Monday, January 25, 2010

A pope, a rabbi, and a reporter walk into a synagogue…

In the past few weeks I've posted a few things about Christian-Jewish relations (1, 2, 3). Having stumbled upon in the same vein, I'd like to add to what I've already noted.

1) A theologian-pope sidelines theology (National Catholic Reporter, John L Allen Jr., 22 Jan., 2010):

…a striking paradox about the papacy of Benedict XVI … [is that he's] a true theologian-pope, yet a core element of his legacy will be to sideline theology as the focus of Catholicism's engagement with other religions. Another chapter was added to that legacy this week with the pontiff's Jan. 17 visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, the first time a pope made the trip since John Paul II's groundbreaking visit in 1986.

Understandably, media attention was concentrated on debates over Pope Pius XII, the wartime pontiff whose alleged "silence" on the Holocaust is among the most polarizing issues in Catholic-Jewish relations. In late December, the Vatican announced that Benedict XVI had signed a decree of heroic virtue for Pius, moving him a step closer to sainthood.

On that score, the visit seemed to mark the birth of a new star in the Jewish world: Riccardo Pacifici, President of the Jewish Community in Rome, who had the rare opportunity to challenge the pope in public. "The silence of Pius XII on the Holocaust is still painful," Pacifici said in a speech welcoming Benedict to the synagogue.

Yet a focus on what wags call the "Pius Wars" overlooks what is arguably the far more consequential element of Benedict's remarks last Sunday. In effect, Benedict blew past the doctrinal substructure of Catholic-Jewish relations in order to propose a new platform for political and social action. …

All this amounts to an application of what Benedict has described as a shift from "inter-religious" to "inter-cultural" dialogue. … "Interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible without [artificially] putting one's own faith into parentheses, while intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option … is both possible and urgent."

2) Making Sense of Benedict’s Jewish Policy (The Jewish Daily Forward, John Allen, Jr., 20 Jan. 2010):

By this stage, outsiders trying to make sense of Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to Jewish-Catholic relations might be forgiven for wondering if the pontiff suffers from an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia. …

Benedict’s top priority is internal, directed at the inner life of the Catholic Church. His aim is to restore a strong sense of traditional Catholic identity, in order to inoculate the church against infection by radical secularism.

As a result, when Benedict XVI says or does things that affect Judaism, the key is often to understand that he’s not really talking to Jews but to other Catholics.

Thus, Benedict’s decision to revive the old Latin Mass, including that infamous prayer for the conversion of Jews, was certainly not crafted as a statement about Judaism. Instead, Benedict sees the old Mass as a classic carrier of Catholic identity, an antidote to any tendency to secularize the church’s worship. Likewise, Benedict did not lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who believes the Nazis didn’t use gas chambers, to endorse their troubled history with antisemitism. Rather, he did so because the traditionalists act as a leaven in the church, fostering appreciation for the Catholic past — even if their ideas on some matters lie far from the pope’s own thinking.

The same point applies to Pius XII. In his own mind, Benedict is not honoring the “pope of silence,” but rather the last pope before the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), and hence a figure who represents continuity with Catholic tradition before the liberalizing currents unleashed by Vatican II.

One corollary of his concern with Catholic identity is that Benedict XVI, on his own terms, is strongly committed to good relations with Jews — as well as Muslims, and followers of other religions — because he sees them as natural allies in the struggle against secularism.

That insight helps explain what may otherwise seem an anomaly about Benedict’s January 17 speech at the Rome synagogue. This pope is, after all, an accomplished theologian, yet the doctrinal sections of the speech were largely repetitive, made up of quotations from Vatican II and John Paul II. The most original feature was instead Benedict’s notion of the Torah as the basis of a “great ethical code,” leading Jews and Christians into common efforts against forms of secularism that exclude religion from public life, and in favor of the right to life, the family, the poor, the environment and peace. That’s what Benedict means when he talks about a transition from “inter-religious” to “inter-cultural” dialogue, with the accent not on new theological breakthroughs but rather new alliances in the social, cultural and political spheres.

3) Much-maligned pontiff (, Dimitri Cavalli, 24 Jan., 2010):

… On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.

On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Anxiety"), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.

Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the "encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace." …

After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as pope." …

After studying Pius XII's 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: "In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order ... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."

Up until Pius XII's death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews ... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."

1 comment:

elysium said...

Jews of former times were never this way concerning the Church; indeed, they not only bore such great respect for the Catholic Church then but also gave but the highest praise to the figure of Pius XII.

I wonder how much of this fuming hostility towards Pius XII is more the result of the anti-Catholicism of the modern Jewish/Evangelical coalition than anything else:


"I’ve got a terrible confession to make – I don’t want to go to heaven. It’s not that I don’t relish rewards in the afterlife. It’s just that if Pope Pius XII is there, especially if exalted to saintly status by courtesy of his current Vatican successor, then in the immortal words of Huck Finn: “I can’t see no advantage in going where” the former Eugenio Pacelli purportedly went. Like Huck, I’d rather be where Tom Sawyer ends up, because with Tom there’s never any pious pretension of infallibility.

But in Pius’s case sanctimonious affectation enveloped profound immorality – like failing to advise staunch Catholics in Germany, Poland and elsewhere in Europe that it’s not nice to condemn people to extermination merely because they were born to Jewish parents. Characteristically Pius and his adherents proffered handy excuses – prime among them that Pius’s expedient “neutrality” saved his church from Nazi retribution (even if said church worships an altruistic self-sacrificing Christ)."


"Indeed, it would fulfill prophecy, just as Isaiah foresaw that "the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet" (Isaiah 60:14). Yet oddly, it has been Evangelical Christians - today the fastest-growing stream of Christianity worldwide - who have sought to fill that prophetic role by facing up to the Church's tragic legacy head-on. From our ranks, clergy and laymen alike have journeyed to Yad Vashem to profess the Christian world's corporate guilt for the church's dark history of anti-Semitism, including the Catholic Church, and to repent for these great moral failings.

This repentance has been honest, sincere and without condition. We have stood in humility, accepted the shame, and said "sorry", even though there is no history in our 400 year-old movement of Evangelical involvement in the sad chronicle of inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions and convert-or-die scenarios that repeatedly took aim at the Jewish people.

More than that, Evangelicals have set out to show forth the "fruits meet for repentance" by making restitution through the many acts of love and kindness we have carried out in Israel. "Sorry" is cheap without acts of contrition. Our experience is that this especially rings true for the Evangelical Christian communities of Europe. They may be smaller in number than American Evangelicals, but they know their own continent's history well and are often more motivated to undertake "Zionist acts" as a result. They not only plant trees in Israel, but they sponsor aliya flights, help build hospitals, feed needy families, support Holocaust education and so much more."