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Conference of Presidents leaders in “historic” meeting with Pope Benedict XVI

In what has been described as an historic meeting, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization met today with Pope Benedict XVIwho issued an absolute condemnation of Holocaust denial, saying “it is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.” The Pope also stated that the Church is “profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities.”

Conference of Presidents Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein welcomed the statements by Pope Benedict XVI, which come at a critical and sensitive time in Catholic-Jewish relations. “The Pope also confirmed the commitments undertaken in Nostra Aetate taken on by Vatican II to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, calling the Second Vatican Council’s declaration ‘a milestone in the journey toward reconciliation [that] clearly outlined the principles that have governed the Church’s approach to Christian-Jewish relations ever since,’” they said.

“The problems related to the Society of St. Pius X are essentially internal issues for the Church to resolve. The issue of Holocaust denial is an issue that should be of concern to all as it is to us,” said Solow and Hoenlein. “The Pope’s declarations make clear that these views will not be tolerated. It is now up to the church to implement the educational programs and initiatives to counter such dangerous and hateful assertions as well as to isolate those within the Church who advocate them.”

In his opening remarks to the Pope, Alan Solow encouraged the Pope to continue to speak out against anti-Semitism “in all its forms and to direct church leaders in every country to make this a priority. Their voices will resonate widely and others of good will, will rally to this call.” (See full text attached.)

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation also addressed the Pope, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference Executive Director, presented the Pope with a gift from Jerusalem.

“The Pope’s recent reactions against Bishop Williamson’s views and his comments today may enable a positive outcome from a negative incident, by focusing public attention on the unacceptable and often outrageous statements made by those who espouse these views, and motivating the Church to address them effectively,” said Hoenlein. “Catholic-Jewish relations are of great importance to both sides and issues that arise must be dealt with honestly, forthrightly, and with great sensitivity for the relationship to be most effective and meaningful,” he said.

The Pope also disclosed his planned visit to Israel in the coming months, calling Israel “a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there.” The Pope also said that from “the earliest days of Christianity, our identity and every aspect of our life and worship have been intimately bound up with the ancient religion of our fathers in faith.” Solow and Hoenlein commented, “The trip to Israel will offer opportunities to advance the agenda of conciliation. The fulfillment of the Pope’s vision today will go a long way in the process of healing and faith, which the Pope called for.”

Describing his visit to extermination camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Pope said “How can we begin to grasp the enormity of what took place in those infamous prisons? The entire human race feels deep shame at the savage brutality shown to [the Jewish] people at that time.”

The Conference of Presidents delegation is paying its first visit to Italy and has also met with high-level government leaders, including President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and many leaders of the legislature, as well as the Chief Rabbi and many members of the historic Italian Jewish community.

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