Merkel says pope must reject Holocaust denial

Tue Feb 3, 2009 10:46am EST
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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Bavarian-born Pope Benedict to make clear the Vatican does not tolerate any denial of the Holocaust in an unusually strong statement on Tuesday.

It was her first response to an outcry over a decision by the pope to rehabilitate four traditional Catholic bishops, including one who denies the extent of the Holocaust.

Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, said she did not usually comment on internal church matters.

"But it is different if we are talking about fundamental questions," she said at a news conference with the Kazakh president.

"I think it is a fundamental question if -- thanks to a decision by the Vatican -- the impression arises that the Holocaust can be denied," she said.

"This is about the pope and the Vatican making very clear that there can be no (Holocaust) denial and that there must be positive relations with Judaism," said Merkel.

She said the Vatican had not yet given such clarifications.

The pope has caused a furor with his lifting of the excommunications, including that of Briton Richard Williamson who denies there were gas chambers and says no more than 300,000 Jews perished in concentration camps.

An estimated six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis.

Last week Germany's Central Council of Jews broke off ties with the Catholic Church to protest against the move.

(Reporting by Andreas Moeser, writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Charles Dick)

<p>Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he leads a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>