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February 27, 2009

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/s By Ruth Ellen Gruber ROME (JTA)Always un- easy, the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish community took another sour turn recently when Pope Benedict XV1 announced he was rescinding the excom- munication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust. While the pope managedto smooth things over somewhat by distancing himself from Bishop Richard Williamson's Holocaust denial and. at a meeting two weeks ago at the Vaticanwith Jewish represen- tatives, announcing plans to visit Israel in May, the uproar of the past few weeks raises significant questions about the goals of Benedict's papacy. It also highlights the scru- tiny Benedict has come under regarding Jewish issues in the nearly fou became pope. T affair may be matic of tKe crises of Bern but it's not the "What has most dramati episode is sol Vatican obserx noting consis this papacy the prewous an amazing sideration of tions of papal a profound la( consultation, David Rosen. Jewish Commi of Interreligiol The result. F is that time and can has ended L put out fires" have prevented HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 27, 2009 Pope Benedict good for the Jews? years since he heWilliamson ;he most dra- rewish-related dict's papacy, first. )een revealed tally by this nething that ers have been :ently during contrast to pontificate: lack of con- Lhe ramifica- actions, and k of collegial '-said Rabbi :he American tree's director is Affairs. osen told JTA, againtheVati- tp "running to hen it "could the distress to HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintehance others and the harm to itself in the first place." Tlae most recent flare-up is a case in point. Benedict announced Jan. 24 that he had lifted the 1988 excommunication of the British-born Williamson and three other members of the Society of St. Pius X. a breakaway traditionalist group that rejects some of the reforms of the 1962-65 Vatican II Council. The coun- cil's Nostra Aetate document paved the way for formal Jewish-Catholic dialogue by repudiating collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. Just days before Benedict's announcement. Swedish TV had broadcast an interview with Williamson in which he denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers and claimed that only 200,000 to 300. O00 Jews had been killed in the Holocaust rather than the more accepted number of 6 million. While the reinstatement of the four bishops was an in- ternal Catholic matter aimed at fostering Catholic unity, Williamson's rehabilitation triggered anger, outrage and a measure of disbelief around the world. "The Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican- Jewish relations," the scholar Deborah Lipstadt, an expert on Holocaust denial, wrote on her blog. "It has made Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages." Condemnation rolled in from Jewish groups, Holo- caust survivors. U.S. legis- lators. Israeli leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. as well as from ele- ments within the Catholic Church. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican point man on rela- tions with the Jewish world. complained that he had not been consulted about the mat- ter and did not know about it in advance. Even more remarkably, the Vatican said the pope himself had not been aware of Wil- liamson's views. In a frenzy of damage control, the Vatican issued statements trying to clarify the issue and eventually or- dered Williamson to recant his remarks on the Holocaust. Williamson apologized for causing the pope "unneces- sary distress and problems" with his "imprudent" state- ments--but to date he has not retracted his stated views. On Feb. 12, the pope met at the Vatican with a delega- tion from the Conference of Presidents of MajorAmerican Jewish Organizations, his first meeting with Jewish leaders since the crisis. Any denial or "minimiza- tion" of the Holocaust, Bene- dict told them, is "intolerable and altogether unaccept- able." The Church. he said, is "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti- Semitism, and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities." Benedict also personally announced his upcoming trip to Israel. which also will include stops in the West Bank and Jordan. Some Jewish representa- tives at the meeting hailed the pope's words. "We came alongway," Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue in New York told reporters after the meet- ing. "We traveled to share our pain, to share our disbelief, but we are leaving with re- -newed hope of stronger bonds between Catholics and Jews." Others were more circum- spect. '!This meetingwas an effort to reconcile, to bring closure, but it didn't lay this ssue to rest." Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. who also attended the meeting, told JTA. "You cann6t say that we oppose anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and then reinstate a denier." Foxman said. "Every day that Wil- liamson remains" a member of the Church "is an affront. There needs to be action on Williamson. so we know that there are no.Williamsons in the Church hierarchy." Vatican-Jewish relations have been under close scruti- ny since Benedict was elected pontiff in April 2005. His predecessor, the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, made fostering Jewish-Catholic re- lations and promoting aware- ness of the Holocaust a major focus of his reign. Benedict was John Paul's "most trusted theological right hand," Rosen said. From the beginning, Bene- dict indicated he would con- tinue John Paul's policy toward the Jews. He met with Jewish leaders and made historic visits to synagogues in Germany and the United States. His own history played a role: Benedict grew up in what he has described as a staunchly anti-Nazi family, but like other German teen2 agers he was forced to join Hitler Youth. He deserted the German army before the end of World War II. Now 81. Benedict undoubt- edly is the last pope who will have witnessed the Holocaust era firsthand. While welcoming his syna- gogue visits, the Jewish com- munity has chafed at some of Benedict's policies. The most persistent thorn in the community's side has been the ongoing controversy over the role of the wartime pope, Pius XII. whom the Vatican plans to beatify. Many historians say Plus turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, but his defenders say he worked behind the scenes to save Jews. Jewish groups have called on the Vatican to open its archives to resolve the issue. Another rift occurred last year when Benedict'reinstated a Latin Mass for Easter that includes a prayer some under- stand as calling for the conver- sion of the Jews. The Vatican amended the prayer somewhat after Jews voiced concern. "Decisions that the Church is making for its own use and needs are having unintended consequences and spilling into Jewish-Catholic rela- tions." Foxman obserVed. Many Jews remain unsatis- fied. Last month, Italian Jew- ish leaders took the extraor- dinary step of boycotting the Church's annual celebration of Judaism. In this context, Benedict's trip to Israel will be watched closely. It will be the first papal trip to the Holy Land since John Paul II's historic five-day pilgrimage in 2000. Memora- bly, he placed a prayer note in the Western Wall asking for forgiveness for Christian persecntion of Jews over the centuries and pledged Catho- lic brotherhood with the Jews. Vatican officials said Bene- dict's trip mainly will be apas- toral visit to local Christians. though "peace and reconcili- ation" also would be a focus. Early this month, at the height of the Williamson affair, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the Vatican's reinstatement of a Holocaust denier "offends every Jew. in Israel and around the world. and humiliates the memory of all Holocaust victims and survivors.'" Prime Minister Ehud O1- mert announced Feb. 15 that President Shimon Peres would accompany the pope to sites around the country. "Naturally we very much hope that the visit will be held in an appropriate atmosphere and will be as successful as Pope John Paul II's was." Olmert said. "A papal visit to the Holy Land is always an exceptionally significant event, and we hope that it will bethis time as well.'" Seniors helping seniors Volunteers of all ages are involved with the Jewish Pavilion. Helen Tishman, 88, visits residents of Horizon Bay each week. The youngest volunteer is Caleb Kona, 4, who visits residents of the Mayflower each week with his grandmother Ellen Bornstein Hrabovsky. Volunteering is for everyoneyoung, old and in between. To volunteer contact Arlene van de Rijn at 407-678-9363 or Shown here Caleb Konat and his grandmother Ellen Bornstein Hrabovsky visit Gloria Shapiro, a resident at Mayflower.