ROME (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI met with Israeli rabbis in a bid to further repair the rift created by the Vatican’s relationship to a Holocaust revisionist bishop.
The March 12 meeting with a delegation from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate came days after the pope wrote a letter to bishops admitting errors on how he handled the lifting of Bishop Richard Williamson’s excommunication.
In the letter, which Jewish groups have praised, the pope said the Vatican’s bureacracy should have done more to research the background of Williamson, an ultraconservative who had been expelled from the church in 1988 for rejecting the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The pope, who has sought the return of conservatives to the Church, included Williamson in a group of four bishops he invited back into the Church in January.
"This was not just another meeting," Haifa Chief Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, who headed the rabbinical delegation, told reporters. "This was a special experience, a turning point, the end of a crisis. We could not have expected a warmer reception."
During the meeting, according to the Vatican, the pope told the rabbis that during his May trip to Israel he intended "to pray especially for the precious gift of unity and peace both within the region and for the worldwide human family."
He expressed the hope that his visit might "also help to deepen the dialogue of the Church with the Jewish people so that Jews and Christians and also Muslims may live in peace and harmony in this holy land."
In a related development, Rome Jewish leaders said the pontiff will visit the main synagogue in Rome in the autumn.