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Vatican demands Holocaust-denying bishops recant from positions

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican demanded Wednesday that a bishop who denied the Holocaust recant his positions before being fully admitted into the Roman Catholic Church.

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The Vatican also said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI didn't know about Bishop Richard Williamson's views when he agreed to lift his excommunication and that of three other ultraconservative bishops Jan. 21.

The statement was issued by the Vatican's Secretariat of State a day after German Chacellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to make a clearer rejection of Holocaust denials, saying there hadn't been adequate clarification from the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI gestures during the weekly general audience in Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday called on Pope Benedict XVI to make a "very clear" rejection of Holocaust denials after the Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI gestures during the weekly general audience in Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday called on Pope Benedict XVI to make a "very clear" rejection of Holocaust denials after the Vatican's rehabilitation of a former bishop who questioned whether 6 million Jews were gassed by the Nazis. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Williamson was shown on Swedish state television days before his rehabilitation was made public saying historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed" during World War II.

Williamson subsequently apologized to the pope for having stirred controversy, but he did not repudiate his comments, in which he also said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II and none were gassed.

Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated in 1988 after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent. Lefebvre founded the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X in 1969, opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including its outreach to Jews.

The Holy See said when it announced the rehabilitation of the bishops Jan. 24 that removing the excommunication did not mean the Vatican shared Williamson's views. But Jewish groups voiced outrage and demanded that Williamson recant his views.

In the statement Wednesday, the Vatican said that while Williamson's excommunication had been lifted, he still had no canonical function in the church because he was consecrated illegitimately by Lefebvre.

"Bishop Williamson, in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the church, will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted," the statement said.

In addition, the Vatican said that the society as a whole must fully recognize the teachings of Vatican II and the teachings of all the popes who came during and after it in order to have a legitimate canonical function in the church.

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