The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have had what it describes as a positive telephone conversation, following a week of tension over a Holocaust-denying Catholic Bishop.

A joint statement Sunday said Ms. Merkel initiated the contact, and that an exchange of viewpoints took place in "a climate of great respect."

Last week, Ms. Merkel made a rare public demand for clarification from the pontiff on his reasoning for lifting the excommunication of traditionalist British Bishop Richard Williamson. 

The bishop recently denied on Swedish television the existence of World War II Nazi gas chambers.  He also insisted that Nazi Germany killed no more than 300,000 people in concentration camps, rather than the six million agreed upon by historians.

The Vatican responded Thursday by demanding that Williamson recant his Holocaust denial, before he can be readmitted to the church.

By Saturday, the German Der Spiegel magazine was reporting that Williamson would only recant his Holocaust denial if he can find proof he was wrong.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.