Holocaust denial: Vatican shifts into damage control
The Vatican is trying to clarify efforts to reconcile with a sharply right-wing set of bishops excommunicated in 1988.
After unprecedented outcry in Pope Benedict XVI's home country of Germany by Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders worldwide, the Vatican this week clarified efforts to reconcile with an ultra-right-wing set of bishops excommunicated in 1988, one of whom denies that the Holocaust, or the Shoah, took the lives of 6 million Jews during Nazi rule here in World War II.Skip to next paragraph
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The Vatican has been in serious damage control for at least a week. German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the Vatican Monday to clarify its position – amid some of the most open dissent and dismay by Catholic bishops in Europe under Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The crisis underscores the difficulties the pope faces in his project of reestablishing traditional Christianity in Europe and rolling back the liberal influences of Vatican II inside Catholicism – in a world more diverse and secular, a religious landscape more ecumenical, a church divided over doctrine and approach, and papal authority seemingly more subject to outside opinion, as in this week's virtual censure of the pope by Ms. Merkel.
Seeing revival in traditionalism
"Benedict wants the restoration of European Christianity, that's at the heart of this." says Catholic theologian Frank Flinn, of Washingon University in St. Louis. "He wishes to nullify the left, the liberation theologians. The Vatican seems to buy the theory that right-wing churches attract members, along the growth model of Evangelicals. A church making demands with stricter rules – the call of traditionalism – is seen as reviving the church in Europe."
Germans in particular – having spent decades confronting the Holocaust, fighting to end its legacy, making Holocaust-denial a crime – were unable to ignore a German-born pope who, in trying to promote church unity, nonetheless opened the door to misunderstandings about a central emotional project of postwar Germany. This week, the Bishop of Mainz, the Archbishop of Berlin, the leading theologian Hans Kung, and a host of German newspapers strongly and openly disagreed with the pope's decision to start restoring the St. Pius group.
The Bavarian-born pope has been especially popular in Munich, a heartland of German Catholicism. But the shine has been wearing off. "I am a Protestant and my wife is a Catholic, and we were both very proud to have a German pope," says Friedemann Losch, a retired professor. "But now we are unhappy with the mistakes Benedict is making. The church is split between modern Catholics and traditionalists, and Benedict is making it worse. We don't understand why."