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Jan 23 17 5:58 AM
The contribution of Francis’ two immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI was crucial. But the roots of the dialogue between Catholics and Jews that is celebrated on 17 January with the special Day for Judaism and which was consecrated by Wojtyla and by his many gestures and words, much deeper. After centuries of misunderstandings, humiliation, oppression in Christian Europe, the 20th century marked a change of course, which was undoubtedly triggered by the immense tragedy of the Holocaust. Readers will recall the example of the famous phrase pronounced by a deeply moved Pius XI in September 1938 during an audience with a group of Belgian Catholics at a time when Europe was on the brink of war: “Anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Spiritually, we are all Semites". But it must also be recalled that two months earlier, on 29 July of that same year, Pius XI said the following words to his students at the Propaganda Fide College: “The whole of humankind, is a single, great universal human race. There is no room for special races… Human dignity consists in us being one great family, humankind, the human race. This is the belief of the Church." The message was heavily criticised by the German press and branded as being against the culture and dignity of Nazi Germany.There has been a great deal of discussion and there will continue to be, surrounding the figure an choices of his successor, Pius XII, although current affairs journalism and historiography now offer more objective interpretations of Pacelli’s pontificate. Ideologically, he is presented as “Hitler’s Pope”. Without entering into the controversial matter of the so-called “silences”, there are many initiatives that could be cited here, which the Pope himself carried out or agreed to in order to assist and protect Rome’s Jews. But it is also worth recalling that during high school, Eugenio Pacelli had become friends with a young man named Guido Mendes, who was a member of Rome’s Jewish community. He was the descendent of a reputable family of doctors and medical scholars that dated back to the physician to the royal court of King Charles II of England. The day after Pius XII’s death, Dr. Mendes, who at the time was living in Ramat Gan in Israel, told the Jerusalem Post of his friendship with the Pope , which dated back to their days at Liceo Visconti: “Pacelli was the first Pope who back in his youth attended a Shabbat dinner in a Jewish house and informally discussed Jewish theology with eminent members of Rome’s community”. In 1938, the future Pius XII, then Secretary of State, did his utmost to help the Mendes family, which had been affected by the shameful anti-Semitic laws promulgated by Italy’s fascist government. The cardinal arranged for their safe passage to Switzerland and from here they were able to emigrate to Palestine the following year. Finally, it should be recalled that Pius XIIwas the first Pope after more than ten centuries who made small modifications in favour of the Jews to the liturgy. Ever since the pontificate of Gregory the Great, the Good Friday liturgy referred to perfidi Judaei and perfidia Judaica. The term “perfidi” in Latin means “misbelievers”. But when texts were introduced in the vernacular and in translation, the Latin term “perfidi” became “perfidious” in English, “perfide” in French, “treulos” in German, “trouweloos” in Dutch and “perfidy” in Italian, clearly suggesting moral condemnation. Pius XII, who was asked by the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, to remove that expression, did not grant the rabbi’s request but had the Congregation of Rites issue a clarification on the matter, which was published on 10 June 1948. Just over a year later, on 16 October 1949, Jewish professor Jules Isaac, who was received in an audience at Castelgandolfo, pointed out another problem to Pacelli. In the same Good Friday liturgy, unlike in other cases, when prayers were said for the Jews, the people and the priest would not kneel but remained standing. Isaac explained that “the omission of genuflection during the prayer for the Jews, was perhaps even more serious than the mistranslation of perfidus”. Finally, some years later, as Pacelli was reforming the Holy Week liturgy, he introduced the genuflection gesture to the prayer for Jews, as was done during other prayers within that rite. These steps, albeit small and hesitant, for sure, were nevertheless – as the then honorary consul of Israel to Milan, Pinchas Lapide wrote – “were the first improvements made in favour of the Jews to be introduced in the Catholic tradition since the Middle Ages and they opened the door to deeper and broader reaching changes”. It was St. John XXIII, the Pope who stopped his car in front of the Roman Synagogue to greet and bless the Jews who were just leaving the temple, who definitively abolished the expression “perfidi guidei” from the liturgy. In March 1959, Roncalli decided to alter the controversial Good Friday prayer, removing the terms “perfidi” and “perfidia” from the text. This led to other initiatives by the same Pope to remove other formulas and prayers that may have been offensive toward the Jews: from the reference to deicide in the formula for the consecration of the human race to the sacred heart of Jesus introduced by Leo XIII to those regarding “Iudaica Perfidia” and “Hebraica superstitio” present in the Roman Ritual, during the rite of the conversion of Jews for baptism. The Council and the “Nostra Aetate”, promulgated by Paul VI, marked the turning point. The text recalls that “what happened” in Jesus’ Passion “cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today”. It states that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.” Finally, it specifies that “the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” But that momentous change needed to be turned into concrete gestures. The turning point came with John Paul II and is tied to the Pope’s personal life story. The man who rose to the Chair of St. Peter was someone who experienced first-hand the tragedy of war in a devastated Poland. Having been born in Wadowice, a small town with a large Jewish community, he had forged many ties with Jewish schoolmates and playmates. Many of them later died in Nazi concentration camps. The question mark surrounding their sacrifice would torment John Paul II, who as Pope – as observed by Norberto Hofmann, Secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews – felt it was his duty “to personally commit to the development and intensification of the Catholic Church’s friendship with Judaism”. On 7 June 1979, Wojtyla visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and prayed before the monument to the Holocaust victims: “Before this gravestone, no one can remain indifferent”. Even more significant was his visit to the Roman synagogue on 13 April 1986 and his embrace with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff in front of the Great Temple. The Holy See’s diplomatic recognition of Israel as a state at the end of 1993, marked a further step forward in relations. The “We Remember” document, a reflection on the Holocaust, was published under John Paul II’s pontificate, in 1998. In the penitential liturgy of the 2000 Jubilee, Wojtyla asked for forgiveness for the wrongdoings against the people of Israel. Just a few days after the liturgy, John Paul II visited the Holy Land, where he prayed before the Western Wall and visited the Yad-Vashem memorial, praying for the Holocaust victims and meeting some survivors. Frequent meetings started to be held with Jewish delegations both in the Vatican and during papal visits abroad. With Benedict XVI’s election in 2005, came a theologian Pope who had meditated on the special and unique bond between Christians and Jews, more than anyone else. One of his first messages the day after his election, was addressed to Rome’s rabbi, Professor Riccardo Di Segni. Benedict XVI also visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on 28 May 2006 and repeated the gestures of his predecessor during a visit to Israel in May 2009. Ratzinger visited the synagogue of Cologne in 2005, of New York in 2008 and of Rome in 2010. “Our closeness and spiritual fraternity,” said Benedict XVI in his speech at the Great Temple in Rome, “find in the Holy Bible in Hebrew Sifre Qodesh or "Book of Holiness" their most stable and lasting foundation, which constantly reminds us of our common roots, our history and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share. It is in pondering her own mystery that the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant, discovers her own profound bond with the Jews, who were chosen by the Lord before all others to receive his word.”After these historic gestures and detailed theological study, the Church, under Pope Francis – who also has a personal history of friendship with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires – has entered the friendship phase, relations have thawed even further, as was demonstrated by the cordiality of his visit to the Roman synagogue in January 2016. One of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s most important texts before he was elected Pope, were his conversations with Argentinian rabbi Abraham Skorka. During his trip to Poland in July 2016, Francis followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau: he chose not to add to the eloquent words already pronounced by his predecessors preferring instead to express himself with total silence.
