VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Israel’s religious leaders asked Pope Benedict on Thursday to make Holocaust studies a required subject in Catholic schools, saying it could help combat anti-Semitism in future generations.
The two sides resumed a dialogue that was interrupted by the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop, which brought Catholic-Jewish relations to their lowest point in half a century.
The Israelis also asked that the Vatican take a strong stand against the draft final declaration of next month’s U.N. conference on racism, a statement some countries view as hostile to Israel.
“May we suggest for your consideration that the history and the moral import of the Shoah ... become a required subject for inclusion in the curriculum of students at all Catholic schools the world over,” Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen asked the pope during a meeting at the Vatican, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.
Cohen, who is chief rabbi of Haifa, said such a move would “reinforce your strong stand against Holocaust denial and declaring anti-Semitism as a sin against God.”
Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Congress, told reporters afterwards: “I hope a recommendation (from the pope on Holocaust studies in Catholic schools) will come out of this latest crisis. That will be a silver lining to the cloud.”
The meeting between representatives of Israel’s chief Rabbinate and Vatican officials on Wednesday and Thursday was to have taken place last month but was postponed by the Jewish side because of the controversy over Bishop Richard Williamson.
On January 24, Benedict lifted the excommunication of Williamson and three other traditionalist bishops to try to heal a 20-year-old rift that began when they were thrown out of the Church for being ordained without permission. Williamson has said he believed there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, compared with the figure of 6 million accepted by mainstream historians.
The pope has since made several major declarations to repudiate Williamson’s views and condemn anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
On Thursday, Vatican officials announced Benedict would pay a visit to Rome’s main synagogue in the autumn. “There’s no firm date fixed yet,” the chief Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told Italian media.
The Jewish delegation also asked the pope to instruct Vatican diplomats to take a strong stand against the current draft of the final statement of the U.N. Conference on Racism due to be held in Geneva April 20-24, known as Durban II.
The Vatican has said it will attend the conference but hoped for a change in the wording of its final declaration. Both Italy and the United States have said they will not attend unless there is a change of wording.