ROME (JTA) — The Vatican rejected criticism by German Chancellor Angela Merkel over its rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier.
Merkel called Tuesday for Pope Benedict to condemn Holocaust denial more clearly, but the Vatican countered that the pontiff had already condemned Holocaust denial in "unequivocal terms."
"The Pope’s thinking on the Holocaust has been expressed with great clarity" on a number of occasions, Chief Vatican Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
The pontiff sparked outrage last month by revoking the excommunication of ultraconservative Bishop Richard Williamson, who has publicly denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers. In a television interview, Williamson called the gas chambers "lies" and claimed that no more than 300,000 Jews were murdered in the Nazi genocide.
Lombardi said the pope’s "condemnation of statements denying the Holocaust cannot have been expressed more clearly, and it is evident in this context that they referred to the position of Mons. Williamson and all similar positions."
He added that the pontiff "had also clearly explained the reason for the revocation of the excommunication, which has nothing to do with a legitimization of Holocaust denial, which the pope has specifically condemned."
The Vatican says Williamson and three other traditionalist bishops were rehabilitated as a step toward bringing unity within the church. Vatican sources have said the pope’s advisers were not aware that Williamson had publicly denied the Holocaust.
Merkel, who is Protestant, said she felt encouraged to speak out by the fact that Catholic leaders in Germany already voiced similar demands. Though the Vatican has said the pope’s statement condemning Holocaust denial is clear enough, Merkel said Tuesday that "the clarification [already provided] does not go far enough."
She said the Vatican must make it "very clear that Holocaust denial is completely unacceptable, and that there must be positive relations with Jewry overall."