Jan 28 17 7:40 AM
The Vatican has once more called to never forget atrocities directed against the Jews and the horrors of the Holocaust.During a Permanent Council meeting at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Monsignor Janusz Urbanczyk, the Vatican’s permanent representative, said that “vigilance is always needed” in order to defend human dignity and peace in the world.The meeting took place during the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners and survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.“The suffering and ultimate sacrifice, the fear and tears, of the countless victims of blind hatred who suffered deportation, imprisonment and death in those perverted and inhuman places must never be forgotten,” Urbanczyk said.The Holy See has long insisted on the importance of understanding and cooperation with the Jewish community. In July of 2016, Pope Francis became the third pontiff to visit the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in southern Poland.There, the pope prayed in silence for roughly 15 minutes before meeting with survivors and even leaving a hand-written note at the Auschwitz Memorial site: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”Urbanczyk underlined that concentration camps are not a thing of the past, belonging to the history books or on the fading ink of a number tattooed on an arm, but are still present today.He quoted Pope Francis saying that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day “should (…) help us to ‘go beyond evil and differences,’ and open every possible pathway of peace and hope in our world of today.”Most observers and watchdog groups report that anti-Semitism is still very strong, especially in Europe, where the rise of populist and xenophobic political parties carries a deep anti-Jewish rhetoric.In France, the Interior Ministry has stated that more than 50 percent of bias-motivated crimes were directed against Jews in 2014. The number is even more staggering considering that Jews represent less than one percent of the population.In resentful post-Troika Greece, 69 percent of adults have anti-Semitic views, fueling the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party’s popularity. In the United Kingdom there have been 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents between 1984 and 2014, according to the Community Security Trust.A survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that in Sweden 60 percent of Jews live in fear of being publicly identified.A 2015 article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic even asked: Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?The reasons behind the recent rekindling of anti-Semitism in Europe are many. Right-wing nationalist parties have once more found an easy target to build consensus against, but there is another, newer reason: the radicalization of Muslim immigrants, which countries like France have repeatedly failed to assimilate and include.Doctor Moshe Kantor, head of the European Jewish Congress, has recently stressed that “the Jewish community in Europe is under attack from the far right, the far left and radical Islamists. As ever, the only common cause between these groups is hatred of Jews.”Kantor will meet with the pope on Friday 27 to discuss his growing concerns regarding anti-Semitism in Europe and the rise and success of radical political parties.Meanwhile, Urbanczyk confirmed the commitment on behalf of the Holy See to counter anti-Semitism and Holocaust deniers especially in schools and educational settings.“The past must serve as a lesson for the present and for the future, so as not to repeat history’s terrible mistakes, and ensure that younger generations will not have to face this evil again,” Urbanczyk said.President Milos Zeman recently invited Pope Francis to the Czech Republic in June on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Lidice village obliteration by Nazis in May 1942.Extremist and populist forces risk taking over the West, many observers believe, in disregard even of its most recent and tragic history. As the generation that lived the horrors of the World Wars fades into history, the responsibility to preserve and transmit its memory becomes ever more important.“When we look inwards as a people we risk alienating the minorities in our midst,” Kantor said. “When minorities are alienated, history tells us in its blood-stained pages that it is usually the Jews who lead the suffering.”
Feb 9 17 12:12 PM
Feb 22 17 4:29 PM
What standards should we use to judge figures of the distant past—those of their time, or of our own? No historical figure evokes this question more acutely than Pope Pius XII. In the 1940s, leading newspapers celebrated him as a “lonely voice” against Nazism, a courageous opponent of those bent on persecuting the Jews. At his death in 1958, Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir cabled condolences to the Vatican: “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims.”Yet three years after that encomium, a play by the German Rolf Hochhuth accused the pope of failing to speak out forcefully against the Nazis. Historians confirmed that while Pius condemned aggression and violence, he never censured the Nazi regime or spoke out against the killing of Jews—even though the Vatican received information about it in 1942. In 1989, Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote that if the pope had issued an encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism, he might have averted the Holocaust. A few years later, the historian John Cornwell completed this line of criticism by anointing Pius “Hitler’s pope,” a man who by his silence had enabled the greatest crimes known to humankind. The pope’s defenders fought back, insisting that Pius had muffled criticism in order not to endanger the Vatican’s behind-the-scenes efforts on behalf of the victims. Rabbi David Dalin wrote that the pope’s “diplomacy and the Vatican’s rescue operations saved hundreds of thousands of Jews and other innocent victims from Nazism.” Now in Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler (Basic Books, $29.99, 384 pp.), Mark Riebling, a respected expert on national security, takes this approach to a new level. In his view the pope was not simply a top diplomat, but a spymaster who oversaw intricate intelligence networks that passed information to select parties in hopes of helping to destroy Hitler. Pius was silent, Church of Spies insists, because his operations were secret.Those operations placed him in contact, direct and indirect, with anti-Hitler conspirators. The Munich lawyer and later postwar politician Josef Müller facilitated contacts from Rome to the German state and military, including high-ranking Hitler opponents in the SS and in military counter-espionage, like Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris. Hitler led a charmed existence, however, and escaped one assassination attempt after another. In March 1943 Colonel Henning von Tresckow placed a bomb in a plane carrying Hitler to his quarters in East Prussia, but the detonator froze; Pius as well as generals in Berlin waited hopefully, only to learn the plane did not crash. The greatest disappointment came on July 20, 1944, when the thick leg of an oak table shielded Hitler from the blast of a bomb placed beneath it by Claus Count von Stauffenberg, leader of a group of high military officers attempting to take over the government and sue the Allies for peace. (Josef Müller had worked closely with the Stauffenberg conspirators, but was incarcerated at the time of the assassination attempt, and thus survived retribution in the mass roundup and executions that followed.) Riebling takes readers into each plot, and makes them all vivid. We hear the doors of the sleek old limousines snapping shut, see the green and black uniformed officials across banquet halls and around the curving staircases of hotels in Berlin and Rome. Through the plans’ arcane details one can feel the anxieties of people who for years racked their brains, under the shadow of the guillotine, for ways of destroying Hitler. More than other authors, Riebling dwells upon the religious commitments of Hitler’s foes. Stauffenberg, we learn, was a Catholic troubled by the regime’s anti-Jewish policies, and his circle intersected with that of the Kreisau conspirators around Helmut von Molkte, whom Riebling calls “latter-day apostles of a new Babylon.” They received spiritual guidance from the Jesuit Augustin Rösch, of whom