The cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s relations with Jews has admitted that Pope Benedict’s decision to rehabilitate an ultra-conservative bishop who denies the Holocaust was dealt with poorly and was the result of bad management in the Vatican hierarchy.
In a frank interview with the German service of Vatican Radio, Cardinal Walter Kasper acknowledged that communication between decision-makers had been lacking.
“There wasn’t enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise,” he said.
“I’m watching this debate with great concern. Nobody can be pleased that misunderstandings have turned up. Mistakes in the management of the Curia [Vatican administration] have certainly been made,” said Kasper, who like Pope Benedict is German.
His blunt appraisal comes as condemnation of the move to lift the excommunication of a Briton, Richard Williamson, who denies the full scale of the Holocaust, and three other traditionalist bishops, has spread across the world.
Holocaust survivors, US Congress members, Israel’s chief rabbinate and leading members of the Catholic Church are among those who have condemned the decision.
The scale of the criticism is unprecedented in the four years of Benedict’s pontificate and has prompted commentators to suggest fundamental defects in the governing style of the 81-year-old Pope.
Criticism from Germany — where denying the Holocaust is a crime punishable by imprisonment — has been particularly acute.
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was forced to break her own rule not to criticize or comment on internal church matters because the issue was a “question of principle.” She called on the Pope to “unambiguously clarify” his position.
“When a decision by the Vatican gives rise to the impression that the Holocaust may be denied this cannot be allowed to stand ... it’s a matter of affirming very clearly on the part of the Pope and the Vatican that there must be no denial here,” she said.
The chancellor said that “as a Protestant Christian,” she was “encouraged” that many voices in the Catholic Church were also calling on the Vatican to explain itself.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, a former chairman of the Conference of German Bishops, the highest post in the Catholic Church in Germany, said the Pope’s decision to rehabilitate Williamson had been “a disaster for all Holocaust survivors,” and called on the Pope to apologize.
The reinstated bishops are the followers of Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of the Vatican Council and ordained the bishops without the authorization of Rome, leading to their excommunication. They formed the Society of St Pius X, which retained the pre-reform stance of the Church that Jews shared collective guilt for Christ’s death.
One of the four, Williamson, said in an interview with Swedish television last month: “I believe there were no gas chambers,” adding that no more than 300,000 Jews died in concentration camps.
He later apologized in a blog posting for the “unnecessary distress” he had caused the Pope, but failed to withdraw the remarks.
Over the weekend the Pope entered a fresh row after promoting to the status of bishop an ultra-conservative Austrian clergyman, Gerhard Maria Wagner, who had said that Hurricane Katrina was an act of “divine retribution” for New Orleans’ sexual permissiveness.