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(Pope Benedict XVI waves during his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican March 2, 2011/Tony Gentile )

Pope Benedict, in a new book, has personally exonerated Jews of allegations they were responsible for Jesus Christ’s death, repudiating the concept of collective guilt that has haunted Christian-Jewish relations for centuries. Jewish groups applauded the move. The Anti-Defamation League called it “an important and historic moment” and hoped that it would help complicated theology “translate down to the pews” to improve grass roots inter-religious dialogue.

The pope makes his complex theological and biblical evaluation in a section of the second volume of his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” which will be published next week. The Vatican released brief excerpts on Wednesday.

The Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated the idea of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death in a major document by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. It was believed to be the first time a pope had made such a detailed dissection and close comparison of various New Testament accounts of Jesus’s condemnation to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

“Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers?” the pope asks, adding that the gospel of St John simply says it was “the Jews.”