The Pope has admitted making mistakes over the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.
In a letter to church leaders, parts of which have been published on a popular Catholic blog, Pope Benedict XVI says the church should have been aware of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson. Williamson, an Englishman, hit the headlines partly because the pope lifted his long-standing excommunication, along with that of three other members of the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X. Prior to the Pope’s decision, Williamson said in an interview with Swedish television that he did not believe that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler deliberately set out to murder Jews or that there were gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp. The church said Benedict was not aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when the excommunication was lifted, and ordered Williamson to recant.
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The bishop’s rehabilitation sparked condemnation from Israel, Jewish leaders in the U.S. and Catholic leaders in Germany, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others. The Pope admits in his letter, to be released in full Thursday, that the affair had taken him by surprise, with something that was meant to be a gesture of Christian unity becoming misrepresented. He queries whether the Society of St. Pius X should have been left to drift away from the Church. Stung by criticism from fellow Catholics, the Pope says he was “saddened” by the hostility of the attacks on him. However, he thanks the “Jewish friends” who helped “re-establish an atmosphere of friendship and trust.”