Bishop flap is just the latest papal insult

How many times does Pope Benedict XVI have to insult us before we question whether this pontiff is fully committed to improved Catholic-Jewish relations?

With the news this week that the pope lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, he has yet again caused offense to our community through his insensitivity.

British-born Bishop Richard Williamson was excommunicated 20 years ago –– not for anti-Semitic views, but for aligning with a conservative sect that rejected church modernization.

This same bishop is on record as repeatedly denying that the Nazis ever built or used gas chambers to commit mass murder, and claiming that only a few hundred thousand Jews died in the Holocaust.

Williamson said just last week that the evidence “is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler … I believe there were no gas chambers.”

The pope has rejected these views, and this week reaffirmed his “solidarity” with the Jewish people.

Coming during International Holocaust Remembrance Week, reinstating Williamson is an odd way of showing solidarity.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate felt the same way, and this week severed ties with the Vatican.

Benedict’s move is the latest in a string of pronouncements that, collectively, call into question the status of Catholic-Jewish relations.

This is the same pope that reinstated a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of the Jews.

This is the same pope that pushes beatification of Pope Pius XII, the World War II–era pontiff whose tepid efforts to condemn Hitler contributed to the Holocaust to come.

There are a billion Catholics in the world. Most desire good relations with Jews. Most reject Holocaust denial. Our problem is not with Catholics.

Our problem concerns a Vatican that fails to consider Jewish pain when a hater like Williamson is welcomed back like a long-lost brother.

Some may argue that excommunication is an internal church matter, and that the church alone has the right to determine who is a Catholic in good standing.

That is normally true. But with Williamson such a high-profile figure, and with the pope personally intervening, this affair has leeched beyond the borders of the church.

Now that Benedict has reinstated Williamson, the least he can do is publicly rebuke him, extract a recantation and press harder to bolster Catholic-Jewish relations.

It is a vitally important, yet fragile relationship. A few more shocks like this could cause irreparable harm. We hope the Vatican is listening.