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Pope: Holocaust Denial "Unacceptable"

Pope Benedict XVI has told Jewish leaders that any denial of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable, especially if a priest does it.

Benedict said during a meeting Thursday at the Vatican with about 60 American Jewish leaders that he is preparing to visit Israel.

The audience was scheduled after Benedict lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denied the Holocaust, sparking outrage among Catholics and Jews alike.

The German-born Benedict issued his strongest condemnation yet of Holocaust denial during the meeting. He called the Holocaust a crime against humanity and affirmed the Catholic Church was "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism."

The pope's decision follows last week's response to growing protests.

The Vatican said in a statement that the pope didn't know about Williamson's views when he agreed to lift his excommunication and that of three other ultraconservative bishops Jan. 21.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to make a clearer rejection of Holocaust denials, saying there hadn't been adequate clarification from the Vatican. Further condemnations of Williamson had come from top German Church officials, Jewish groups and the head of the U.S. bishops conference.