01/30/2009, 00.00
VATICAN - ISRAEL
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Episode of Holocaust denier bishop not stopping dialogue between Catholics and Jews

For the director of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the letter in which the Vatican asks for a continuation of dialogue is "important, very beautiful and very serious." The Jerusalem Post interviews Fr. Jaeger: the Williamson affair "cannot possibly have any bearing on the brotherly dialogue and warm friendship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people."

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - "Those who deny the Holocaust know nothing about the mystery of God, nor about the cross of Christ. It is all the more serious, therefore, if the denial comes from the mouth of a priest or bishop, a Christian minister, whether or not he is united with the Catholic Church." The statements are from Fr. Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, in an editorial published on January 30 on the website of Vatican Radio.

It's the latest chapter in the controversy following the statements denying the Holocaust made by Richard Williamson, the Lefebvrist bishop whose latae sententiae excommunication the Holy See decided to lift, together with those of three other bishops of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, ordained in 1988 without a pontifical mandate.

The episode has generated tension and misunderstandings between the Holy See and the Jewish world. News of the interview granted by Bishop Williamson to a Swedish television station, and broadcast on January 21, three days before the removal of the excommunication, led the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem to postpone the meeting with the pontifical commission for religious relations with Judaism, scheduled for March 2-4 in Rome. In a letter dated January 27 and sent to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican commission, the religious body in Jerusalem also asked the Holy See for clarification following the statements by the Lefebvrist bishop. The statement by the pope at the audience on Wednesday the 28th, and his assertions of "complete and undeniable solidarity with our brethren who are the recipients of the First Covenant" put a stop to the controversy.

On January 29, the chief rabbinate received a letter of reply from the Holy See, signed by Cardinal Kasper, which the director general of the Jewish organization, Oded Wiener, called "important, very beautiful and very serious." "In his letter, Cardinal Kasper stresses the importance that the Church attaches to dialogue with us," Wiener stated, "and asks that the encounter scheduled for the beginning of March go forward as planned."

While awaiting the response from the grand rabbinate, there were a few attempts to confront the controversy beyond the polemical tones that have often characterized the discussion in recent days.

We publish below the translation of the interview with Fr. David Maria Jaeger (OFM) published on January 29 on the website of the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, in the analysis section entitled Rosner’s Domain.

Rev. Fr. David-Maria Jaeger is a former pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Austin, Texas and served on the Tribunal for the Diocese of Austin and is also a member of the Delegation of the Holy See on the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel. Born of Jewish parents in Tel Aviv, Israel, Fr. Jaeger is the only native-born Israeli ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in the world. He is a canon law professor (a professor of Church law) in Rome.

I sent him 5 questions on the current crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations.

1. From a Jewish viewpoint, this is an almost incomprehensible act: How and why would the Vatican lift the excommunication of a Holocaust denier?
It is certain that no one at the Vatican was even remotely aware of the preposterous and offensive opinions and statements of Mr. Williamson on this matter. This is not at all surprising, since the horrid little underworld of Holocaust-deniers, like the absurd one of "flat-earthers" is not followed by anyone, except participants and those actually dedicated to studying such fringe phenomena.
2. Is this a decision that is the result of "lack of proper consultation" as some observers believe?
Because the horrid little underworld of Holocaust-deniers is so beyond the horizon of normal people, it is doubtful whether any normal consultation would have tumbled to this. It must be borne in mind that Mr. Williamson was not - and is not - a candidate for any office or preferment in the Church, indeed that he has not by any means been recognised as a Catholic clergyman, and has not even been brought back into the Church at all, but that only one of several legal disabilities under which he found himself accoding Church law has been lifted, with the others still very much in place.
3. Here's a quote from the Washington Post: "This raises all sorts of questions about the consistency of the church's own self-understanding," said George Weigel, author of several books about Benedict and John Paul II. "How does this advance the unity of the church if they are reconciled [without embracing church positions on religious freedom and anti-Semitism?] This really has the possibility of unraveling a lot of the accomplishments of the John Paul and Benedict periods if not handled well."
 Can you please please address this question?
Professor George Weigel is my friend, and a much more prominent commentator on Church matters, and I always think that his opinions deserve close attention.
4. Pope Benedict has reaffirmed his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with Jews - but it is questionable in the eyes of many Jews. What can be done to repair the damage, and how serious do you think this issue is going to be in the coming months and years?
I do not think that any reasonably informed person of good will could possibly have cause to doubt the Pope's fully evident solidarity with the Jews, in line with that of his beloved predecessor.
5. Israel's Chief Rabbinate Director-General Oded Weiner wrote to the Vatican that "without a public apology and recanting, it will be difficult to continue the dialogue" between the rabbinate and Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Will such apology be considered - and if not, do you think this dialogue can still continue?
Whether one fringe person, who cannot be considered a Catholic clergyman or even a Catholic in good standing at all, recants and apologises (as of course he should if he is ever to be admitted to respectable society), cannot possibly have any bearing on the brotherly dialogue and warm friendship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
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