Pope John Paul II with Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Sheikh Taysir Tamimi at the Interfaith Gathering in Jerusalem in 2000. It was a disaster back then, and it was a disaster during Benedict's visit this year too.
"It's hard to imagine, but it's true that the Jews are not at the top of the agenda of everyone else in the world."This is about as Jewish-friendly a Catholic blog as you are likely to find anywhere.
-- Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Professor of Jewish studies at Bard College, commenting on the recent criticism of Pope Benedict coming from various Jewish sources
I've posted early and often here about the danger of resurgent anti-semitism, spoken of my appreciation for Nostra Aetate, taken issue with the tendency of certain Christian teachers to make caricatures out of Judaism as a religion of works-righteousness as they preach supersessionism, and I've welcomed the input of Jewish scholars as they've weighed in on the person of Jesus and on New Testament studies in general. I've been quick to raise criticism of the SSPX and the anti-semitism imbued within it, and when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications on the four SSPX bishops, I chewed him out loudly over it.
In other words, I haven't been shy about criticizing popes or some of the legacies of my own Church vis-a-vis Judaism. Nevertheless, I find that some of the criticism being directed at Pope Benedict after his recent remarks at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Center to be unfair and unsettling.
For example, he's been criticized for the "coldness" of his delivery and for saying that the victims were "killed" instead of "murdered." For saying that "millions" died instead of "six million," and so forth...
Well... he is what he is. It's true... for someone who was at least nominally a member of the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht, yes, you'd think he'd show a bit more sensitivity about these matters. We all know that John Paul did this sort of thing better than he does, and quite frankly, John Paul already did it on behalf of the Catholic Church.
Rabbi Neusner is right. Benedict cares about our relationship with Jews to be sure, but it's not at the top of his agenda. The crumbling Church is his main concern, as effective or ineffective as his own approach to that problem may be.
I hate to say it, but it seems that for some things it's just not possible to apologize enough. Just watching the sexual abuse scandal unfold in my own diocese, for example, I've seen that there are cases where no matter what gets said or done (and there is still more to be done, admittedly), it will never be enough. There are some people so wounded by it that no amount of apology will ever be enough. They wouldn't be satisfied unless the Catholic Church simply ceased to exist, and perhaps not even then. I'm afraid I have to conclude that the Holocaust has had this effect on some people as well.
Time magazine had a pretty interesting article called Pope Benedict on the Question of Judaism, and while I agree heartily with these remarks and find much merit in them...
Concern about the muddiness of Benedict's message first surfaced when he visited Auschwitz in 2006. Those attending the event were moved by his obvious emotion at the former death camp. But his address that day was marked by some highly peculiar ellipses. He failed to mention anti-Semitism, instead contending that "ultimately" the Nazis' motive in killing Jews was to "tear up the taproot of the Christian faith." And although he claimed to speak as a "son of the German people," Benedict seemed to downplay any ordinary-German implication in the Holocaust. Instead, he placed blame on a "ring of criminals [who] rose to power by false promises ... through terror ... with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power."...I'm still inclined to find appreciation in the following remarks as well:
Both assertions are highly suspect. Although the German people as a group were not guilty of mass murder, neither were they innocent dupes throughout the process. And the idea that Hitler killed 6 million Jews to get at Christianity approaches the perverse. When Jewish groups complained, Benedict devoted a general audience to condemning anti-Semitism--although he revisited neither his church's nor his homeland's role in the Holocaust...
As (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel made clear, Germans have a special obligation. "We don't want [history] to repeat itself," as papal adviser Walter Kasper says. The Holocaust also remains an affront to the self-understanding of Christians, and Western civilization as a whole. We learned the word genocide through the Jews. Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has set the post-Shoah standard in acknowledging the absolute unacceptability of the Jewish loss. Without the Catholic Church's leadership on the issue, other Christian groups might not have followed.
Since papal conclaves have a cutoff age of 80 and tend to elect Popes from their own number, Benedict is likely to be the last Pontiff who can say, "We remember," and mean it literally. As the church's center of gravity moves southward, he may also be one of the last European Popes, and Jewish relations tend to be low on the radar of African and South American bishops. (One of the latter recently said the Jews own the media.) When Benedict is gone, says Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, "not only may Judaism be off the agenda--it may face opposition. There's a clumsiness to how Benedict has dealt with some of these issues, and we really hope he fixes them while he's still here. Because the next guy may not be fixing any of it."
From Michael Sean Winters:
I watched the Pope’s speech. I read it. The Pope does not wear his emotions on his sleeve, to be sure. But, the Pope grasped, perhaps in a way a 29 year old cannot, that before the enormity of evil that was the Shoah, silence is an appropriate emotional response. Silence is not, of course, an appropriate political response and the Pope made clear that we must speak out so that the world will never forget what happened. But, he is being criticized for not saying something "touching" as one columnist wrote. It is unfair...From this week's Tablet editorial:
I do not know what Pope Benedict felt when he went to Yad Vashem. His words, "I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in horrific tragedy of the Shoah" seemed to me excruciatingly appropriate. This Pope – who never tires of telling us Christians that our faith is about God and therefore about us, not the other way round – seemed to be saying, "My visit here is not about me. It is about the victims and their God." That may not play well in an age when our culture encourages vicarious emotional responses. But, it struck me as profoundly true.
He applied gentle but effective pressure on Israel's coalition Government and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not to wander too far from the road map defining the "two-state" peace process, which in the view of the Vatican, Washington and most of the rest of the world, offers the only real prospect of peace. Perhaps to neutralise his influence, voices inside Israel were quickly raised, criticising his stance particularly with reference to the Holocaust. If the Pope is not on their side, they would prefer to see him discredited.A charge of anti-semitism or even aloofness towards Judaism and the Holocaust cannot justifiably be pinned on Benedict, in my view. He has flaws, don't get me wrong, but he's not going to apologize merely for being a Catholic or for being a German. Nor should he.
But they failed, although the Israeli media gave wide coverage to the complaint from some Jewish figures that Pope Benedict had refused to apologise as a German for what his fellow countrymen did to the Jews 65 or more years ago, and as a Pope for the failings of his predecessor Pius XII to denounce those actions more forthrightly. There seemed to be a strange doctrine of collective guilt behind these complaints, and a suspicion of bad faith that will never be completely banished because it is irrational. In fact, fair-minded Jews were inclined to judge Pope Benedict by his actions and words now. He said all they wanted him to say: "May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!"