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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘John Paul’

Pope Looks To Mend Vatican-Jewish Relations

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009


ROME – Always uneasy, the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish community took another sour turn recently when Pope Benedict XVI announced he was rescinding the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust.


While the pope managed to smooth things over somewhat by distancing himself from Bishop Richard Williamson’s Holocaust denial and, at a meeting last week at the Vatican with Jewish representatives, announcing plans to visit Israel in May, the uproar of the past few weeks raises significant questions about the goals of Benedict’s papacy.


It also highlights the scrutiny Benedict has come under regarding Jewish issues in the nearly four years since he became pope. The Williamson affair may be the most dramatic of the Jewish-related crises of Benedict’s papacy, but it’s not the first.


“What has been revealed most dramatically by this episode is something that Vatican observers have been noting consistently during this papacy in contrast to the previous pontificate: an amazing lack of consideration of the ramifications of papal actions, and a profound lack of collegial consultation,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious Affairs.


The result, Rosen said, is that time and again the Vatican has ended up “running to put out fires” when it “could have prevented the distress to others and the harm to itself in the first place.”


The most recent flare-up is a case in point.


Benedict announced on Jan. 24 that he had lifted the 1988 excommunication of the British-born Williamson and three other members of the Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway traditionalist group that rejects some of the reforms of the 1962-65 Vatican II Council. The council’s Nostra Aetate document paved the way for formal Jewish-Catholic dialogue by repudiating collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus.


Just days before Benedict’s announcement, Swedish TV had broadcast an interview with Williamson in which he denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers and claimed that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had been killed in the Holocaust rather than the more accepted number of 6 million.


While the reinstatement of the four bishops was an internal Catholic matter aimed at fostering Catholic unity, Williamson’s rehabilitation triggered anger, outrage and a measure of disbelief around the world.


“The Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican-Jewish relations,” the scholar Deborah Lipstadt, an expert on Holocaust denial, wrote on her blog. “It has made itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages.”


Condemnation rolled in from Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, U.S. legislators, Israeli leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as from elements within the Catholic Church.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican point man on relations with the Jewish world, complained that he had not been consulted about the matter and did not know about it in advance.


Even more remarkably, the Vatican said the pope himself had not been aware of Williamson’s views.


In a frenzy of damage control, the Vatican issued statements trying to clarify the issue and eventually ordered Williamson to recant his remarks on the Holocaust. Williamson apologized for causing the pope “unnecessary distress and problems” with his “imprudent” statements – but to date he has not retracted his stated views.


On Feb. 12, the pope met at the Vatican with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, his first meeting with Jewish leaders since the crisis.


Any denial or “minimization” of the Holocaust, Benedict told them, is “intolerable and altogether unacceptable.” The Church, he said, is “profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism, and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities.”


Benedict also personally announced his upcoming trip to Israel, which also will include stops in the West Bank and Jordan.


Some Jewish representatives at the meeting hailed the pope’s words.


“We came a long way,” Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue in New York told reporters after the meeting. “We traveled to share our pain, to share our disbelief, but we are leaving with renewed hope of stronger bonds between Catholics and Jews.”


Others were more circumspect.


“This meeting was an effort to reconcile, to bring closure, but it didn’t lay this issue to rest,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, who also attended the meeting, told JTA.


“You cannot say that we oppose anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and then reinstate a denier,” Foxman said. “Every day that Williamson remains” a member of the Church “is an affront. There needs to be action on Williamson, so we know that there are no Williamsons in the Church hierarchy.”


Vatican-Jewish relations have been under close scrutiny since Benedict was elected pontiff in April 2005. His predecessor, the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, made fostering Jewish-Catholic relations and promoting awareness of the Holocaust a major focus of his reign.


Benedict was John Paul’s “most trusted theological right hand,” Rosen said.


From the beginning, Benedict indicated he would continue John Paul’s policy toward the Jews. He met with Jewish leaders and made historic visits to synagogues in Germany and the United States.


His own history played a role: Benedict grew up in what he has described as a staunchly anti-Nazi family, but like other German teenagers he was forced to join Hitler Youth. He deserted the German army before the end of World War II.


Now 81, Benedict undoubtedly is the last pope who will have witnessed the Holocaust era firsthand.


While welcoming his synagogue visits, the Jewish community has chafed at some of Benedict’s policies.


The most persistent thorn in the community’s side has been the ongoing controversy over the role of the wartime pope, Pius XII, whom the Vatican plans to beatify. Many historians say Pius turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, but his defenders say he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.


Jewish groups have called on the Vatican to open its archives to resolve the issue.


Another rift occurred last year when Benedict reinstated a Latin Mass for Easter that includes a prayer some understand as calling for the conversion of the Jews. The Vatican amended the prayer somewhat after Jews voiced concern.


“Decisions that the Church is making for its own use and needs are having unintended consequences and spilling into Jewish-Catholic relations,” Foxman observed.


Many Jews remain unsatisfied. Last month, Italian Jewish leaders took the extraordinary step of boycotting the Church’s annual celebration of Judaism.


In this context, Benedict’s trip to Israel will be watched closely.


It will be the first papal trip to the Holy Land since John Paul II’s historic five-day pilgrimage in 2000. Memorably, he placed a prayer note in the Western Wall asking for forgiveness for Christian persecution of Jews over the centuries and pledged Catholic brotherhood with the Jews.

(JTA)

The Pope’s Mixed Legacy

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

The foremost memory of John Paul II will be for his heart. When I conjure up an image of the pope, it is invariably in connection with some gesture of warmth and loving kindness to a child, to a widow, to the poor.

