A prominent bishop may have very publicly denied the Holocaust, and the pope may have recently revoked that bishops excommunication, but Colorados highest Catholic cleric says Jews should not worry that the Roman Catholic Church has suddenly gone into the Holocaust denial business.
The scope and grave evil of the Holocaust are matters of public record, Archbishop Charles Chaput, who leads the Archdiocese of Denver, told the Intermountain Jewish News in a statement this week.
The archbishops reference to the scope of the Holocaust pertains to the stance of British Bishop Richard Williamson who, in a Swedish TV interview in January, contended that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, and that none perished in gas chambers.
Williamson, who had been excommunicated by the Vatican for theological reasons, had that excommunication revoked by Pope Benedict XVI last month, a move that has triggered considerable international Jewish anger and consternation.
Among the more emphatic expressions of Jewish anger was the decision last week of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to sever their ties with the Vatican.
Chaput, who responded to IJN questions via email while traveling, minced no words in denouncing and discrediting any form of Holocaust denial.
The supporting evidence is irrefutable, he said. I dont understand anyone, Catholic or otherwise, who would seek to diminish the memory of the millions of Jews lost to genocide. Denying the Holocaust is neither morally nor intellectually credible.
Nor does Pope Benedicts revocation of Williamsons excommunication indicate any sort of Vatican imprimatur on the bishops Holocaust beliefs, Chaput insists.
The Church, including the current and previous Holy Fathers, has repeatedly affirmed the reality of the Shoah, he said.
That message couldnt be any clearer or more sincere. Respect for the Jewish community and reconnecting with the Jewish roots of Christianity are priorities for Catholics. Based on the record of the last four decades, I dont think anyone can reasonably question that.
Asked about the Popes decision concerning Williamson, Chaput himself seemed at a bit of a loss to provide an explanation, other than to suggest that other factors must have weighed in the decision.
The Catholic Church is a global community, he said. Shes larger, more diverse and much less monolithic than persons on the outside seem to grasp.
Bishop Williamsons reported comments are a very unhealthy anomaly. But they dont in any sense represent the main body of Catholic thought, much less the leadership of the Church.
Asked whether he felt that the pontiffs recent revocation might suggest an era of trouble in Catholic-Jewish relations a trend which some Jews felt began last year with Pope Benedicts reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass, with its call to convert Jews Chaput was firm in his response.
No, for the reasons Ive already mentioned, he said. Jews rightly expect Catholics to understand and respect the integrity of Jewish life, culture, community and beliefs. Catholics expect the same understanding and respect.
Its important for both sides to react prudently when differences arise. Motives and circumstances may be very different from what they first appear. We need to have the patience to work together for a healthy, mutually respectful relationship.
Reacting to the Vaticans decision on Williamson, Jewish students at the University of Denvers Holocaust Awareness Institute opted for an educational response.
Led by CJS director Sarah Pessin, the students this week airmailed to Rome a Holocaust Tolerance Trunk, to help Williamson learn the actual history of the Holocaust (including facts about gas chambers, which he denies) according to a DU press release.
Community members were invited to sign their names to the trunk, which was specially designed by the MATTER Graphic Design Studio and contains educational materials relating to the Holocaust.
On Tuesday, Feb. 3, on the DU campus, Pessin read an open letter addressed to Pope Benedict which was to accompany the trunk on its way to the Vatican.
The Holocaust Awareness Institute is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, and as part of our mission, we send Tolerance Trunks just like this one out to school teachers to help them in their classrooms, the letter states.
The books and multi-media materials contained herein are donated by concerned community members, and are designed to help students gain accurate historical information about the Holocaust, as well as inspire a spirit of openness and care for fellow human beings.
We hope you will share this Tolerance Trunk with Bishop Richard Williamson, and with anyone else whom you feel might benefit from its contents.