Pope embroiled in Holocaust row

Pope Benedict XVI (AFP Photo / Andreas Solaro)
Pope Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop is continuing to cause ripples in Europe and beyond. It is now being suggested by some that the Pope may share the views of Richard Williamson.

On the 24th of January, Pope Benedict rehabilitated the excommunicated Bishop Williamson to the Catholic Church. It came just days after Williamson cast doubt on the Holocaust in an interview with Swedish television.

Now some Catholics are calling on Benedict XVI to stand down as Pope.

If the Pope wants to do something useful for the Church, he should abdicate – some liberal Catholics in Germany are saying.

Criticism of the Pope is harshest in his German homeland, where Holocaust’s denial is a crime.

The Pope moved swiftly to dampen the scandal last week, expressing his “solidarity” with Jews and warning against any denial of the Holocaust. But this hasn’t placated the head of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Oded Wiener. He sent a letter to the Holy See indicating a freeze in relations between Israel and the Vatican.

'Without a public apology from Bishop Williamson it will be very difficult for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to continue its dialogue with the Vatican as before'.

Given this escalation in the rhetoric, the Pope’s visit to Israel, scheduled for this May, is unlikely to take place.

Papa’s place

The only way to get rid of a Pope is for the pope to abdicate or die in office. This is because the Pope's position as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church is dogmatic and therefore is not open to debate or dispute within the Catholic Church.

It is enshrined in Canon Law 332 §2

“If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”

This right has been implemented in 1294 when Pope Celestine V promulgated a Canon Law that established the right to resign the office of Pope. He exercised it within five months of his papacy. The last to exercise it was Pope Gregory XII, who tried to end the Western Schism in 1409.

In 2001 it was widely discussed that Pope John Paul II intended to resign due to his health. But it proved not to be true. He died in office in 2005.

Reaction on the internet

‘God chooses the pope – the cardinals are just the instrument he uses to do so.’

The Pope makes the rules, and it’s made pretty clear that only a pope can remove himself from power; no matter what, he is the absolute leader of the RCC.’

‘As he is the direct representative of Christ, so even accusing a pope of wrongdoing can be heresy.’

‘Step down at any time. Other than that – he is Pope until he dies. No checks and balances. He has the supreme power – answerable only to God.‘