Moltke’s widow Freja later said: “we really felt quite reborn because of him.” After ridding Germany of Hitler and ending the war, they hoped to fashion faith communities—Christenschaften—in which Germans could recuperate from the deification of the state. Instead, most were arrested and executed, including a second Jesuit, Alfred Delp, who left us his haunting prison diaries.In my view Riebling underplays the challenges of accurately recapturing his heroes’ stories. He writes, for instance, that Pius made the “choice to help kill Adolf Hitler” in late October 1939, but the source he cites refers to the necessity of “removing” Hitler, which by no means necessarily means killing him. Because Vatican archives on the period are closed, Riebling is forced to extrapolate from sources produced after the war—often several degrees from the individuals in question, and with the diminished accuracy of memory. Also problematic is the way Riebling uses Pius’s peripheral role in the plots against Hitler to account for his “silence” on the Holocaust. Citing Nazi retribution for the July 1942 pastoral letter of Dutch bishops against deportations of Jews, Riebling claims the pope feared that public condemnation would do more harm than good. Yet in his own meticulous study The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War (University of Toronto, $37.95, 424 pp.), historian Jacques Kornberg notes that German authorities had already decided to deport forty thousand Jews from the Netherlands in June, and that the first trains had left before the bishops spoke out. BUT IF WE grant that these were in fact the pope’s calculations, were those calculations wrong? We lack sufficient evidence to say. Besides the 1943 Rosenstrasse protests of “Aryan” wives for their Jewish husbands, no public protest halted the deportation of Jews in areas controlled by German authorities. We also know that the Vatican did have some success using diplomatic channels to halt deportations of Jews from Nazi puppet states like Slovakia and Hungary, or from Germany’s ally, Romania. We do not know whether a papal appeal to other Catholics, in particular Central Europe’s bishops, informing them of the genocide against Jews, and of its incompatibility with Catholic teaching, might have caused more Catholics to act to save Jews. We have every reason to assume the German state would have portrayed any such appeal as a declaration of war, and would have moved to seize church properties, thus costing lives of many Jews and non-Jews. Far less vicious rulers than Hitler have not hesitated to confiscate monasteries, churches, and convents. At the time, persuasive arguments for papal caution were not lacking. As John Pollard has pointed out in his study of the papacy, Pius believed to the end that he might act as an intermediary to bring about peace, and that if the Holy See was to maintain diplomatic relations with both sides, it had to remain impartial. According to Josef Müller, the German conspirators urged the pope not to condemn the Nazis because doing so would have made German Catholics “even more suspected than they were and would have greatly restricted their freedom of action in their work of resistance.” This claim was recorded by U.S. Ambassador Harold Tittmann after dinner with Müller in Rome in June 1945, long before the Hochhuth controversy and a perceived need to shield the pope from criticism. Pius sympathized with efforts to assist Jews, but viewed the decision of whether to do so as a prudential one best left to individuals. In March 1943 the archbishop of Berlin, Konrad von Preysing, wrote that deportations of Jews were recommencing from his diocese and their likely fate was death. “Would it not be possible,” he asked, “for your Holiness to try once again to intervene for these many unfortunate innocents?” On April 30 the pope replied that he would not speak out, but encouraged pastors “on the spot” to judge whether “the danger of reprisals...counsel restraint...in order to avoid greater evils.” It was consoling, he continued, to learn “that Catholics, notably in Berlin, had manifested great Christian charity toward the sufferings of non-Aryans.” He expressed special “paternal gratitude and profound sympathy” for Msgr. Bernard Lichtenberg, provost at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, languishing in prison for criticizing Nazi racism from the pulpit.It’s possible that the retribution against Dutch converts in 1942 had made Pius hesitate to speak as openly as Lichtenberg (soon to die while being transported to Dachau). Yet one can’t help noting the pope’s continued use of anodyne idioms of diplomacy, designed not to offend Nazi Germany, even in private communications. He wrote Preysing that “Our paternal love and solicitude are greater today toward non-Aryan or semi-Aryan Catholics, children of the church like the others, when their outward existence is collapsing and they are going through moral distress.” In Years of Extermination, historian Saul Friedländer notes that “‘moral distress’ and the collapse of ‘outward existence’ were not exactly the right terms” for the fate of the Jews under Hitler. And indeed, the pope’s inability to summon outrage in intimate communication suggests precisely the kind of self-censorship that occurs under totalitarian regimes. It’s clear that the pope was aware of a problem: his note to Preysing was meant to justify what appeared to be scanty public criticism. But again, given the inaccessible nature of closed Vatican archives, we have no definitive insight into what Pius was thinking. JACQUES KORNBERG'S WAY AROUND this problem in The Pope’s Dilemma is to assess Pius’s behavior within patterns established by earlier popes operating among contending and sometimes warring European states. In World War I, Benedict XV condemned aggression but pointedly not aggressors, a careful stance adopted not only in order to facilitate peace, but also because Catholics fought on both sides and the Vatican feared that partiality would divide the church and hamper its efforts to mediate the salvation of all humans. The trend continued under Pius XI, who knew of the injustices of French occupation of the German Ruhr, and of Italian aggression in North Africa, but did not condemn them. Where Nazism was concerned, he worried that open censure might cause Hitler to take the church out of Germany as Henry VIII had taken it out of England. But now comes the hard part for Kornberg’s argument. If one acknowledges such a well-established concern for the church’s unity, what is the basis for a harsh judgment of the papacy? A letter Kornberg himself published in the New York Review of Books in October 1989 makes precisely this point, calling it “preposterous to suggest that Pius XII would have tested the faith of German Catholics by launching a campaign against anti-Semitism.” Kornberg was responding to Conor Cruise O’Brien’s idea that a papal critique might have averted the Holocaust. “O’Brien’s might-have-been,” Kornberg continued in 1989,disregards the papacy’s practical concern with maintaining religious institutions, based on its view of the church as the necessary channel for grace and salvation. Clearly this took priority over promoting Christian love, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. The role cast for the papacy as humanity’s courageous moral conscience in a time of crisis is a recent phenomenon, perhaps in part a reaction to twentieth-century horrors. If a pope ever took up this challenge, he would rank as even more of an innovator than Gorbachev.And yet in his current book Kornberg does more than regret that the pope was not a visionary; he accuses him of “moral failure,” even of acquiescence to murder. He writes that the pope “could have promoted a more benign view of Judaism, at a time of extreme Jewish distress,” but that “he chose not to do so.” Yet Kornberg has no more internal evidence of Pius’s choices than Riebling does. Kornberg wishes the pope had gone beyond simple lament and called for “action” against Hitler. But what kind of action could have stopped Hitler? Violence? That’s hardly something a modern pope can call for. And so Kornberg seems as much a victim of wishful thinking as O’Brien. Indeed, the example he cites—Gorbachev, who until the very moment he was ousted in the summer of 1991 believed that through some brilliant innovation or reform, Leninism could be squared with democracy—reminds us that even astute reformers cannot suddenly jump out of the shadow of their assumptions. And Pius