Pope Benedict must have thought he knew exactly what he was doing when, on 21 January, he lifted the excommunication of four bishops, among them a Holocaust-denying Englishman, Richard Williamson. It turned out to be an enormous misjudgement as the unprecedented rebuke earlier this week by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, shows.
But it was part of a process that began more than 20 years ago when Mr Williamson first came into the Pope's field of vision. For the Pope, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal policeman, had tried to broker a deal between a breakaway group of traditionalist clergy and the Vatican.
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