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Pope Expresses 'Full and Unquestionable Solidarity" With Jews

Pope Benedict XV! expressed his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with Jews on Wednesday, after outraging many by rehabilitating a bishop last week who denies the Holocaust. The pope's words were welcomed by Israel's chief rabbinate who had threatened to sever ties with the Vatican.

Pope Benedict said that he feels "full and indisputable solidarity" with Jews and warned against any denial of the horror of the Holocaust. He spoke at his weekly general audience on Wednesday, just days after he reinstated excommunicated British-born Bishop Richard Williamson who denies that Jews were gassed in Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany.

The decision provoked an outcry among Jews. But in his efforts to heal the rift with Jews, the pontiff said the attempt to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust should remain a warning to all of humanity.

"In these days in which we remember the Shoah," the pope said, "I remember the images collected in my repeated visits to Auschwitz, one of the largest camps in which were committed the massacres and cruelties towards millions of Jews, victims of blind racial and religious hatred," he said.

Pope Benedict also explained why he had revoked the excommunication of Bishop Williamson and three others bishops who ordained without papal permission.

The pope said he made the decision on the four bishops because they repeatedly demonstrated their sincere suffering for the situation in which they found themselves. Pope Benedict expressed the hope that the bishops would respond by accepting his authority and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Israel's Chief Rabbinate Director-General Oded Wiener said Benedict's words were "a great step forward" in resolving the issue. He added that no decision had been taken on whether the Rabbinate would send a representative to a March meeting in Rome with the Catholic Church's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.

Meanwhile, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yossi Levy, played down the incident, saying diplomatic ties would not be affected.

The Vatican and Israel re-established diplomatic ties in 1993.