Papal damage control (plus Wiesel's reax)

At today's weeklygeneral (public) audience, Pope Benedict XVI weighed in with remarks aimed at distancing himself from the Holocaust denials of one of the recently un-excommunicated ultra-right "Tradical" bishops. Here's the AP account:

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that he feels "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews and warned against any denial of the full horror of the Holocaust.Benedict spoke days he revoked the excommunication of a bishop who says no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust. The decision provoked an outcry among Jews."As I renew my full and indisputable solidarity with our brothers," Benedict said, "I wish that the memory of the Shoah prompt humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the hearts of men." Shoah is a Hebrew word for the Holocaust."May the Shoah be a warning to everyone against oblivion, denials or reduction," the pope told thousands of pilgrims at a weekly audience at the Vatican.The Vatican had already distanced itself from comments by bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II. The Holy See said that removing the excommunication by no means implied the Vatican shared Williamson's views.But these were the first comments on the issue by the pope since the controversy erupted.

I'm not sure that goes far enough for the Jewish community--or many others--in light of the many other sore points out there. What is interesting is the clear pattern that has developed: Benedict says or does something that upsets a community, there is an outcry, then the generic statements of reassurance from the Vatican. There are better ways to do this, if one cares to.UPDATE: Reuters just moved an interview with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in which he has some tough things to say about the pope's actions:

VATICAN CITY, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict has given credence to "the most vulgar aspect of anti-Semitism" by rehabilitating a Holocaust-denying bishop, said Elie Wiesel, the death camp survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner.In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Wiesel also said there was no way the Vatican could have not known about the bishop's past and it may have been done "intentionally"."What does the pope think we feel when he did that? That a man who is a bishop and Holocaust denier -- and today of course the most vulgar aspect of anti-Semitism is Holocaust denial -- and for the pope to go that far and do what he did, knowing what he knows, is disturbing," Wiesel said by telephone from New York."The result of this move is very simple: to give credence to a man who is a Holocaust denier, which means that the sensitivity to us as Jews is not what it should be," he said late on Tuesday.

Read rest of the Reuters piece after the jump...

Speaking at his general audience on Wednesday, the pope reaffirmed his "full and unquestionable solidarity with Jews", condemned the "pitiless killing of millions of Jews" and said the Holocaust should remain a warning against "denial".British-born Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist bishops whose excommunications were lifted on Saturday, has made several statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians. Williamson told Swedish television in an interview broadcast a week ago: "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.His interview, taped in November, caused an uproar among Jewish leaders and progressive Catholics, many of whom said it had cast a dark shadow over 50 years of Christian-Jewish dialogue."It's a pity because Jewish-Catholic relations, thanks to John XXIII and John Paul II, had never been as good, never in history," Wiesel said, referring to the popes who revolutionised relations with Jews after 2,000 years of mistrust.Asked if he believed it was possible that the Vatican did not know that Williamson was a Holocaust denier, Wiesel, who won the Nobel in 1986 and survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, said:"Oh no! The Church knows what it does, especially on that level for the pope to readmit this man, they know what they are doing. They know what they are doing and they did it intentionally. What the intention was, I don't know."Since the furore over the pope's decision to lift the excommunication, the has condemned Williamson's comments as "grave, upsetting (and) unacceptable", restating the Church's -- and Benedict's -- teachings against anti-Semitism.Wiesel said he could not offer the Vatican any advice on how to put things right with Jews but something had to be done."The Vatican created the situation. It's up to them to resolve it. As it is, it is a very sad situation. So unexpected because we had high hopes for the relations between Jews and Catholics because they had been so good under those two popes ... and now it's the opposite," said the 80-year-old.Wiesel recounted his experiences in death camps in the book "Night". Asked what the controversy meant to him personally as a survivor, he said: "Puzzlement, shock, and immense sadness."On Tuesday, Williamson's superior in the traditionalist movement publicly apologised to the pope and said William had been disciplined and ordered to remain silent on political or historical issues.But Wiesel agreed with other Jewish leaders who have said the episode would have long-lasting ramifications in the fight against anti-Semitism."One thing is clear. This move by the pope surely will not help us fight anti-Semitism. Quite the opposite," he said.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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