Pope order to Holocaust denier a good signal: Merkel

Thu Feb 5, 2009 11:31am EST
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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed on Thursday the Vatican's decision to order a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust to recant his views, saying it was a good and important signal. Merkel, who criticized the German pope earlier this week for rehabilitating four bishops, including one who denies the extent of the Holocaust, said she was satisfied the Vatican had made clear that denying the Holocaust could not be allowed.

"The order from the Vatican is an important and good signal. It makes clear that Holocaust denial cannot be allowed to stand without consequences.

"Relations between Jewish communities and Christian churches can only succeed without Holocaust denial and without anti-Semitism," she told reporters at a news conference when asked about the issue.

"And that is what we all want -- good relations ... so I think we have made a bit of progress," said Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor.

Last month the pope unleashed a storm of criticism from Jewish groups and others, including bishops and commentators in his German homeland, when he decided to lift the excommunications of the four traditionalist bishops.

The most controversial is British-born Richard Williamson who says there were no gas chambers and that just 300,000 people perished in concentration camps.

Nazis killed six million European Jews in the Holocaust.

Merkel made a rare criticism of the Vatican on Tuesday, saying it was a fundamental matter if the impression arose, as the result of a Vatican decision, that the Holocaust could be denied.

The Vatican quickly issued a statement saying the pope had clearly condemned Holocaust denial in past speeches and at his general audience last week.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Tim Pearce)

<p>Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he celebrates his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>