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Op-Ed: Vatican’s response to denial must be Holocaust education

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NEW YORK (JTA) — Richard Williamson, one of the four excommunicated bishops whom Pope Benedict XVI wants to bring back into the Roman Catholic fold, is not the only Holocaust denier in the Society of St. Pius X, an ultra-right-wing splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Italian branch of the society announced that it has expelled the Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz for telling the northern Italian newspaper La Tribuna di Treviso that “I know that gas chambers existed at least for disinfection, but I don’t know if they were used to kill people or not.” Abrahamowicz, who called Jews “the people of deicide,” also has described the reforms instituted by the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly referred to as Vatican II, which absolved contemporary Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ, as “worse than heresy.”

Abrahamowicz’s expulsion came in the wake of the firestorm over Williamson’s declaration on Swedish television that “I believe that the historical evidence is largely against, is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler." Later he said, "I believe there were no gas chambers” and that between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, "but none of them by gas chambers.”

Williamson is also openly anti-Semitic. He has endorsed the authenticity of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the notorious Russian czarist forgery that purports to depict a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world, and has written publicly of “the false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion to prepare the Anti-Christ’s throne in Jerusalem.”

Faced with open revolt by leading Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops, especially in Germany and Austria, the Vatican last week conditioned Williamson’s rehabilitation on his “absolutely, unequivocally and publicly” recanting his position on the Holocaust. Williamson has refused, at least for the time being. First he wants to review the historical evidence.

"If I find proof I would rectify [earlier statements]," Williamson told the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, adding later, "But all that will take time."

It is outrageous that Pope Benedict XVI did not immediately respond to Williamson’s stalling tactics by reinstating the renegade bishop’s excommunication. When members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations leaders meet with the pope later this week, they must demand that he categorically and permanently revoke Williamson’s rehabilitation.

Pope Benedict hopes that the memory of the Holocaust “will prompt humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the hearts of men.” But statements condemning Holocaust denial and reaffirming ecumenical sentiments toward the Jewish people are not enough. Pope Benedict should affirmatively declare Holocaust denial to be heresy, and the Vatican should undertake a comprehensive program of Holocaust education.

Students at Roman Catholic schools, universities and seminaries throughout the world must be taught not only that the Holocaust occurred, but that centuries of Christian anti-Semitism helped make it possible. They must be taught that while Bishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, helped rescue Jews from the Nazis during World War II, and that Archbishop Jules-Geraud Saliege of Toulouse, France, spoke out publicly on their behalf, Pope Pius XII remained silent, as did most Catholic cardinals, bishops and priests.

They must be taught that thousands upon thousands of baptized Christians actively participated in the mass murder of European Jewry, and that hundreds of thousands looked on or looked away. They must be taught that many of the French policemen of the collaborationist Vichy regime who rounded up French Jews and helped send them to their deaths at Auschwitz regularly attended Mass on Sundays. They must be taught that the Vatican never excommunicated Adolf Hitler or other baptized Nazi leaders, and that after World War II, Bishop Alois Hudal was instrumental in spiriting Nazi war criminals to safety in Latin America.

They must be taught that the Franciscan priest Miroslav Filipovic, known as “Fra Sotona” (”Brother Satan”), was a brutal commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia run by the collaborationist Ustasha regime, and that the Archbishop of Sarajevo, Ivan Saric, enthusiastically supported and advocated the persecution and murder of Jews.

While the Vatican’s relations with the Society of St. Pius X is an internal matter, its attitude and Pope Benedict XVI’s attitude toward Holocaust denial and Holocaust deniers affects us all. My 5 1/2-year-old brother, my mother’s son, was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. For the sake of continued Jewish-Catholic relations, all Catholics, indeed all Christians, must be taught that my brother’s brutal death, and the deaths of  more than 1 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, is at least as real as the death of a Jew named Jesus in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago.

(Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York City, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)

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