Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Catholics leaving over reinstatement of Holocaust denier

DPA , PASSAU, GERMANY

The Catholic Church is seeing a wave of faithful leaving in droves over the controversial lifting of the excommunication of a group of rightist bishops, a German Vatican expert said yesterday.

Father Eberhard von Gemmingen, the head of Radio Vatican’s German service, said in an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that a “wave of exits” had begun after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four leaders of the St Pius X Society, one of whom denies the Holocaust.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Catholics have the option of formally quitting the Church by registering their exit with local authorities.

They are then no longer considered Catholic.

“In other countries this is not possible, as baptism cannot be revoked,” Gemmingen said.

LOSS OF TRUST

The relationship of trust between the German-born pope and German Catholics has been “shaken,” Gemmingen said, but he said he believed Benedict XVI’s planned visit to his home country next year could repair some of the damage.

“It hurts if you see that many people do not understand Rome and the pope any longer,” the Vatican expert said.

He voiced skepticism over whether the pope would go ahead with a planned visit to Israel this year.

The visit “is still very open,” he said, while indicating that there had been no adverse signals from the Jewish state.

Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had lifted the excommunication of Richard Williamson, who denies the Holocaust and three other bishops of the St Pius X Society, a move that triggered criticism within the Church and an outcry in Germany, including sharp remarks form German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

DISAPPROVAL

An opinion poll by state broadcaster ARD found that only 42 percent of Germans approved of the pope’s work, down from 63 percent when Ratzinger took office four years ago.

Amid growing pressure, a statement was eventually issued in which the Vatican said that the British-born Williamson would have to recant his claims that the Holocaust did not happen before being allowed to occupy any office within the Church.

Gemmingen sharply criticized the Vatican’s communication blunders during the affair.

“There is not only a communication problem but also an organization problem. Decisions cannot not be made without involving those responsible for the issues in the Vatican,” Gemmingen said.

There had to be better information and decisions made jointly, he said.

“But in the Vatican, communication will change only very slowly and very little,” he said.

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