BERLIN Pope Benedict's rehabilitation of a bishop who has denied the full extent of the Holocaust is a slap in the face for the Jewish community, especially coming from a German pope, Germany's Central Council of Jews said on Monday.
"It's a deep shock," Dieter Graumann, the Council's vice-president, told Reuters. "I'm not imputing bad intentions to the Vatican or the pope, but in fact this is a slap in the face for the Jewish community."
"It's a provocation and I'm worried that dialogue between Jews and Catholics will now be frozen to some extent, that the process of reconciliation that has advanced so much over the past 50 years will be interrupted, if not aborted."
Pope Benedict on Saturday rehabilitated four traditionalist bishops who lead the far-right Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which has about 600,000 members and rejects modernizations of Roman Catholic worship and doctrine.
One of the four, British-born Richard Williamson, has made statements denying the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians.
"Especially from a German pope, I would have expected more understanding and sensitivity," Graumann said. "The fact that this comes from a German pope leaves a certain taste and provokes certain feelings."
In comments to Swedish television broadcast and widely available on the Internet, Williamson has said: "I believe there were no gas chambers." He said up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi camps, rather than the 6 million widely accepted.
Graumann said it had taken a long time and much effort to strengthen dialogue between Jewish and Catholic communities over the past decades, adding Pope Benedict's predecessor John Paul II had moved the process forward significantly.
"This dialogue is being overshadowed by what has happened," he said. "Those who rehabilitate anti-Semites are ... bringing anti-Semitism back into the church to some extent."
"It's without bad intentions but that's the actual effect," he said.
The four traditionalist bishops were thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without Vatican permission. The Vatican said the excommunications were lifted after the bishops affirmed their willingness to accept Church teachings and papal authority.
(Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich; editing by Ralph Boulton)