Pope Benedict has said he felt deep pain over the hostility and hate some Catholics directed at him after he allowed four traditionalist bishops, including a Holocaust denier, back into the Church. The Vatican on Thursday made public a letter the pope addressed to the world's bishops, in which he admitted the Vatican mishandled and badly communicated the affair.
Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged Vatican mistakes in the handling of the controversy over a Holocaust-denying bishop and said he was saddened by attacks against him, even by members of his own church.
The pope made a highly unusual personal analysis of the case in a letter to Roman Catholic bishops around the globe that was made public Thursday by the Vatican.
Presenting the letter, which was released in six languages, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was really unusual and deserving of maximum attention.
On January 24, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of British-born Richard Williamson and three other bishops to try to heal a 20-year-old rift that began when they were thrown out of the Church for being ordained without the permission of Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican has said that the pope did not now know that Williamson was a Holocaust denier when he lifted his excommunication on Jan. 24.
Williamson has denied the full extent of the Holocaust. He has said that only around 300,000 Jews were killed and not six million and that gas chambers did not exist.
The lifting of the excommunication and Williamson's comments outraged many Jews and Catholics, including bishops in Pope Benedict's native Germany.
In his letter, the pope said that not searching the Internet for information before lifting the excommunications was an unforeseen mishap that caused tensions between Christians and Jews.
Father Lombardi said that in the pope's letter the Williamson case is considered unpleasant, serious, but closed. He added that it has been closed positively, also thanks to our Jewish friends, and the openness showed by some top Jewish representatives.
Pope Benedict met Thursday with a delegation of Israel's chief rabbinate. He said he hopes his upcoming visit to the Holy Land next May can foster understanding among religions. Among those present at the meeting was the Chief Rabbi of Haifa at the Vatican Thursday.
"It was indeed a special experience this morning's audience, because it marks an end of a crisis," said Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen.
Rabbi Cohen said that the Vatican would be very careful now in readmitting ultraconservatives into the church. Their statements will be checked to ensure that they are compatible with the teachings of the church.
The Vatican has said that before members of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X, like the four bishops whose excommunication was lifted, can be fully readmitted into the Church it must accept the teachings of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council which urged respect for other religions.