was neither an innovator nor a reformer, but, as Paul O’Shea calls him in A Cross Too Heavy, an “intelligent and highly educated conservative Tridentine Catholic.”Kornberg’s lament over the papacy’s “moral failure” is only part of his compelling, lucid, and highly learned argument. Probing the mental barriers that limited the popes—the “historical context” that shaped their choices—The Pope’s Dilemma delineates a tradition, going back to Augustine, in which Catholicism stressed human weakness and the absolute need for salvation mediated by the church. Avoiding extremes like Jansenism, the church learned to “compromise with human nature as it was,” Kornberg writes, and it tolerated nationalist readings of Christianity, by which “clergy everywhere made God a steadfast ally of their own nation at war.” The state was respected for guaranteeing space within which the church could operate, disdaining politics while abhorring the room that “pluralism” left for theological error. For his part, unimpressed by the virtues of democracy, Pius XII hoped to restore a medieval Christian commonwealth, with a “unity of faith, custom, and morals.” The popes of the interwar years had arrayed a Catholic militancy against forces of secularization; the church, Pius XI told French pilgrims in 1938, had the “right and duty to claim total control over the individual.” The evangelization went hand in hand with a cult inflating the pope’s self-image to extraordinary dimensions. “Who of you can suffer,” Pius asked a Polish delegation in 1939, “without me suffering with him?” In Kornberg’s view, this self-assigned infallibility conduced to the cynicism of a “divine institution” that constantly created alibis for being less than divine. This returns us to the papacy’s concern for appearance, for seeming to have spoken out when in fact it had not. In a private meeting of October 1941 with Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future John XXIII, Pius had worried how his “inaction” on Nazi mistreatment of the Jews would be perceived abroad. Korn-berg thinks such concerns for appearance were an end in themselves. For example, in April 1943 papal undersecretary of state Domenico Tardini recommended papal intervention with Slovakia to stop deportations. But he wanted the note leaked in order to deflect responsibility from the church in case the effort failed. Kornberg writes that Tardini “assumed this empty gesture would win high praise.”My sense is that operations in the Vatican were messier. Tardini wanted the church to put on a good face, true; but what institution is not concerned about its appearance? At the same time, it seems clear that Tardini—a respected figure—sincerely wanted to help, and may have judged that arguments about losing face would help win over skeptics in the hierarchy. In the event, thanks to the efforts of Nuncio Burzio and the remarkable Sr. Margit Slachta in Bratislava, a letter was produced, and helped halt planned deportations. BY WAY OF accounting for the changing view of Pius over the decades, Kornberg credits a radical shift in the church after World War II—toward respect for the autonomy of the individual’s conscience, toward faith in the spiritual gifts residing with individual believers, and toward a recognition that the church, in Karl Rahner’s words, was both sinful and holy, from top to bottom. It was a shift both exemplified and ratified by Vatican II, but anticipation of it long predates the council, and even World War II itself. On April 1, 1933, State Secretary Pacelli met with his boss, Pius XI, to discuss news from Germany, where the newly installed government had launched a boycott of Jewish businesses. Pacelli made a note: “The day may come when we will have to be able to say that something was done about this matter.” At the time, the church still taught (non-magisterially) that Jews were fated to suffer for rejecting Christ; indeed, just a few years prior, Pius XI had closed down a society within the church that advocated improved relations with Jews. Still, it seems, Pacelli anticipated these assumptions one day being overshadowed by larger truths. In a time just beyond the horizon, people would ask the church: Where were you? Such prescient moral intuition helps explain why Pius XII became a figure of such compelling and even crucial historical significance, and why what he said and did—and did not say and do—sparks such ambivalence today, and remains so polarizing. Who can generate more passion—whether among those damning or defending him—than Pacelli?In 1942 the editors of the New York Times read the twenty-six-page papal Christmas message with tremendous care and concluded as follows:When a leader bound impartially to nations on both sides condemns as heresy the new form of national state which subordinates everything to itself; when he declares that whoever wants peace must protect against “arbitrary attacks” the “juridical safety of individuals”; when he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no other reason than race or political opinion; when he says that people must fight for a just and decent peace, a “total peace”—the impartial judgment is like a verdict in a high court of justice.Yet many in our day insist that the pope’s Christmas message was insufficient.The important truth is that criticisms of Pius XII go far beyond concern over one man’s failings or one institution’s hypocrisies. The list of governments, organizations, and leaders who have either traduced sworn obligations or failed in high callings is endless, from democracy and liberal nationalism to all brands of socialism, from leaders of charities to banks to great armies. Somehow, however, the papacy stands apart. Saul Friedländer writes that the popes exposed themselves to uniquely probing assessments because their claim was one of “moral witnessing” and not merely protecting “institutional interests.”These words are important for gauging Kornberg’s own standards. “As a universal moral authority,” he asserts in his book’s conclusion, “an immense gap existed between [Pius XII’s] claims and reality.” That gap is particularly glaring and dismaying because “Catholic traditions had always revered the memory of its martyrs.” Kornberg seems to imply that Pius should have given up his life. If so, of what other institution, religious or secular, would an outsider conceivably write such a thing?Kornberg might argue that he is only granting the truth of what some inside the church had already said. He mentions the diaries of the unfortunately little known German Catholic anti-Nazi Theodor Haecker, who wrote in 1940 that the Vatican had forgotten that Peter was not only bishop of Rome, but also a martyr. And he might also have cited Konrad Adenauer, who regretted after the war that bishops had not been put in concentration camps as a result of their Christian witness.Still, there is something remarkable about the conclusion Kornberg reaches. What The Pope’s Dilemma tells us, despite all the disdain its author has gathered for the Vatican over decades of meticulous study, is that it’s good when Catholics go to their deaths in witness to their faith. Kornberg is suggesting that if this witness was worth dying for, it was worth living for. This in itself is a kind of faith, shared by authors ranging from Dalin and Riebling to Kornberg, Cornwell, O’Brien, and many others. It is a faith that popes and bishops and countless prelates over many centuries have failed to shake.
disregards the papacy’s practical concern with maintaining religious institutions, based on its view of the church as the necessary channel for grace and salvation. Clearly this took priority over promoting Christian love, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. The role cast for the papacy as humanity’s courageous moral conscience in a time of crisis is a recent phenomenon, perhaps in part a reaction to twentieth-century horrors. If a pope ever took up this challenge, he would rank as even more of an innovator than Gorbachev.
When a leader bound impartially to nations on both sides condemns as heresy the new form of national state which subordinates everything to itself; when he declares that whoever wants peace must protect against “arbitrary attacks” the “juridical safety of individuals”; when he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no other reason than race or political opinion; when he says that people must fight for a just and decent peace, a “total peace”—the impartial judgment is like a verdict in a high court of justice.
