With the Pope’s demand that a Holocaust-denier bishop either apologize or be thrown out of the Catholic Church, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is reinstating relations with the Vatican.

The story began last month when Pope Benedict XVI rescinded the excommunications of Bishop Williamson and three other bishops, in an attempt to heal inter-church schisms.  The return of Williamson, a Holocaust-denier who said he doubted the Nazis had used gas chambers to kill Jews, caused an uproar in the Jewish community and elsewhere - leading the pope to withdraw the decision.

Chief Rabbinate Director Oded Weiner, who oversees the Chief Rabbinate’s relations with the Vatican, explained to Arutz-7’s Shimon Cohen:

“As soon as we heard that the Vatican was planning to welcome back this Williamson, I wrote to [top Papal aide] Cardinal Casper, who chairs Vatican relations with the Jews, and I made it quite clear that we would not be able to resume dialogue with the Vatican unless Williamson apologizes publicly for the terrible things he has said. Cardinal Casper apparently brought the letter to the highest levels of the Vatican, leading the pope to make a series of very impressive statements that are of great significance to the Jews and to the whole world.

"The Pope said he was misled and that he had not known Williamson’s history. He also absolutely condemned all those who deny the Holocaust, and emphasized the importance of the Vatican’s relations with Judaism.  He further said that if Williamson does not apologize, he will have no place in the Church – a logical decision for every social structure, and all the more so for a religious framework.”

Wiener also acknowledged the international public outcry and pressures: “When the matter became publicly known, it kicked off a great tsunami of responses inside and outside of the Church. Many churches in Germany, Austria, Beligum, Holland and elsewhere protested against Williamson’s return to the Church, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made some strong statements against Holocaust denial, and thank G-d, the end result was satisfactory.”

Merkel: Jews, Christians Can Get Along Only Without Holocaust Denial

Merkel was actually criticized by domestic political rivals for what they said was her “mistaken intervention” in Vatican affairs.  Merkel had pressed the German-born pope for stronger condemnation of Holocaust deniers, and then welcomed his updated decision.  "The Vatican's unequivocal order is an important and good signal," she said on Thursday. "It makes it clear that Holocaust denial can never remain without consequences. Jewish communities and Christian churches can get along only if there's no Holocaust denial, no anti-Semitism."

Williamson: Fired in Argentina

Williamson has said that he will have to "examine historic evidence" before considering rejecting and apologizing for his long-held beliefs. "If I find this evidence,” he said, “I will correct myself. But that will take time.”

In the meantime, Williamson has been dismissed as the head of a religious seminary in his hometown of La Reja, Argentina.  “Monsignor Williamson’s statements do not in any way reflect the position of our congregation,” Argentinean newspapers quoted Father Christian Bouchacourt, the head of the Latin American chapter of the Catholic Society St. Pius X, as saying.

In any event, a Chief Rabbinate meeting in Rome with the Catholic Church's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews scheduled for early next month, which had previously been canceled because of the Williamson fiasco, is back on.  Topics to be discussed include sanctity of life, family status, and ecology – “but not theological issues,” Weiner emphasized.

Wiener feels that though Williamson has gained notoriety over the past few weeks, “it is not worthwhile to ignore such expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the hope that they will just go away, as we have seen many times in history.” 

Jewish-Catholic relations are important to develop, Wiener said: “There are some 1.5 billion Catholics in the world, and the church’s stance on anti-Semitism and the State of Israel is of great importance.”