VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Israel’s chief Rabbinate is resuming dialogue with the Vatican after freezing ties over a Holocaust-denying bishop and the pope will meet major Jewish groups to try to make amends, a Church source said on Saturday.
The Rabbinate pulled out of a meeting with Vatican officials scheduled for March 1-4 in the midst of an international outcry over the Pope Benedict’s lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including Richard Williamson, who denies the full extent of the Holocaust.
The meeting will now take place in late February or mid-March and will most likely include a papal audience.
Next Thursday, the pope will hold a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO) and make an address about the Holocaust and the dangers of Holocaust denial, the source said.
It will be the first between the pope and Jewish leaders since the start of the controversy, which many have said has undermined nearly half a century of Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
The Thursday meeting is particularly significant because of the influence and scope of the CPMAJO, an umbrella group that includes 51 organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
Williamson told Swedish television in an interview broadcast on January 21: “I believe there were no gas chambers.” He said no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by most historians.
Among those who condemned Williamson and the pope’s decision were Holocaust survivors, progressive Catholics, members of the U.S. Congress, German Jewish leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Jewish writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
The Vatican has been at pains since the excommunications where lifted on January 24 to contain the damage from the Williamson affair. The pope expressed his full solidarity with Jews and later the Vatican ordered Williamson to recant.
Williamson, who lives in Argentina and communicates to the outside world through his blog, has not yet done so. The Vatican said last Wednesday that the pope had not been aware of Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust when the pontiff lifted the excommunications in an attempt to start healing a 20-year-old schism.
It also said the traditionalist movement the bishop belongs to, the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), must accept all teachings of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, which urged respect for Judaism and other religions.
Williamson later apologized to the pope “for the unnecessary distress” he caused him but has not yet recanted despite the Vatican’s order.
The row over Williamson has led many to take a closer look at the SSPX, its view of Jews and its future in the Church.
Traditionalists reject most of the teachings of Second Vatican Council. One of its key documents, “Nostra Aetate” (In Our Times) repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death.
An Italian member of the SSPX who said “gas chambers existed at least for disinfecting” was expelled, Italian media said.
Editing by Matthew Jones