the horizon of men”.

    Il Foglio said that in his letter Benedict criticises SSPX for ”many unpleasant things – arrogance, self-importance and unilateralism”, but says he has also received a series of ”moving declarations of gratitude” from some members of the society, which includes 491 priests worldwide.


    Il Giornale reported that Benedict says he is ”saddened” by the fact that Catholics have acted with ”hostility” towards him over the affair.

    ”For this reason I am very thankful to our Jewish friends who helped to clear up the misunderstanding promptly and re-establish an atmosphere of friendship and trust”.

    After initial tensions with Jews over Williamson’s rehabilitation, the Holy See worked hard to defuse the situation and Jewish leaders said they were satisfied after the pope issued an explicit condemnation of Holocaust denial.

    Polemics within the Church have continued, however, with Swiss bishops earlier this month voicing ”deep concern” over the bishop’s rehabilitation, saying it had prompted more Catholics to leave the church.

    The head of the Bishops Conference, Kurt Koch, told the Swiss news agency ATS that the decision was taken ”with too little preparation” and its announcement was given with too few details.

    According to Wednesday’s leaks, the pope in his letter announces that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which was responsible for healing relations between the Holy See and SSPX, will be merged with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in order to involve a wider section of representatives in any eventual reconciliation.


  2. Mar 13, 12:09 PM EDT

    Catholic bishops: Clergy abuse claims rose in 2008

    AP Religion Writer

    NEW YORK (AP) — Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders saw a rise in molestation claims against clergy last year, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. bishops. Nearly all the 803 cases involved adults who said they had been abused as children decades ago.

    Church leaders paid less in settlements, attorney fees and other abuse-related costs in 2008. Still, the amount reached just over $436 million, bringing the total payouts for abuse to more than $2.6 billion since 1950, according to studies commissioned by the prelates.

    The statistics are part of an annual review of child safety in American dioceses and religious orders that is mandated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    As part of the study, auditors found that all but one of the dioceses they evaluated had fully implemented the bishops’ child protection policies by the end of the year.

    The safeguards include background checks for employees and volunteers, safe environment training for children and a discipline plan for offenders that removes them from any public church work. Dioceses increased their spending on safety programs to $23 million in 2008.

    The noncompliant diocese was Tulsa, Okla., which had not completed training for children.

    Despite the high marks, auditors did find some failings.

    Investigators said they could not easily find contact information for the lay review boards in some regions. The panels are supposed to help bishops respond to abuse claims.

    The auditors also urged many church administrators to increase contact with police and other outside authorities when evaluating cases.

    “Unfortunately, many dioceses are conducting the investigations themselves without also making a report to civil authorities,” the researchers said. Advocates have repeatedly encouraged victims to make their first report to police, not the church.

    Teresa Kettelkamp, a former Illinois state police officer who leads the bishops’ child protection office, said the problem occurs mostly with what are considered “boundary violations.” That could include giving gifts to a child or being alone with a young person, a breach of the dioceses’ code of conduct and that could signal a predator is grooming a child.

    Kettelkamp said some dioceses are reluctant to notify busy police departments about these violations, but she tells church administrators to contact police anyway.

    “That’s where the relationship between the diocese and civil authorities needs to be worked out ahead of time,” she said. “The threshold I use is if your relationship with civil authorities isn’t such that you have a name you can call 24-7, then you need to develop a relationship with someone.”

    The Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., as it has in previous years, refused to participate in the audit. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz has said the evaluation wouldn’t “place into context” the large number of priests who were not abusive. Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Baker, Ore., also refused, saying the diocese will not conduct safe environment training for children.

    Separately, five eparchies, or regional districts for parishes that follow the Eastern rite, also refused the review.

    The reports from the bishops are part of the reforms they enacted in 2002, at the height of the scandal, which began with the case of one predatory priest in the Archdiocese of Boston and spread throughout the U.S. and beyond. Thousands of clergy have been accused since 1950.

    The number of abuse claims in 2008 increased by 16 percent over 2007, when 691 claims were made. Similar to past years, more than 80 percent of the clergy accused in 2008 are dead, missing or already out of public ministry or the priesthood altogether. However, 40 percent of those accused last year had never been named in previous abuse cases.

    Following a pattern that researchers discovered in previous studies, most of the people who came forward last year were men and more than half said they were between the ages of 10 and 14 when they were molested. Only 30 percent of the new claims came through attorneys.

    Auditors conducted onsite evaluations in one-third of the dioceses, while the rest compiled data that was evaluated offsite. The bishops are rotating which dioceses receive an onsite review, so that each diocese is visited every three years.