Feb 27 17 7:42 AM
Steven Spielberg movie to examine notorious Catholic kidnapping of Jewish boyBOLOGNA, Italy (RNS) It was a heart-wrenching story that bitterly divided Catholics and Jews in Italy and provoked an international scandal more than 150 years ago.Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish boy from Bologna, was secretly baptized by a maid when he fell ill and then forcibly removed from his family in 1858 at age 6 and raised as a Catholic with the blessing of Pope Pius IX.Now Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg is making a film about the ill-fated battle by Mortara’s parents for the return of their son, who eventually became a priest. Oscar Isaac will play the adult Mortara and Mark Rylance has been cast as Pius; Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay.Spielberg has been scouring the world for the right child actor to play the role of Mortara, and the film is certain to cast fresh light on this controversial real-life drama when it is released.There is already speculation about how the movie will impact relations between the Vatican and the Jewish community at a time when Pope Francis has been a great promoter of religious dialogue.Seated in his office above Bologna’s main synagogue, the city’s chief rabbi, Alberto Sermoneta, said Mortara’s story is worth remembering.“It is a symbol of the forced conversion that was done at the time,” Sermoneta told Religion News Service. “The spiritual leaders of that era breached human rights and the laws of nature by removing that child from his family. When I was a child at Jewish school, we all studied the Mortara case. It is shocking.”For centuries, Bologna had a thriving Jewish community with strong links to the city’s university, the oldest in the world. The city once boasted 11 synagogues and was also known for its Talmudic academies.Under a papal decree issued in 1555, the Jews were forced to live in a ghetto as they did elsewhere in Italy, and in the decades that followed hundreds were expelled from Bologna for 200 years.At the time of the Mortara kidnapping, Bologna was a papal state under the control of the Vatican.Today, Sermoneta said, the community has good relations with the Catholic Church and the rabbi calls himself a friend of Bologna’s current archbishop, Matteo Zuppi.Still, reckoning with the past is important for Sermoneta, whose aunt and three cousins were killed at Auschwitz.“I believe Spielberg will show the reality of what happened to Mortara,” he said. “And it is right for that to be done so people see the mistakes that were made.”Creating dialogue with other faiths has been a priority for Pope Francis since his election four years ago.Francis invited then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray for peace with him at a historic meeting at the Vatican in 2014 and called for Jews and Catholics to work together for peace during an emotional visit to the Rome synagogue in January last year.On Thursday (Feb. 23), the pope received a group of rabbis at the Vatican, including his longtime friend from Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who presented him with a new edition of the Torah.“The fraternal and institutional dialogue between Jews and Christians is now well-established and effective, through ongoing and collaborative discussion,” the pope told the rabbis. “The gift that you are giving me today is very much a part of this dialogue.”Earlier this week, the Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum of Rome announced their first-ever joint exhibition on the history of the menorah, the Jewish symbol, which has also inspired Christian artworks and sculptures.Asked about the Mortara case at the exhibition launch, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Swiss cardinal in charge of the Vatican body responsible for promoting Christian unity, said it had little relevance to relations between Jews and Catholics now.“That’s an historic event,” he told RNS. “It has nothing to do with relations today.”But Riccardo Di Segni, Rome’s chief rabbi, said the case meant a great deal to Jews and Spielberg’s film would create greater awareness about a personal story that had captured worldwide attention in the 19th century as well as forced conversions.“It became a huge political issue and a symbol of how the Catholic Church was resistant to the idea of freedom and religious coexistence,” Di Segni said.For Italian Jews, another memorable case was that of 11-year-old Giuseppe Coen, who was removed from his family in Rome in 1864.“For us there have been many cases like Mortara, dozens of cases, but that case became the symbol,” said Di Segni.The boy’s removal provoked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic and the case became a cause célèbre for Jews and Protestant Christians. Amid a lengthy legal struggle and diplomatic overtures to have the boy returned, there was plenty of press coverage of the case at the time. The New York Times published more than 20 articles on it.“It showed the church could not continue to operate on the basis of medieval laws and it was a violation of human rights and our concept of the family,” said Lucio Pardo, former president of Bologna’s Jewish community.“It stole Mortara’s adolescence, his father died of a broken heart and the family was destroyed.”Mortara eventually became a priest and fled Rome rather than return to his family. He died in an abbey in Belgium in 1940.
Mar 20 17 10:57 AM
The original title and presentation of a colloquium organized by the Associazione Biblica Italiana (ABI - with membership of c. 800 Biblical scholars and professors, recognized by CEI - Italy’s Episcopal Conference) scheduled for September has caused indignant comments amongst the Italian rabbinate: “The People of a Jealous God (cf. Ex 34,14): coherence and ambivalence of an elitist religion” was the original title which has since been removed and replaced. The term, “elitist religion” was transformed into “the religion of ancient Israel (“The People of a jealous God (cf. Ex 34,14) coherence and ambivalence of the religion of ancient Israel”.) The original introduction has also been removed and replaced on the ABI site following the protests of the Italian rabbis. The most articulate and detailed reaction was written by Giuseppe Laras, the esteemed President Emeritus of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly and former Chief Rabbi of Milan, known among other things for his engagement and belief in interreligious dialogue and his participation for years in public theological discussions with the former Cardinal of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, who was so deeply committed to Catholic-Jewish relations. The ABI Colloquium’s vanished first introduction contained some startling statements, presented as facts, or more precisely as foregone conclusions instead of actual hypotheses to be proven, as scientific methodology would normally require. The introduction states: “The choice of the topic of this colloquium, contrary to the usual, is inspired by the contemporary panorama of a return to religion with absolutist and intolerant accents… This may represent defeat for a modern critical spirit through which the traditional religion was developed and enriched, but poses the problem of attentive consideration regarding the possible roots of a religion which in its structuring can give rise to manifestations considered degenerate. …We have chosen to begin with an initial hypothesis: at the basis is the process through which Yhwh, from a subordinate divinity … gradually became the exclusive divinity of a people who, in an elitist manner, believe themselves to be his unique possession.” And further, “…a people that believe themselves to belong in an elitist manner to a unique divinity has determined a sense of superiority of their religion and led them to trace borders of separation from other peoples…:” The “ambivalence” to which the title refers is the coexistence of particularism and universalism in the “religion of ancient Israel” (with no reference to contemporary Judaism), and the ambiguity of the coexistence of a “jealous God” with the possibility of free choice. The introduction states that it wants to “avoid the impression of wanting to speak of the religion of the Ancient Testament in a negative light. The intention, instead, is to supply useful elements for verifying how the problematics emerging from this religion appear again in other religious systems and discover whether ambiguity is intrinsic only to the Ancient Testament texts or is found instead (or also) in the interpretations of the subsequent traditions.” It can be deduced that the intent is to discover (or prove?) that the “ancient” Jewish religion as expressed in the texts of the Jewish Bible produced Fundamentalism within Judaism but is also at the base of Christian and above all, Islamic Fundamentalism. The first, most elementary observation is that these texts were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, languages in which every word embodies layers of different meanings, and that the living Jewish religion is based on the multiple comments of rabbis through the centuries, discussing different points of view in study sessions that cast constantly changing new light on interpretations. Biblical scholars who are not aware that this method is by nature anti-fundamentalist and anti-absolutist, and that the Jewish method of searching for mutations of divine truths leads to ever renewed doubts and re-examination in each generation, have not understood the basic essence of the religion they plan to study. The proposed colloquium is defined as “scientific”, but Biblical studies cannot be undertaken in a specialized vacuum and still be considered scientific. Interdisciplinary research (such as theological, linguistic, anthropological, etc.), and historical context are of prime importance. In past centuries, Catholic studies of the Jewish religion were strongly biased because they were based on theological prejudices and “the teaching of contempt” where the absurd “deicide” accusation (banned from Church teaching only with the Vatican II’s ‘Nostra Aetate, No. 4’ document in 1965) furthered the anti-Semitism that resulted in persecutions, pogroms and the substrata of hate that facilitated the Shoah. Without a historical perspective to throw light on the mutable meanings and interpretations of religion through the ages we grope around in the dark and arrive at mendacious conclusions. Yet in the past half century the Catholic Church has produced invaluable documents for educational purposes, which should really be taken off the shelves, remembered, studied, and applied, to avoid conflictual