Pope denies feeling alone over Holocaust-denying bishop

Posted at 03/17/2009 10:53 PM | Updated as of 03/17/2009 10:53 PM

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE - Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday denied feeling alone in the controversy sparked when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.

"In truth, this myth about solitude makes me laugh," the pope said, dismissing reports in the Italian media that the controversy had left him isolated.

"Every day I meet lots of people, I am surrounded by friends. Solitude does not exist," he added.

The pope was responding to a question while en route to Yaounde, Cameroon, on his first trip to Africa as pontiff.

Last week, Benedict issued a letter to bishops around the world in which he sought to clarify his decision to invite Bishop Richard Williamson to rejoin the fold.

"I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility," he wrote.

The 81-year-old pontiff, who is to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in May, also wrote that he regretted "mistakes" in the handling of the Williamson affair.

The pope suggested that the Vatican was unaware of Williamson's claims that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers, and should have consulted the Internet before deciding to lift his excommunication.

Benedict's predecessor John Paul II excommunicated Williamson and three other bishops after traditionalist leader Marcel Lefebvre ordained them as bishops of his separatist church in 1988.

Their fraternity rejected reforms passed by Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s including the Nostra Aetate declaration, which ended a Church doctrine that blamed the Jews for the killing of Jesus Christ.