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Lifting of Excommunication

You may have heard the latest news that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was demanding the Pope to reject the denial of the Holocaust. This has become the leading world news recently. The root of such argument on a historical tragic event happened during World War II is the action by the Pope to lift the excommunication of four bishops. Excommunication is a serious punishment, especially to a bishop. Recently, when one of those bishops was interviewed on the television, he said the historical evidence was hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler, and he believed there were no gas chambers.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II excommunicated these bishops on schism. His decision was now reversed by Pope Benedict XVI. If you are interested in more details, you may read the news article in CNN. Denial of the Holocaust is a crime in Germany. As such, to add oil to fire, a German district attorney has just launched a criminal investigation into the remarks made by the bishop.

The excommunicated bishops belong to the Society of Saint Pius X. It is a conservative society which rebelled against the Vatican’s reform in the 1960’s. The present action by the Pope was a political one hoping to normalize relations with the conservative group. The latest development was that Vatican admitted the case was mishandled. See the latest news report in BBC.

The Holocaust is a very tragic event to the Jews as well as to the world. When I travelled to Jerusalem two years ago, I visited the Holocaust Memorial which left me a deep impression. It is actually a museum called Yad Vashem which means everyone has a name and everyone has to be remembered. The Hebrew words come from Isaiah 56:5 “I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”

Yad Vashem is a modern architecture built on a hillside. The triangular shape building is the main exhibition gallery, with many modern sculptures in the yard, created by artists around the world presenting the theme of the Holocaust in their own way, all are very sad.

The main gallery is an avant garde structure. The main corridor in the middle is plain concrete without any decoration. Exhibition halls are on either side of the triangle.

One of the tasks of Yad Vashem is to collect the names of the Holocaust victims and put them in a central database in the library for all to remember. Out of the estimated 6 million victims, only about 3.3 million names have been identified and stored.

The role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holocaust is very controversial. There has been a saying that Pope Pius XII negotiated a concordat with the Nazis, maintained Vatican neutrality during the war and took no initiatives to save Jews. The defense of the Roman Catholic Church was that the Pope did his best at the time given the constraints and circumstances, and had actually saved thousands of Jews. In Yad Vashem, there is a special exhibition gallery on the deed of the Roman Catholic Church with exhibition of copies of newspapers, official letters and documents, so that the audience can judge by themselves.