situations such as that provoked by this ABI Venice Colloquium outline. The post Vatican II documents of the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, based on “Nostra Aetate” are largely a result of the ongoing dialogue between Catholic and Jewish representatives of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee. They offer specific advice that, if applied as meant to be, would lead to a rewriting of this colloquium from scratch. They are invaluable tools for combating the theological anti-Semitism that arises in every new generation if the Gospel and Magisterium are not taught in their historical context. In Rabbi Laras’ extenuous analysis of what he finds are steps backward in the Jewish – Catholic dialogue and a sadly decreased sensitivity to theological anti-Judaism evidenced in this description of the ABI Colloquium, he also points to Pope Francis’ homilies as ignoring the vital advice contained in these documents produced by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. Laras refers to “the resumption of the old polarization between the morality and theology of the Hebrew Bible and of pharisaism, and Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels”, used by Francis metaphorically to illustrate hypocritical behavior in today’s society and within the Church itself. This is a very sensitive issue since Francis is generally so highly considered and beloved by Jewish people. Jewish representatives and friends, while loth to criticize him, have nevertheless made him aware of this problem from various sources on various occasions, but apparently he does not realize the potential damage that these homilies can cause. Rabbi Laras writes, “I know very well that the official documents of the Catholic Church are thought to have reached points of no return. What a shame that they should be contradicted on a daily basis by the homilies of the pontiff, who employs precisely the old, inveterate structure and its expressions, dissolving the contents of the aforementioned documents. “One need think only of the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ recently evoked by the Pope carelessly and mistakenly, in which instead, through it, interpreting it for millennia, also at the time of Jesus, Judaism replaced retaliation with reparation, making the guilty party pay what would now be called damages, for both physical and psychological harm. And all of this many centuries before the highly civilized (Christian?) Europe would address these issues. Was the argument of what is called the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ not perhaps through the centuries a warhorse of anti-Judaism on the Christian side, with a clearly defined story of its own?” Yet the Vatican documents regarding Catholic-Jewish relations are indeed a treasure of guidelines for the principles governing successful dialogue. The Introduction to the 1985 “Notes on the Correct Way of presenting Judaism in Teaching and Preaching” document refers once again to the important instruction of the 1974 “Guidelines and Suggestions for implementing the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate (4)” which “tried to define the fundamental condition of dialogue: ‘respect for the other as he is’, knowledge of the ‘basic components of the religious traditions of Judaism’ and again learning ‘by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience’ … due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church”, it states. Chapter III of the “Guidelines” document on “Teaching and education” lists a number of practical things to be done, with this recommendation: “Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following: catechisms and religious textbooks; history books; the mass media (press, radio, cinema, television).” (To this one might well add “and Biblical colloquiums”!) “The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries and universities” (AAS 77, 1975, p. 73).” continues the document. Significantly, it then states, “ The paragraphs which follow are intended to serve this purpose. - the singularity of the people of the Old Testament is not exclusive and is open, in the divine vision, to a universal extension; - the uniqueness of the Jewish people is meant to have the force of an example.” (emphasis added) This last statement is particularly relevant to our present discussion, since, certain key concepts, such as that of the “election” of the Jewish people, are so often misunderstood. The true religious meaning of this term does not imply a state of “superiority” or privilege, (as we are led to believe in the original introduction to the Colloquium, which stated that “thinking of oneself as a people belonging in an elitist way to a unique divinity has determined a sense of the superiority of one’s own religion,” opening the door to possible fundamentalist, absolutist tendencies. For Jewish self-understanding, to be “chosen” or “elected”, implies the duty and obligation of setting an example, for the sake of all humanity. As is well put in the Vatican document, here the ”uniqueness” of the Jewish people implies a mission of universality. The Vatican document also mentions (6), “finally, work that is of poor quality and lacking in precision would be extremely detrimental” to Judaeo-Christian dialogue (John Paul II, speech of March 6th, 1982). But it would be above all detrimental - since we are talking of teaching and education - to Christian identity”. In an interview published by “Avvenire”,the President of ABI, Prof. Luca Mazzinghi explained that the title of the Colloquium referred to “an underlying ambivalence, the relationship between the jealous God and human freedom: to what extent the ’jealousy’ of God could demean human freedom. It is an ambivalence that is, in fact, behind every system of religion, including Christianity (as we address in our second conference)”” He strongly rejected accusations that the conference program expressed anti-Semitic attitudes: “The fact that some have interpreted the key theme of the conference as anti-Jewish goes against all our intentions. I say this very forcefully. Any shadow of anti-Semitism, which we repudiate in the strongest terms, has always been absent from our Association. I add that many of our members are personally committed to the Jewish-Christian dialogue. Personally, as a Christian, I’ve always taught my students love for the Jewish people and its Scriptures.” Perhaps what is needed most today is to refresh our knowledge of Christian-Jewish history and to require seminarians, university students and teachers to brush up on the relevant documents.
Apr 26 17 6:25 AM
Was the Pope Wrong to Compare Refugee Centers to Concentration Camps?Until last weekend, Pope Francis earned nothing but praise from the American Jewish Committee. But when the pope, speaking off the cuff, likened European migrant and refugee holding centers to concentration camps, the advocacy group’s response was swift and sharp.“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” said David Harris, the committee’s chief executive. “The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II. There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”As a Jewish convert to Catholicism, I sympathize with the committee’s desire to guard against comparisons that would risk minimizing the Nazis’ appalling crimes. Even so, it seems to me that Mr. Harris, in urging the pope to use “precision of language,” could use some precision himself.Calling the living conditions at sites such as Moria, the place on the Greek island of Lesbos that Francis called a “concentration camp,” merely “difficult” diminishes the gravely inhumane treatment that men, women and children are suffering for no other crime than wanting freedom and a better life. It fails to acknowledge the hopelessness at places like Australia’s island prisons for migrants where, as Roger Cohen wrote in The New York Times, “human beings have been left to fester, crack up and die.”And to be honest, are parallels between Europe’s treatment of migrants and the Nazis’ treatment of Jews and other persecuted populations during World War II really such a stretch? In late 2015, The Times reported that, while the migrant crisis “is no genocide,” not since the “Jews were rounded up by Nazi Germany have there been as many images coming out of Europe of people locked into trains, babies handed over barbed wire, men in military gear herding large crowds of bedraggled men, women and children.”The situation today is no less distressing. In January, Moria saw a spate of deaths as tents collapsed under heavy snowfall at the overcrowded camp.To be fair, it’s not as though Mr. Harris is unaware of the plight of refugees. The American Jewish Committee is among the leading supporters of IsraAID, which brings together Israeli Jews and Arabs to provide volunteers and medical help to migrants and refugees, including those at Moria. And when President Trump signed executive orders in January authorizing construction of the wall on the Mexican border and blocking the admission of refugees from countries of terror concern, Mr. Harris joined other leaders of faith groups — including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — in condemning the move.No serious observer can question Pope Francis’ sensitivity to Jewish concerns. Indeed, in the words of Rabbi David Rosen, the committee’s international director of religious affairs, “There has never been a pope with as deep an understanding of Jews as Pope Francis.” Certainly the pope is not above criticism, and the committee has the duty to defend Jewish values. But the context of Francis’ remarks make it clear that the pope — who last year met with Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz — had no intention of minimizing Nazi atrocities. He was simply doing what he has been doing for as long as we have known him: urging not only Catholics but the world at large to open their eyes to the needs of the suffering.In a letter written as archbishop of Buenos Aires, one year before he became pope, Francis warned that “one of the greatest dangers we face is a feeling of complacency, of becoming desensitized to the world around us.” On the other hand, he added, “there are moments that shock us out of our unhealthy complacency and set us on the brink of reality, which always challenges us a bit more.”Francis’ remarks on refugee camps are indeed shocking, but they are shocking for a purpose: to challenge the world, and every one of us personally, to take action for the good of souls and bodies. The American Jewish Committee, and all people of good will, should rise to the pope’s challenge with collaboration, not condemnation.
