VATICAN CITY – The Vatican said Monday that comments by a recently rehabilitated bishop that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust were "unacceptable" and violate Church teaching.
In a front-page article, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reaffirmed that Pope Benedict XVI deplored all forms of anti-Semitism and that all Roman Catholics must do the same.
The article was issued amid an outcry from Jewish groups that Benedict last week lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop, Richard Williamson, who has denied that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II.
The Vatican has stressed that that removing the excommunication by no means implied the Vatican shared Williamson's views.
Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent — a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.
Benedict has made clear from the start of his pontificate that he wanted to reconcile with Lefebvre's traditionalist Society of St. Pius X and bring it back into the Vatican's fold.
Lefebvre had rebelled against the Vatican and founded the society in 1969. He was bitterly opposed to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought liberal reforms to the church.
One of the key documents issued by Vatican II was "Nostra Aetate," which said the church deplored all forms of anti-Semitism. The document revolutionized the church's relations with Jews.
In the article, L'Osservatore said Benedict and his predecessors had all made clear the church's teaching on "Nostra Aetate" in documents, actions and speeches and that its contents "are not debatable for Catholics."
Williamson's statements, broadcast last week in a Swedish state TV interview, "contradict this teaching and are thus very serious and regrettable," L'Osservatore said. While broadcast before the Jan. 21 document lifting the excommunication, they remain "unacceptable," it said.
In the interview, Williamson said historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler." He cited what he called the "most serious" revisionists who he said had concluded that "between 200,000-300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber."
Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israel's quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, denounced the Vatican for having embraced a Holocaust denier.
On Monday, the head of the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, defended Benedict's decision to rehabilitate Williamson. But he decried Williamson's views as "unfounded and unjustified."
The German Bishops' Conference also denounced Williamson's views.
"We object in the strongest terms to this explicit denial of the Holocaust," Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, the head of a commission at the German Bishops Conference responsible for relations with Jews, said in a statement.
State prosecutors in Regensburg, Germany, have opened a preliminary investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial as he spoke to Swedish state TV while in Germany.