John Paul’s ministry was devoted principally to the suffering third-world countries and his dedication to those in pain made him justly famous, inspired our own goodness, and electrified the world. I confess, even as a non-Catholic, to a considerable sadness at his passing, attached as I am to the image of an elderly and gentle man, battling illness and weakness, continuing to shower affection on the suffering masses.

In this sense, the papacy of John Paul will forever be remembered as an outstanding success because his life and the symbol he came to represent established religion’s foremost premise: that leading a Godly life makes one into a Godly individual, that a life of faith transforms its practitioner into an exemplar of compassion. The exemplary love that the pope came to represent was in itself a healing of sorts for those who looked at the all-too-questionable history of the Catholic Church and wondered whether hypocrisy was at its core.

The pope brought a luster and a majesty to the Catholic Church seldom seen in a man of world religious stature and in this sense may even be considered Christendom’s greatest pope because of the long ministry of love that he practiced. For this reason, all who call themselves religious owe John Paul a debt of gratitude for the respectability he brought to all who believe in God.

But for all that, John Paul’s legacy will be mixed. He rose to the challenge of defeating communism early in his pontificate but failed considerably to condemn the terrorist threat at the end of his pontificate.

As the Solidarity movement in Poland began to pick up steam in the late seventies and early eighties, the world waited with apprehension for the inevitable Russian invasion to squash the boisterous pro-democracy movement. At that time John Paul II, still a very new pope, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Soviet Communist party saying that he would resign the papacy to join the front lines of Solidarity if Russian tanks entered his homeland. With that letter, he helped to save Poland and is justly commended for playing an integral role in the collapse of communism.

And yet, twenty years later, as George W. Bush prepared the world for an invasion of Iraq in order to rid that country of the world’s most brutal tyrant, who had already slaughtered and gassed more than a million of his own people, the pope saw it fit not only to oppose the war in Iraq, but to summon Tariq Azziz, Saddam’s diplomatic puppet, place his holy hands on Azziz’s head, and say, “God bless Iraq.”

That an American politician could have seen Saddam’s evil and scoffed at world censure in order to topple a barbarous dictator, while the world’s foremost religious authority was gripped by an inexplicable moral blindness, shall forever remain a stain on the legacy of an otherwise great man.

Two years later, the pope followed up this bizarre practice by offering draw-dropping comments on the occasion of the death of Yasir Arafat: “At this hour of sadness at the passing of President Yasir Arafat, His Holiness Pope John Paul is particularly close to the deceased’s family, the authorities and the Palestinian people. While entrusting his soul into the hands of the Almighty and Merciful God, the Holy Father prays to the Prince of Peace that the star of harmony will soon shine on the Holy Land.”

In a second statement, Joachim Navarro Valls said in the pope’s name that Arafat was “a leader of great charisma who loved his people and sought to lead them towards national independence. May God welcome in His mercy the soul of the illustrious deceased and give peace to the Holy Land.”

That the world’s foremost spiritual shepherd could describe himself as being close Arafat’s family, rather than the thousands of murdered men, women, and children who were Arafat’s victims, was an astonishing act of sacrilege. That the most influential religious figure alive could describe the death of a terrorist as “an hour of sadness” and call a mass murderer an “illustrious” soul was downright frightening. That the man Catholics regard as the Vicar of Christ on earth could have said of someone who stole billions from his impoverished and desperate nation that he “loved his people” is an affront to everything Jesus stood for.

Likewise, the pope chose not to use his considerable authority to condemn Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda network, and the many other terrorist organizations that have made a once-peaceful planet so dangerous to inhabit.

How can we understand such actions and such comments coming from a man who I do not question for a moment was devoted with all his heart to the human family? How could such a genuinely pious man have unwitting allied himself with such unspeakable evil? And how could a leader of such incredible love have shown such callous indifference to victims of torture and murder by blessing and praising their murderers?

The great failing of John Paul’s life was that he actually loved too much. Like a parent who cannot see the failings of a child, John Paul refused to accept that real evil lurks in the heart of men. John Paul II so loved God’s children that he could not see that there were those whose actions had erased the image of God from their own countenance and forever severed themselves from a compassionate Creator.

John Paul loved the innocent but he never hated the wicked. He loved justice, but he all too seldomly condemned injustice. He fought for the poor and the oppressed, but he would not fight their oppressors – the exception being Soviet oppressors. Declaring in word and deed that hatred of any sort was an ungodly emotion that dare not be given sanctuary in the human heart, John Paul II never summoned the faithful to have contempt for the wicked, instead extending them the considerable softness of his gentle touch.

The result of such misguided affection is that as the pope departs this world, loved and sincerely admired by the earth’s inhabitants, he leaves behind a planet where it is American soldiers, fighting and dying for democracy around the globe, who are doing more to create a Godly habitat on earth than even John Paul’s priests and pastors.

As a Jew, I shall forever remain indebted to John Paul for the respect and affection he extended to the Jewish people. The pope twice visited the Rome’s synagogue, diplomatically recognized the State of Israel, wrote movingly of the wonders of Judaism in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, visited the State of Israel, and met endlessly with Jewish leaders through the long years of his reign.

But as an American I shall remain saddened that as the world joined in a chorus of condemnation of the American people for removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and establishing a democracy in Iraq, the pope did not remind the nations of the world that the real enemy is not those who fight evil, but those who soil God’s green earth by drenching it in the blood of innocents.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a nationally syndicated talk radio host and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book, Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex (ReganBooks/HarperCollins), is due out this week.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-popes-mixed-legacy/2005/04/06/

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