May 2 17 6:14 AM
Revolutionary Vatican Declaration on Jewish Relations Translated to HebrewA Vatican document which revolutionized Catholic attitudes towards the Jewish religion 50 years ago has been translated into Hebrew for the first time, bringing renewed hopes that the message will spread and influence Jewish-Christian relations today.The translated Nostra Aetate (Latin for “In our Time”) was presented to President Reuven Rivlin at a Jerusalem ceremony on March 21. The document, known as the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions”, was originally adopted by bishops present at the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965.This document is a formal declaration by the Catholic Church regarding the way Christianity views people of other religions.It acknowledges the singular origin of all humans and that all people seeking affinity with God have a similar goal. With regard to Jews, the document states “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God” and states that anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Additionally, it states that Jews, as a people, cannot historically be held responsible for the death of Jesus.“The translation of this ground-breaking document will enable Israelis and other Hebrew speakers to better understand just how far the Catholic Church has come in its desire to promote religious tolerance in the world,” commented Roni Segal, academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, an online language academy, to Breaking Israel News.“As more people learn Hebrew and study ancient Jewish texts, the chances of putting the message of the Nostra Aetate into practice will only increase.”Though a crucial document for Christian-Jewish relations, the Latin Nostra Aetate goes largely unknown. Aside from religion scholars, few have even heard of the document. Jews are perhaps even more clueless about it than many Christian laymen, thus creating the need for the document to be translated into Hebrew. Professor Dina Porat of the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University led the project to translate this work into Hebrew, as well as other related documents concerning the relationship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church. Her book, published in 2015, brought the Nostra Aetate to light 50 years after it was originally written.By presenting the book to President Rivlin in the presence of Christian dignitaries and religious leaders, Porat hopes that the Vatican’s message will be put into practice.An expert on the Holocaust and on the topic of anti-Semitism, Porat recently lead a team of Tel Aviv researchers who found that there was a 45 percent increase of anti-Semitic instances on US university campuses in 2016. Her ongoing concern about modern day anti-Semitism and her drive to study and educate about the Holocaust led to the translation of the Nostra Aetate.Religious scholars, rabbis and other clergy attended the ceremony hosted by Rivlin. Among the honorable guests were Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa; an expert on Jewish-Christian relations and International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi David Rosen; Italian Ambassador to Israel, the Papal Nuncio, and Israel’s Ambassador to the Vatican.Describing the contents of the translated book, Porat explained, “So that the picture would be as full as possible, we also included speeches by the Pope and his two predecessors; speeches given in the Great Synagogue in Rome, the notes they placed in the Western Wall, and conversely speeches in Yad Vashem, and in Auschwitz – we also translated them all. They are all written in a warm and respectful language toward the Jewish people.”With Hebrew being a more commonly accessible language than Latin, Jews and non-Jews alike now have the opportunity to study the Nostra Aetate. President Rivlin referred to the document as revolutionary and attached great value to its translation into Hebrew.“Unfortunately, 50 years [after this document was published] this revolution is still silent,” said Rivlin. “Most of the Jews in Israel and around the world know very little about this deep change regarding the Jewish faith, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. And, being honest, I am not sure how many Christians around the world know about this important process. I hope this book will help more than a little, by ensuring Hebrew readers know more and understand better the Catholic Church and its followers.”
May 10 17 4:57 AM
Is the Pope ‘Anti-Jewish’?No, but Here Is Why His Critics Think SoAlthough great progress has been made in the past fifty years in Catholic-Jewish relations, there remains an underlying fragility. Not surprisingly, reflexes that developed over centuries of estrangement do not disappear after a few decades. Two distinct but interrelated Italian controversies demonstrate this.Tensions flared when the Italian Biblical Association (ABI) publicized two conferences to be held this coming September. The title of the first was announced as “Israel, People of a Jealous God: Consistencies and Ambiguities of an Elitist Religion.” The conference description noted that today “there is a return to religion with absolutist and intolerant accents.” Consequently, the conference would explore how the God of Israel developed “from a subordinate divinity [to gradually become] the exclusive deity of a people who, in an elitist manner, believe[d] themselves to be his unique possession,” and hence superior to other people. Evidently, the conference organizers were interested in how fundamentalism arises in all three Abrahamic traditions. Unfortunately, their phrasing echoed a long-lived polemic that contrasted an enlightened Christian universalism with a narrow Jewish particularism. The most prominent critic was Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, the former chief rabbi of Milan and president emeritus of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly. A letter of protest was sent, not to the officers of the ABI, but to various Vatican officials and personnel and to the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The letter lamented a persistent “undercurrent of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism.” It accused the ABI of promoting the attitude that regards Jews as “execrable, expendable, and sacrificeable” and encourages a “resumption of the old polarization between the morality and theology of the Hebrew Bible and of Pharisaism, and Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels.”The letter also blamed Pope Francis for encouraging a revival of Marcionism (the ancient heresy in which the “jealous God” of the Old Testament is contrasted with the loving God of the New). After acknowledging that post–Vatican II church statements have repudiated such invidious comparisons, the letter continued: “What a shame that they should be contradicted on a daily basis by the homilies of the pontiff.... One need think only of the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ recently evoked by the pope carelessly and mistakenly...[recalling] anti-Judaism on the Christian side.”Reactions quickly appeared from various quarters. The president of the ABI, Professor Don Luca Mazzinghi, denied Laras’s accusations. “The idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible is different in some way from the God of the New Testament is absurd and offensive,” he said. “It is even more the case for us who study and work on the two Testaments that the God whom Jesus called ‘Father’ is the same as the God of Israel, the people God has chosen and whom Jesus is part of.” He forcefully declared, “Any shadow of anti-Semitism, which we repudiate in the strongest terms, has always been absent from our Association.”Announcing that the description of the ABI conference had been revised to stress that the relevant topics applied to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Mazzinghi also noted that the conference title had been changed to “People of a ‘Jealous God’ (cf. Exodus 34:14): Consistencies and Ambivalences of the Religion of Ancient Israel.” He expressed confidence that ongoing dialogue would overcome allegations from critics that had lost “all sense of proportion.”Indeed, that seems a likely outcome as conversations continue among the Jewish community, the Italian Bishops’ Conference, and the ABI.Bringing some of the pope’s homilies into the dispute, however, provided an occasion for some within the Catholic community to discredit him. A Matthew Schmitz essay in First Things (“Rabbi Objects to Pope Francis’s Anti-Jewish Rhetoric”) accused Pope Francis of “anti-Jewish rhetoric,” saying that “too many authoritative Christian voices—both bishops and theologians” have excused it for too long. The Catholic World Report ran an article by Peter M. J. Stravinkas, asking if Francis was guilty of “Papal Anti-Judaism?” It opined that the pope