Pope Benedict XVI's strong stand against denying the Holocaust was welcomed Wednesday by the highest Jewish authority in Israeli, which had threatened to sever ties indefinitely with the Vatican.
The Chief Rabbinate's action was in protest to the pope's decision to lift the excommunication for a traditionalist bishop who denied the existence of the Holocaust.
Speaking at his Wednesday audience, Benedict reiterated 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, the German-born pope added, ''cannot be denied nor diminished because violence committed against even one man is violence against all men''.
The director general of the Chief Rabbinate, Oded Wiener, later told ANSA that the pope's words were ''a great step forwards in resolving this question''. ''His statements were very important for us and for the whole world,'' he added.
Wiener said that no decision had yet been made on whether the Rabbinate would send a representative to a March 2-4 meeting in Rome with the Catholic Church's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.
Initially it had been decided to cancel the meeting, but this was before the pope's words on the Shoah, he added.
The work of the commission, created eight years ago by the late Pope John Paul II, ''is extremely important for the dialogue and exceptional personal relationships it has created,'' Wiener said. 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, only recently reiterated his belief that there were no gas chambers and only 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, not six million.
In regard to the decision to lift the excommunications, Wiener told ANSA that the Rabbinate ''has no desire, cannot and has no interest'' in interfering in church affairs.
However, he added, the case of Bishop Williamson had taken on additional meaning in the wake of a new surge in anti-Semitism and a growing number of deniers ''especially in Germany.
Lifting Williamson's excommunication within a week of his reiterating his views on the Shoah and the marking of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Wiener explained, ''demonstrated a lack of sensitivity which had repercussions throughout the Jewish world''.
The Society of St Pius X was created in 1970 by late dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who 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 state that Jews today should not be blamed for the death of Christ.
Lefebvre was excommunicated for ordaining four bishops, including Williamson, in defiance of a direct order from John Paul II. The four bishops were also excommunicated.
Efforts by the Church to avert a schism and keep Lefebvre and his followers in the fold were orchestrated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who went on to become Benedict XVI.
During 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.
These were among the conditions that he had originally set down in 1988 but which Lefebvre had rejected.
On Tuesday the current head of the Society of St 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.
The Society of St Pius X is the largest group of traditionalist Catholics in the world. It has close to 500 priests and is active in 63 countries.
DENIER ROW 'WON'T AFFECT POPE VISIT
The row in relation to Bishop Williamson will not affect the pope's planned trip to the Holy Land this spring, Israel's Ambassador to the Holy See told ANSA Wednesday.
Mordechay Lewy said the pope's reiteration during his Wednesday general audience that the Holocaust cannot be denied was ''very clear...and useful for clearing up the misunderstanding that arose in the last few days''.
''Anyone who heard the pope's words now knows perfectly well what side the Church is on,'' Lewy said. He said it would be ''mistaken'' to give the anti-modernist Williamson the power to affect relations between Israel and the Holy See.
As for the pope's visit, which is rumoured to have been set up for May, the ambassador said: ''We are working all the time and what happened in the last few days has not affected preparations''.
''The pope is welcome in Israel at any time''.
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