Rabbis to heal rift with Pope

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 12, 2009

A visit to Rome by members of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate this weekend is intended to heal the rift between the Vatican and the Jewish world.

The eighth annual meeting of the Bilateral Commission of the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate had been cancelled by the Israelis after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of a group of renegade bishops, including Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier.

Jewish organisations have accused the Vatican establishment and the Pope himself of turning a blind eye to Bishop Williamson’s statements.

However, following repeated proclamations by the Pope and other senior officials on the Vatican’s total repudiation of Holocaust denial, the Bilateral Commission was rescheduled.

Rabbi David Rosen, the Rabbinate’s advisor on interfaith relations, said: “Now that the Pope has made his position so clear, we can resume our normal relations and go ahead from here.”

The meeting was originally to focus on areas on which the Jewish and Catholic religious leadership could cooperate, such as the environment, but it is now expected to focus on Holocaust education. The delegation, headed by Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, has also had a papal audience added to its schedule.

Pope Benedict will arrive in Israel on May 11, as the guest of President Shimon Peres. During his visit, he will hold three masses, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. He will also visit Yad Vashem to light a memorial torch in the Holocaust Memorial Hall. However, he will not tour the new museum, where a caption criticising the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust has long been a bone of contention with the Vatican. Pope Benedict has strenuously defended his predecessor’s record.

This week, Yad Vashem held an international seminar to reassess the actions of the Vatican during the Holocaust. According to academics in the Yad Vashem research centre, the institute “wants to clarify the Pius issue, one way or another”.

Last updated: 12:36pm, March 17 2009