has said “over and over again that he is no theologian and that he doesn’t care much for theology...that [is the] attitude which has caused so much damage in this pontificate.” (Both First Things and Catholic World Report are, incidentally, conservative outfits that publish authors who have no love lost for Pope Francis.)Since the pontiff is widely known for his close friendships with Jews in his native Argentina, and even co-wrote a book with Rabbi Abraham Skorka on their dialogues over the years, what was the basis of Rabbi Laras’s critique of the pope?Depending on the daily lectionary readings, Pope Francis does have a habit of uncritically repeating Gospel polemics against various Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day. This most often happens in the daily homilies he delivers in Domus Santa Marta in the Vatican. In a recent reflection, for example, he spoke of the Temple high priests as manifesting “arrogance and tyranny toward the people” by manipulating the law:But a law that they have remade many times: so many times, to the point that they had arrived at 500 [sic] commandments. Everything was regulated, everything! A law scientifically constructed, because this people was wise, they understood well. They made all these nuances, no? But it was a law without memory: they had forgotten the First Commandment, which God had given to our father Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” They did not walk: they always stopped in their own convictions. They were not blameless!A listener or reader could readily be excused for wondering if the pope saw Judaism in the time of Jesus as heartlessly legalistic because of its focus on the Torah. Might that hold true for Jewish spirituality today as well?Similarly, when preaching on the woman caught in adultery in John’s Gospel, Francis remarked about the Pharisees: “they thought they were pure because they observed the law...but they did not know mercy.... The description used by Jesus for them is hypocrites: they had double standards.” Rabbi Laras was correct in asserting that postconciliar documents issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews caution against such use of Gospel polemics. Its 1985 instruction on how to present Jews in preaching and education, for instance, noted that “The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work.... [S]ome references hostile or less than favorable to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish relations long after the time of Jesus.” In particular, the commission stressed that the Pharisees—widely understood to have been the precursors of rabbinic Judaism—shared with Jesus many defining convictions: “the resurrection of the body; forms of piety, like almsgiving, prayer, fasting (Matthew 6:1–18) and the liturgical practice of addressing God as Father; [and] the priority of the commandment to love God and our neighbor (Mark 12:28–34).”Does this mean that Pope Francis harbors “anti-Jewish” attitudes? To answer that question we need to understand the pope’s homiletic purpose in using polemical Gospel texts in this way. In no case does he criticize either Judaism as a religious tradition or Jews today. Rather, he invites Christians to examine their own consciences. In particular, he deploys the harsh and sweeping rhetoric of the New Testament against clericalism among Catholic priests and hierarchy. It is his fellow priests and bishops, not Jews, that he has in mind. In the homily cited above about the high priests, Francis went on to criticize “that spirit of clericalism,” found in the church today. “Clerics feel they are superior, they are far from the people; they have no time to hear the poor, the suffering, prisoners, the sick.... The evil of clericalism is a very ugly thing!... Today, too, Jesus says to all of us, and even to those who are seduced by clericalism: ‘The sinners and the prostitutes will go before you into the Kingdom of Heaven.’”It is regrettable that Pope Francis does not occasionally mention the affinity between Jesus and his Pharisaic contemporaries or simply attribute to only some of the scribes or Pharisees the human temptation to sanctimoniousness or arrogance. Without such caveats, he risks unintentionally reinforcing Christian caricatures of Judaism. However, this blind spot hardly amounts to “anti-Judaism,” particularly when he has elsewhere spoken eloquently and consistently about his love for the Jewish people and traditions.On the subject of Judaism’s Torah-centered spirituality, in February Francis greeted “Rabbi Abraham Skorka, brother and friend” on the occasion of being presented with a limited edition publication of a new illuminated volume of the Torah. “[We are] together today around the Torah as the Lord’s gift, his revelation, his word,” Francis said. “The Torah, which Saint John Paul II called ‘the living teaching of the living God,’ manifests the paternal and visceral love of God, a love shown in words and concrete gestures, a love that becomes covenant.”Although expressed in everyday speech, Francis also offered some profound reflections on the Torah to the International Council of Christians and Jews in 2015:The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra aetate (cf. no. 4), and upon this solid basis can be and must be developed yet further.The pontiff sees that since the Second Vatican Council, Jews and Catholics have undertaken a “journey of friendship,” which is why he wrote in Evangelii gaudium:Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word.In fact, during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia, Francis stopped briefly with his friend Rabbi Skorka to view an original sculpture by artist Joshua Koffman depicting exactly this concept. Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time, commissioned by Saint Joseph’s University to mark the golden jubilee of the conciliar declaration Nostra aetate, reverses medieval portrayals in which the feminine figure of the church triumphs over the defeated feminine figure of the synagogue. Francis blessed the new artwork in which two sisters of equal dignity enjoy studying their sacred texts together.Francis’s awareness of the long history of Christian oppression of Jews was also clearly evident when he wrote:I too have cultivated many friendships through the years with my Jewish brothers in Argentina and often while in prayer, as my mind turned to the terrible experience of the Shoah, I looked to God. What I can tell you, with Saint Paul, is that God has never neglected his faithfulness to the covenant...and that, through the awful trials of these last centuries, the Jews have preserved their faith in God. And for this, we, the church and the whole human family, can never be sufficiently grateful to them.There is an added poignancy to a pope expressing gratitude to Jews for remaining faithful to their covenantal life with God when one realizes that it was Christians who were oppressing them over “the last centuries.”It is clear that Pope Francis has great personal reverence for the Jewish people and tradition, for the Torah, and for the “journey of friendship” that Jews and Catholics have undertaken for more than fifty years. It is unfounded and unfair to accuse him of being “anti-Jewish” on the basis of a handful of ill-chosen comments intended as criticism of his own church. This kind of reproach seems grounded less in a concern for Catholic-Jewish relations than in broader critiques of Francis’s theology and style.Seen more broadly, these recent incidents demonstrate the constant, conscious effort that is needed to overcome the legacy of the painful past between Jews and Christians.
But a law that they have remade many times: so many times, to the point that they had arrived at 500 [sic] commandments. Everything was regulated, everything! A law scientifically constructed, because this people was wise, they understood well. They made all these nuances, no? But it was a law without memory: they had forgotten the First Commandment, which God had given to our father Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” They did not walk: they always stopped in their own convictions. They were not blameless!
The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra aetate (cf. no. 4), and upon this solid basis can be and must be developed yet further.
Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word.
I too have cultivated many friendships through the years with my Jewish brothers in Argentina and often while in prayer, as my mind turned to the terrible experience of the Shoah, I looked to God. What I can tell you, with Saint Paul, is that God has never neglected his faithfulness to the covenant...and that, through the awful trials of these last centuries, the Jews have preserved their faith in God. And for this, we, the church and the whole human family, can never be sufficiently grateful to them.
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