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MID: Israel's chief rabbinate calls off Rome visit

29 Jan 2009 10:33 PM

JERUSALEM, Jan 29 AFP - Israel's chief rabbinate has cancelled its planned participation in a meeting with Catholic officials in Rome in March in protest at Pope Benedict XVI's decision to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop.

"The five representatives of the chief rabbinate who were due to meet five Vatican representatives in Rome in March will not be able to participate in this meeting in the current state of affairs," the rabbinate's director general Oded Wiener told AFP.

"The dialogue that we began in 2000 following the visit of former Pope John Paul II cannot continue as if nothing has happened after such a decision, announced nearly on the day that the international community commemorates the Holocaust," he said.

He was referring to the pontiff's decision on Saturday to bring back into the fold of the Catholic Church four breakaway bishops, including Richard Williamson of Britain who has claimed that the Nazis did not use gas chambers.

Wiener said he had written to the Vatican demanding that Williamson should apologise for his remarks.

"I have sent a letter to Cardinal Walter Casper, president of the Vatican commission charged with Jewish relations, to explain our attitude, underlining that in the least, one should have demanded a public apology from this Holocaust-denying bishop before reinstating him," he said.

He said the pope's remarks on Wednesday in which he expressed "solidarity" with Jews and condemned denial of the Holocaust were important but not enough.

"It is an important step toward resolving this unfortunate affair," Wiener said. "But it is not enough. So we are waiting for a response from the Vatican to the letter that I sent Cardinal Casper.

He did not exclude participating in the March meeting in Rome as planned if the Vatican's response is "satisfying".

The German pope, 81, said on Wednesday he was in "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews, adding at his weekly general audience: "The Shoah should be a warning for all against forgetting, denial and reductionism."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, said on Wednesday that the pope had been "troubled" by Williamson's interview in which he dismissed as "lies" the fact that about six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps.

Williamson has said only between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews died before and during World War II.