Jews Slam Pope for Rehabilitating Holocaust Denying Bishop

A senior official in Israel's Jewish Agency on Sunday slammed a decision by Pope Benedict XVI to rehabilitate a bishop who denied the existence of the Holocaust.

"I think it's a scandal," said Amos Hermon, head of the Task Force Against Anti-Semitism at the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. "It is something we cannot understand."

The pope's decision Saturday to rescind the excommunication of four bishops came just days after one of them, Richard Williamson of Britain, told Swedish TV that evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews being deliberately gassed."

The Holocaust by German Nazis and their collaborators is recognized as the most traumatic event in modern Jewish history. Denial of the Holocaust is seen in Israel as anti-Semitism.

Hermon said at a news conference that Richardson's rehabilitation insulted Israel — and the more than 200,000 Holocaust survivors who live there.

"For them, it's their whole life," he said.

Despite warnings from Jewish groups that Williamson's rehabilitation might damage delicate ties between Israel and the Vatican and even throw doubt on the pontiff's plan to visit the Holy Land this year, a senior Israeli official played down the significance of the pope's action.

"This is not a matter that concerns the interactions between the states," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Associated Press.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Saturday that Williamson's views were "absolutely indefensible." But he denied that rehabilitating Williamson implied that the Vatican shared them.

The four bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by a late ultraconservative archbishop without papal consent — a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.