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Pope rejects the idea of "Jewish guilt"

Community groups and Anti-Defamation League welcome book dismissing blame for death of Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI has rejected the concept of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ in a book to be published next week.

In the book, titled Jesus of Nazareth - Part II, the Pope is dismissive of a deadly debate that has raged for 2,000 years, claiming that scripture makes it clear that it was Temple authorities, and not Jews, that were Jesus' accusers.

The comments have been welcomed by prominent Jewish community groups and the Anti-Defamation League, and could mark a significant improvement in Catholic-Jewish relations for the Vatican.

Jews were finally exonerated by the Catholic Church for any blame for Jesus' death in the 1965 document "Nostra Aetate," though the relationship between the Vatican and Jewish community remains tense.

Unlike his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who generally maintained a strong relationship with Judaism, Pope Benedict's reign has not always been met so favourably.

In 2007, the Pope ordered the revival of the Latin "Good Friday prayer for the Jews." The new version was widely condemned by Jews for failing to remove lines calling for them to embrace Jesus Christ and convert.

The lifting of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who expressed controversial anti-Jewish sentiments, and Pope Benedict's support for the canonisation of Pope Pius XII, who many Jews feel was too passive during the Holocaust, have also attracted criticism.

However, Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Israel in 2009, has made the clearest statement to distance the Catholic Church from accusations of deicide against Jews since the publication of "Nostra Aetate."

In a statement, the World Jewish Congress praised the Pope for "unequivocally rejecting the argument that the Jewish people can be held responsible."