Germany Criticizes Pope's Decision On Bishop

Criticism continues to escalate over Pope Benedict's decision to rehabilitate an ultra-traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the pope to clarify that the Vatican does not tolerate any denial of the Holocaust. Pope Benedict is from Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime punishable with prison terms.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to an update on the widening controversy surrounding the Vatican and the issue of Holocaust denial. The chancellor of Germany wants the Pope to say he will not tolerate any denial of the Holocaust. Angela Merkel is the first political leader to join the outcry over Pope Benedict's decision to reinstate a bishop who believes the Holocaust didn't happen.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Criticism continues to escalate over the Pope's decision to rehabilitate Bishop Richard Williamson who claims there were no Nazi gas chambers. Williamson was rehabilitated with three other bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, which rejects the reforms of the second Vatican Council.

The loudest criticism is in Germany, Benedict's homeland, where Holocaust denial is a crime punishable with prison terms. The conservative tabloid Billed(ph) wrote: Pope Benedict is inflicting great damage on Germany. He must reverse himself and apologize. And yesterday, in an unusual move, Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in one what had been up to then an inter-religious debate.

Ms. ANGELA MERKEL (Chancellor, Germany): (German spoken)

POGGIOLI: I think it's a fundamental question, she said, if, thanks to a decision taken by the Vatican, the impression arises that the Holocaust can be denied. This about the Pope and the Vatican, Merkel added, making very clear that there could be no Holocaust denial and that there must be positive relations with Judaism. Merkel said the Vatican has not yet given such clarifications.

A Vatican spokesman hit back, saying that Benedict's position on the Holocaust and Holocaust denial could not be any clearer. However, it's not likely this will calm emotions. The Pope's decision has provoked dismay and anger among German Catholics.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, former head of the Bishops Conference, called Williamson's rehabilitation a catastrophe and urged the Vatican to make an unambiguous apology. Cologne Archbishop Joachim Meisner stressed that church unity can be achieved only through acceptance of all Second Vatican Council reforms, including rejection of anti-Semitism.

The Papal decision has caused dismay also within the Vatican. Cardinal Walter Casper, the official in charge of relations with Jews, vented his frustration that he had not been consulted in an interview with Vatican radio.

Mr. WALTER CASPER (Cardinal, Head of Relations with Jews, Vatican): (Through translator) I'm watching this debate with great concern. Nobody can be pleased that misunderstandings have turned up. The stakes in the management of the Vatican administration have certainly also been made. I want to say that very clearly.

POGGIOLI: And Father Eberhard von Gemmingen, head of the German Service of Vatican Radio, defended the Pope but added that many Catholics are disappointed with Benedict because they have the impression that he has made too many concessions to what he called a fascist-like group.

Mr. EBERHARD VON GEMMINGEN (Head, German Service of Vatican Radio): (Through translator) Here at Vatican Radio I can only say please pray for the Pope and his top staff. A misunderstanding and debacle like this can never be allowed to happen again.

POGGIOLI: Vatican analysts say the controversy has revealed shortcomings in Benedict's management style, particularly his alleged failure to consult experts who might challenge his views. But behind the dismay over lack of communication inside the Vatican, there are many who are questioning the rationale to bring ultra-traditionalists back into the Catholic Church.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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