Pope Benedict XVI has issued his strongest condemnation yet of Holocaust denial. Speaking to American Jewish leaders at the Vatican, the pope said denial or minimization of the Shoah was intolerable and unacceptable. The pope also confirmed a planned trip to Israel.
In efforts to defuse a controversy over a British bishop who denies the Holocaust, Pope Benedict told visiting American Jewish leaders that any denial or minimization of this crime is intolerable, particularly if it comes from a priest.
The pope was holding his first meeting with Jews since he lifted the excommunication of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson in late January, outraging both Jews and Catholics. Williamson has denied the full extent of the Holocaust and says there were no gas chambers.
"I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," he said.
But Pope Benedict, using strong language, said in his audience with American Jews the hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity.
Benedict added that this terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten. Jewish leaders applauded the pope's comments.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier is a Holocaust survivor and was present at the audience.
"We traveled to share our pain, to share our disbelief but we are leaving with renewed hope of stronger bonds between Catholics and Jews as a result of this encounter that will help healing and mutual understanding," he said.
Pope Benedict also confirmed to Jewish leaders that his planned trip to Israel in the spring would go ahead as planned. It will be the second official visit by a pope to the Holy Land. Pope John Paul II visited Israel in 2000.