Pope Benedict XVI acted quickly on Wednesday to counter a threat from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to indefinitely sever relations with the Vatican over his decision to lift the excommunication for a traditionalist bishop who continued to deny the existence of the Holocaust.
The move was announced by the Chief Rabbinate director general, Oded Weiner, who also said that a March 2-4 meeting in Rome with the Catholic Church's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews had been cancelled.
At the center of the dispute is British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist bishops whose excommunications were lifted Saturday.
Williamson, a member of the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X, recently reiterated his belief that there were no gas chambers and only 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, not six million.
News of the rabbinate's decision appeared first on the Jerusalem Post website and the pope quickly responded by reiterating his full support for his ''Jewish brothers'' and said the Holocaust must not be denied because ''the memory of the Shoah regenerates our humanity and helps us reflect on the unexpected power which evil can exert on the hearts of man''.
The importance of the Shoah, he added, cannot be denied nor diminished because ''violence committed against even one man is violence against all men''.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardo expressed his hope that the pope's words would be ''more than sufficient for anyone who had any doubts over the views of the Holy Father and the Church'' on the Holocaust.
He added that he also hoped that this will be sufficient to avoid any break in relations between the Holy See and the Rabbinate.
Williamson was one of four bishops excommunicated in 1988 along with the late dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the society's founder, who had ordained them without permission from the Vatican.
The Society of Pius X was created in 1970 and broke with Rome over the changes made at the Second Vatican Council, the ground-breaking meeting of all the world's Catholic bishops in the early 1960s.
Among the changes the group opposed was the decision to celebrate Mass in local languages rather than Latin and Jews should not be blamed for the death of Christ.
Speaking at his Wednesday audience, the pope said the four bishops who were let back into the Church's graces would have to respond to his gesture by renewing their loyalty to the Church and its teachings, including the changes made by the Vatican Council.
On Tuesday the head of the society of Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, denied that Williamson's views reflected those of the order and apologised to the pope for any problems his statements may have created.
Several leading rabbis in Israel are demanding that Williamson, who lives in seclusion in Argentina, himself make a public apology.
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