    The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said condemned the evaluation for focusing only on guilty priests, and not looking at the role of the individual bishops overseeing them. David Clohessy, national director of the group, said he was not surprised by the rise in claims.

    “It’s proof that victims come forward only when they’re able,” he said.


    On the Net:

    U.S. bishops’ child protection office: http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/index.shtml

    © 2009 The Associated Press.


  3. 2009-09-23 17:18

    Vatican informed about Williamson

    Pope did not know of bishop’s Holocaust denial, spokesman

    (ANSA) – Vatican City, September 23 – The Vatican was told that ultraorthodox bishop Richard Williamson had denied the Holocaust in a TV interview aired two days before his excommunication was lifted, the Bishop of Stockholm said on Wednesday.

    Monsignor Anders Arborelius said he had ”informed” the Vatican that Williamson had denied the existence of gas chambers during World War II in an interview broadcast by the Swedish TV programme Uppdrag granskning on January 21. The British-born cleric told the programme that in his view not six million but only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps ”and not one of them in a gas chamber”.

    In a message posted on the diocese’s web site, Msgr Arborelius stressed that ”as customary, we always inform the Vatican of issues relating to the Church and so there was nothing exceptional in this case”.

    The comment prompted Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, to reiterate that Pope Benedict XVI was not aware of Williamson’s views when the excommunication was lifted.

    ”It’s absolutely groundless to say or even simply to insinuate that the Pope had been told before (his rehabilitation) of Williamson’s views”.

    Lombardi added that this did not imply that he was denying Arborelius’s statement, suggesting that the bishop may have informed other Vatican officials who had not passed on the news to the pope.

    Bishop Arborelius will be heard repeating his comment to Uppdrag granskning in a programme to be broadcast Wednesday which will also feature an interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

    According to the conservative Catholic blog Rorate Coeli, Kasper told the programme in an interview taped in July that he had not been consulted on the rehabilitation.

    The blog quotes Kaspar as saying that he ”had a general knowledge of the sympathies of Bishop Williamson”.

    ”He further states in the interview that he thought this was something widely known making it a matter of surprise for him that the Pontifical Comission Ecclesia Dei did not know,” Rorate Coeli says. Pope Benedict XVI sparked dismay among Jews and some Catholics on January 24 when he rehabilitated Williamson along with three other bishops from the traditionalist Catholic group St Pius X (SSPX) that split with Rome over the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

    The Vatican was forced to clarify that Benedict was unaware of Williamson’s stance at the time of his rehabilitation and, in an unusual personal letter to Catholic bishops in March, the pope admitted his ”mistakes” in handling the affair, including not checking the Internet where Williamson’s comments were posted.

    Benedict said he had rehabilitated the clerics as a first step towards bringing the breakaway SSPX back to the Church, stressing that it will only be accepted back into the fold if – during negotiations – it accepts the reforms of the Vatican Council II.

    After initial tensions with Jews over Williamson’s rehabilitation, the Holy See worked hard to defuse the situation and Jewish leaders said they were satisfied after the pope issued an explicit condemnation of Holocaust denial.

    Since then, Benedict has repeatedly denounced the Holocaust, renewing his view that it was the work of a ”godless regime” and must always be remembered as a universal warning of the sanctity of life.

    Taking leave of Israeli President Shimon Peres during a visit to the Holy Land in May, the German pope said: ”That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love”.

    SSPX is the only group to break away from the 1.1-billion strong Roman Catholic Church since the reforms of the early 1960s.

    Talks between the Vatican and the ultratraditionalist Society on formal reunification with the Church will begin in the next few days, the Archbishop of Vienna was quoted as saying Monday.

    Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn told the German daily Passauer Nue Presse that the Church would tell the fraternity ”very clearly what is ‘not’ negotiable”.

    In an apostolic letter released in July entitled Ecclesiae Unitatem, Benedict warned the group that a number of doctrinal issues needed to be cleared up, stressing that it could not have ”canonical status” within the Church until it does.


  4. BERLIN — A German court convicted ultraconservative British Bishop Richard Williamson on Friday of denying the Holocaust in a television interview.

    A court in the Bavarian city of Regensburg found Williamson guilty of incitement for saying in a 2008 interview with Swedish television that he did not believe Jews were killed in gas chambers during World War II.

    The court ordered Williamson to pay a fine of euro10,000 ($13,544).

    The Roman Catholic bishop was barred by his order from attending Friday’s proceedings or making statements to the media.

    His lawyer, Matthias Lossmann, told The Associated Press after the court ruling that Williamson has yet to decide whether he would appeal.

    Denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany.


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