Vatican under scrutiny again over Holocaust denier
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican defended itself on Wednesday over accusations about its handling of a Holocaust-denying bishop after a Catholic prelate said the Holy See was informed two months before the controversy erupted.
The conflict surrounding traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson resurfaced hours before Swedish television -- which broke the original story last January -- was due to air another documentary saying top Vatican officials knew about Williamson's comments before Pope Benedict lifted his excommunication.
The Vatican lifted the excommunication of Williamson and three other bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X (SSPX) in an attempt to heal a rift in the Church that began in 1998 when they were ordained without permission.
In an unusual step, the Vatican issued a statement in what appeared to be a bid to pre-empt the impact of the television programme, which was due to air on Wednesday night.
"Affirming or even insinuating that the Pope was informed beforehand of Williamson's position is absolutely groundless," chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
The website of the Roman Catholic diocese of Stockholm said Bishop Anders Arborelius and the Vatican ambassador to Sweden had informed Vatican officials in November, 2008 of Williamson's position.
"We at the Catholic diocese in Stockholm, as we always do, had conveyed what information we had about SSPX and Richard Williamson, including the content of (the Swedish television) interview with him, to representatives in the Vatican," Arborelius said.
In the interview, which was recorded in November 2008 and broadcast in January, Williamson said "I believe there were no gas chambers" and that at most some 300,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis instead of some six million accepted by mainstream historians, and that none died by gassing.
INTERVIEW SPARKED CATHOLIC-JEWISH CRISIS
The Pope's decision to lift the excommunications of the traditionalists caused one of the worst crises in Catholic-Jewish relations and an international uproar.
The question of who knew what and when in the Vatican has never been fully answered.
Swedish public service television network SVT, which broadcasts the "Uppdrag Granskning" investigative news programme, said on its website that the show would reveal that the Vatican knew about its interview with Williamson when the decision to revoke the excommunication of SSPX was taken.
The information concerning Williamson's statements was known to the Pope's "inner circle", including Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, well before the decision, SVT said.
Castrillon Hoyos was president of the Vatican department set up in 1988 to seek a rapprochement with the SSPX splinter group and Vatican sources have said it would have been his responsibility to tell the Pope of Williamson's views.
In June, the Pope effectively sacked Castrillon Hoyos and put his office under the control of the Vatican's doctrinal department and Vatican officials admit privately the entire affair was badly handled.
Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and the Descendants, said if the Vatican had prior knowledge of Williamson's views it "would be a source of deep distress that the Vatican has not been candid with survivors of the tragedy of the Holocaust".
"The foundation of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue rests on authenticity and truth. If the credibility of the Vatican is called into question, the dialogue suffers severe harm," Steinberg said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm)
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