POPE BENEDICT XVI’s remission of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies that millions of Jews died in the Holocaust, caused widespread shock and dismay this week. The announcement took place just days before Holocaust Memorial Day.
The day, 27 January, has been designated by the United Nations as one on which the millions of Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps, together with victims of other genocides, should be remembered.
The Council of Christians and Jews said in a statement last Friday that the announcement was “insensitive to say the least”. Ann Widdecombe, writing in the Daily Express, said: “Richard Williamson, the bishop in question, does not appear to be repentant, and stood by his views as late as last week.”
The Pope said that he had remitted the excommunication of four bishops, including Bishop Williamson, who were consecrated by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre 30 years ago, “as a gift of peace, coming at the end of the Christmas celebrations”.
Archbishop Lefebvre broke with Rome after disagreeing with the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on religious liberty and ecumenism.
In a video message to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “One of the most deeply shocking things about the Holocaust . . . is that so many people thought this was natural. The call is to rediscover the depths of real humanity as held in the hand of God, with all the dignity, all the capacity that goes with that.”
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, said on the video that the Holocaust “was a crime that was meant to be concealed and denied, as if the perpetrators realised that Holocaust remembrance would defeat what they were trying to do. That in itself tells me that we are right to remember, and to encourage everyone to remember.”